Conditions for Our 2016 Eastern Sierra Spring Workshop Next Week

My early May blog post on spring Eastern Sierra conditions contained a collection of possible outcomes and opportunities for spring.  I’ve been out a few times since then, checking the emergence status of various wildflowers, the water level at Mono Lake tufa sites (and their muddiness, since they form over springs), unpaved road access conditions, snow levels and lake iceout conditions around Tioga Pass, pond water levels and reflection opportunities in Yosemite’s Tuolumne Meadows, bird and wildlife photography opportunities, and so on.

 

Wildflowers vary in intensity and timing from year to year, which is why I do these scouting trips before the workshop, and not while dragging customers around.  Even knowing where various species can be prolific, checking the current year’s status and timing involves many less than fully productive searches.  Wild iris seemed to be a bit behind in timing.  Mules ears have been starting to emerge over the past 2 weeks, and could peak in the next week or two.  The few days of clearer, warmer weather in the forecast early next week could help them along.  Paintbrush was doing well at low elevations but it is too early to tell how prolific it’ll be at mid to high altitudes.  Lupine were healthy in some areas and should still be available for another week or more a lower altitudes, and emerging at mid altitudes.  Wild peach has been strong, and yellow bitterbrush has bloomed as enthusiastically as many local residents can remember (one even mentioned that this native must be a new invasive species), but the peak is now past for both.  Isolated patches offered a variety of other species, sometimes dense, but you really have to search for them.  I’ll be back out over the next few days to see if some of the patches have increased in intensity, enough to warrant a visit during the upcoming workshop.

All of the photos in this post are from May 2016

The weather has been unsettled, great for daytime photography as but less conducive for many types of night photography.  That’s pretty typical for May, which is one reason why I only ran a couple of Bodie night photography workshops then, but currently focus more on June and later.

Some locations are on the wet and muddy side, not unsurprising for spring, but certainly good to know before you show up for a sunrise or sunset and can’t access the compositions that you might have enjoyed in the past, in summer, fall, or simply a drier year.  In other cases, a site might be more dependent upon long term trends, and the long term drought continues to provide cracked earth foregrounds.  If you’re shooting in one basin and the weather and light looks like it might be better 25 miles north or south, you can save an hour of driving if you know that the site that you have in mind isn’t in great condition that week.  Conversely, you can make your day, week or month if you know that a site is in great shape, and you arrive to find great light to complement the site’s full potential.  A good workshop is made great when you can “connect the dots” to consistently arrive at a series of good sites, in great seasonal condition, offering optimal lighting, while reacting to the day’s weather conditions.  There are no guarantees in landscape photography, and that’s part of what makes it exciting, but scouting trips do resolve what would otherwise be unknowns in the mix, increasing the odds of everything coming together just right.

A quick iPhone snapshot is good enough to record conditions, break out the DSLR upon returning in better light

The somewhat early opening of Tioga Pass is not surprising given a fairly dry month of February and the winter’s overall normal to low snowpack (93% in the Mammoth lakes area, closer to 100% north of Tioga Pass).  It has re-closed at times as moisture causes afternoon and evening storms, but it’s open again now.  Lakes are in various stages of losing their ice.  Tenaya Lake was clear by the time the pass opened, Ellery may be completely clear now, Tioga was mostly frozen last week, so it may still hold some ice into next week.  The terrain is complicated up in that area, so having spent many sunrises and sunsets up in that area is important to knowing what is likely to be productive, vs. a bust.

Tuolumne Meadows currently offers a lot of seasonal ponds.  Determining ahead of time which of them provide decent compositions at current water levels helps keep the workshop moving efficiently.  Many workshop leaders spend a lot of time and money marketing, and do a great job filling their workshops.  Good for them.  I prefer to spend my time in the field, develop extensive site and condition knowledge, and over time earn the reputation for delivering great opportunities and results.

It’s important to me for my knowledge to include photographic technique and post-processing skill.  Anyone can apply a filter in post-processing software or use a certain technique to make a landscape look wacky, and there’s nothing whatsoever wrong with that, it it’s the style someone chooses, rather than is trapped into through less than optimal exposure technique or lack of alternate post-processing workflow options.  Getting through the end-to-end digital photographic process with realistic results is like walking a tightrope: bay far the easiest thing to do is to fall off.  There are subtle things you can do all along the way to optimize results.  You don’t need the latest camera or software, it’s more about fine tuning the various steps.

