Recon to Frog Lake, Carson Pass, CA

Reflections and fractures. A focus-stacked image looking north across Frog Lake, Carson Pass, CA. 1/80 sec, f/9, ISO 100; Canon 5DmIV, 24-70mm f/4L.
The smoke has cleared a bit at StoneHeart so I thought I would see how things were at the altitude of Carson Pass. Access to the Winnemucca Lake trail, traversing below Round Top is very easy. I did not expect a compelling golden-hour sky this morning, but I have been wanting a spot that would provide some scenic backdrops, with relatively quick access from home. A place I could get to know and then hike into quickly when conditions present themselves. Frog Lake, less than a half-mile south of the Pacific Crest Trail trailhead at Carson Lake, is a good candidate. I was out the door at 4:30 AM for the hour drive and even shorter hike.

The trail was quiet and the light was growing. A few clouds beyond the smoke made for a pretty sunrise, but the lake was my focus. I circumnavigated the small, mirror-like pool. Frog Lake is perfect. I now have a location for any dramatic storm days or seductive sunsets. There are expansive scenes to the north — Hope Valley to Freel Peak, and south — Round Top and its eastern ridge. Frog Lake could be a prominent mirror or frothy foreground. I can’t wait to give it a chance.

But I can’t walk away without a couple images. I focused on developing some foreground interest with the lake reflecting some of the sparse pines and snags at the lake margin and found a textured boulder with some prominent contrasting fractures. This provided some subtle leading lines and patterns against the stillness of the lake and loneliness of the haggard trees. Today’s images are focus-stacked and blended in Photoshop to emphasize the foreground texture.

Fractured snag. The tree is not only reflected in the water, the foreground boulder mirrors the pine. I used the same boulder as foreground in both images, but I found the change in perspective produced a very different foreground weight. This image is focus-stacked and I have removed some distracting, bright-white bird-stains from the rock. 1/100 sec, f/11, ISO 100; Canon 5DmIV, 17-40 mm f/4L.

I look forward to returning to the possibilities and easy-access of Frog Lake. The access this morning was so simple that I was soon fly-fishing along the West Fork of the Carson River in Hope Valley below the pass. A nice combo for the morning.

Keep going…

D. Craig Young

Host of Trail Option, chaser of light and old dirt, bound to wander and wonder. Not exceptional at anything, but a solidly mid-pack trail runner, photographer, geographer, musician, and writer — there is a little of all that here.

Geoarchaeologist and Principal at Far Western Anthropological Research Group.

With my wife Desna, a founding partner of StoneHeart Ranch, our home on an old alluvial fan above Gardnerville, Nevada.

Thanks for joining me on the trails of the Great Basin and far beyond. These form my personal geography of art and science.

Let’s keep going…  

Sunrise and Smoke: An Early Morning Decision

Sometimes spontaneous works. This is pretty much the image I imagined waking up an hour earlier. 1/25 sec, f/11, ISO 100; Canon 5DmIV, 70-200 f/4L.

Landscape photography typically involves planning, at least for me. I usually get some idea of place, story, mood, or composition, and begin by flying around in Google Earth, searching a few maps, checking the weather, and logging into PhotoPills or The Photographer’s Ephemeris. It’s part of the fun, but this morning wasn’t all that…

It has been miserably smokey in Carson Valley, with air quality commonly in the unhealthy range due to the disastrous and all too common fires in California and Nevada. We are in the smoke-plume of the Ferguson Fire at Yosemite. My trail running has ground to a halt, and there isn’t much motivation to get out for some landscapes. And yet, for some reason, I woke up at 4 AM — spontaneously, for otherwise no good reason — with the thought of catching the orb of the rising sun filtered through the smoke-plume haze. My pack sits ready and the tripod is in the car, so why not?  Let’s go.

I brewed some tea, toasted a bagel, and started out for Kingsbury Grade in the moonlit pre-dawn. I’d climb to a roadcut about half-way up the Carson Range and scramble over the edge to gaze down on the shadows of the Pine Nut Mountains. I knew I would keep it simple — my 70-200 to the horizon, and that’s it. The sun and smoke would do