Backlit storm clouds at night

Ansel Adams produced timeless results by producing heavily manipulated but seamlessly realistic results, while popular trends included hand-tinting photographs to add color.  Most of us don’t know the names of his contemporaries today.  No doubt Ansel could have had great commercial success producing those colorized postcards, but any era’s hot trends can look cartoonish years later, out of the unique social context of the time.  We’re not immune from that today: I have over-saturated digital photos from the mid-2000s, tonemapped HDRs from the late 2000s, and I’ve dabbled with luminance masking, color light painting, and lately software filters.  I gravitate more realistic results, and for the experiments with various trends, I’m gradually re-processing many of the more over-the-top post processing results.  It’s useful to try a range of things to settle on your own preferred style, and to continue to try new things for variety and to see if you want to broaden your options for post-processing any given scene in the future.  So I want to maintain a broad enough collection of experiences to be prepared to help photographers who want to expand their own skills.

While the goal of my pre-workshop explorations are mainly to visit locations to assess conditions, it’ll be a fun challenge to line up the sites for great light and weather during the workshop next week.

iPhone 6S+ panorama

With the storms in the past weeks I haven’t been out for night photography as much as I would like, but we should have a great time in Bodie June 4/5, and I hope to be out a few times in the coming nights to assess a few new locations as well.

Starry Night over Bodie Church

Happy National Wine Day and Wine Wednesday!

#NationalWineDay #winewednesday

Originally shared by +Jeff Sullivan

Wine Country
Before I switched to photography full time I was in the wine industry for a few years. I had been enjoying wine as a consumer for a long time as I worked at high tech companies in the Bay Area, and I thought it might be fun to get into the business. Photography won out in the end, but I still enjoy wine a lot and I still tend a few vines that I planted. From those vines I have a few gallons of homemade cabernet sauvignon which are ready to be bottled.

#wine #winetasting #winewednesday #travelphotography

   

In Album Wine Country & Wine Labels

Photography Technique: Pan Blur

Read the description and give it a try, but I'd recommend doing it with lenses that do not have Image Stabilization (IS/VR) systems that might get damaged if the up and down movements are too abrupt.

Originally shared by +Jeff Sullivan

Colorful Aspen in Motion
The Fall colors were spectacular over the weekend in the Eastern Sierra, and the changing lighting during the day provided almost endless opportunities for dramatic and creative captures. I say "almost' only because at this time of year, the days are too short! About the best you can do is start well before dawn and continue until well after dark. Fortunately, or unfortunately, the Orionid meteor shower provided bonus opportunities all night long, so the weekend ended up being quite the photography marathon.

This was produced with the pan blur technique I've been playing with: finding subjects with an interesting blend of color, contrast and light, and capturing them hand held, panning the camera up and down. It's a great way to exercise how you see a scene.
"I almost never set out to photograph a landscape, nor do I think of my camera as a means of recording a mountain or an animal unless I absolutely need a 'record shot'. My first thought is always of light." – Galen Rowell

It was a busy weekend, with hordes of photographers crowding the most popular spots, and starting to discover and clog up many of the formerly obscure ones, thanks to the Internet. Fortunately there are still a few places which haven't been named/promoted and mapped to death, so +Lori Hibbett and I were able to have most of our shooting locations to ourselves.

We heard that +Kurt Harvey and his wife were coming to the area, so we met Kurt Friday and Saturday nights to do a little light painting and star trail photography. We ran into +Michael Frye and +Claudia Welsh at dinner Saturday, for the second weekend in a row. I thought I recognized a couple of folks with them… turned out one of them was +Doug Kaye. Also in the area were +Maximilian Laue +Brian Bach Sørensen +Swee Oh +elizabeth hahn +Tim Gupta +Larry Nienkark and +Scott Loftesness, so check out their streams this week for Fall colors as well (we had heard many of them were going to Yosemite National Park, so sadly we didn't connect with them).

It's interesting that you actually need to pay as much or more attention to technical details when trying to pull off shots like this, if you want them to turn out particularly well. Here are a couple of blog posts I've written on shooting Fall colors in recent years:

Shooting & Postprocessing Fall Colors Images
http://activesole.blogspot.com/2010/10/shooting-postprocessing-fall-colors.html

Shoot Fall Colors Like a Pro
http://activesole.blogspot.com/2007/09/shoot-fall-colors-like-pro.html

 

Am I Using Collections Wrong?

In the year or so since Collections came along, response to my posts has plummeted. I've tried various collections, as well as regular G+ posts, uploads to and sharing through Google Photos, and various content types like photos, video and albums. I've tried sharing to large groups. Nothing seems to work well.

Am I doing something significantly wrong under the newer Collections and/or Google Photos features, or has the Google+ community itself changed that much over the past year?

Eastern Sierra Spring 2016

I created an album for photos from the Eastern Sierra this year, as I'm scouting conditions for the workshop coming up two weeks from today. Here are photos from other years as well that can illustrte the types of conditions we might encounter: http://www.jeffsullivanphotography.com/blog/2016/05/13/sample-photos-from-the-eastern-sierra/

#easternsierra #landscapephotography #photographyworkshops

              

In Album Eastern Sierra Spring 2016

Eastern Sierra Photography Workshop in June: What’s in Store?

“The Traveler sees what he sees. The Tourist sees what he has come to see.” G.K. Chesterton

Eastern Sierra Mules EarsI can only be in one place at a time, so I have to be efficient and pack as much opportunity as I can into my time in the field. Every day has the sun rising and setting. Some weeks have wildflowers. Fall colors may be peaking in a given location for only a few days to a week. The Milky Way is available during a few weeks of the year, a moon rise at sunset or moon set at sunrise about a dozen times each. So I pick a prime season, the most likely peak days and times. 

Storm Over Mono LakeWorkshops take me out of the field as I work on permits, itineraries, write descriptions, set up payment / registration buttons, and I perform a some kind of marketing to get them seen, if only a mention or two on social media. I’m not going for volume, and I personally lead all of my workshops, so they are designed to place you in a stunning place, in a peak season, as the exact best time.

The first week of June is amazing for the Eastern Sierra for so many reasons. Some snow remains on the Sierra Nevada (and possibly the White Mountains) to catch alpenglow, and there can be a fresh snowfall around the end of May to refresh that surface. Several species of wildflowers are starting to bloom, profusely in some areas.

This year the new moon and Milky Way shooting timing coincides with this week, and we have the possibility of a late spring storm from the northwest for interesting sunrises and sunsets, or warmer monsoon moisture from the Baja coast that could bring dramatic afternoon clouds, showers and rainbows, or evening thunderstorms.

I used to be nervous about the thunderstorms interfering with night photography, but I’ve learned through experience in Bodie and the surrounding area that convection-driven storms tend to break up or blow east by the time the sky is fully dark around 10/10:20, so they’re really just bonuses for sunset and twilight shooting, even when rain showers interfere locally for an hour or so (and even then they often give way to rainbows).

Fresh Snowfall at Ellery LakeTioga Pass may have just opened and we may have interesting iceout conditions on the lakes. More often than not the pass opens in May, so with 89% snowpack, the odds are good for a normal, mid to late May opening. It seems like they often try to wrap up whatever road maintenance is needed in time for an opening for Memorial Day weekend, so I’m going to guess Friday at noon as the official time, but cars line up early and they often let them in around 9 am.

We’ll start with a sunrise on Thursday, pursue wildflowers and weather during the day, have an early dinner, and head back out for sunset at Mono Lake.
Entering the Earth's Shadow

We’ll pick from a number of spots for Milky Way shooting, and arrive by the time it’s fully dark at 10:07, when the galactic center of the Milky Way has already risen 6 degrees, perfect for placing it in our compositions.

Mono Lake Milky Way Panorama

Friday we’ll catch sunrise at Mono Lake before the weekend crowds arrive, shoot different wildflowers, maybe explore some interesting geology or head up to Tioga Pass if its open for snowier views. Another sunset spot, More night photography, and turn in not too late since most of us are continuing on to Bodie the following night, and Bodie interiors the following morning.

Eastern Sierra Wild Iris

Plans are all well and good; I frequently plan something as simple as a sunset moon rise composition weeks in advance.  But landscape photography is about light, so if you’re on a workshop, you want a leader have enough depth in detailed regional knowledge to be ready to ditch all plans and react to the weather and light if there’s more potential 20 or 30 miles from where you are.  So leave the tourists behind who are stuck to their fixed agenda, and rather than a traveler who reacts to the weather and looks for a place to shoot it, you can travel with a local who knows the opportunities in every direction, and anticipates the conditions before you pick the next destination and hop in the car to arrive there just in time.

Sunset Rain Clouds Over Mono LakeEarly June in the Eastern Sierra offers an annual convergence of so many factors which could make photography conditions stunning.  Photography is more fun shared, so I can’t wait, and all the better that I get to share all of this bounty with old and new friends!

Spring is Coming to the High Sierra!

Most of the participants are returning customers, but we have room for one or two more if anyone’s interested!

Bodie's Standard Mill

Milky Way Arch Over Standard Mill

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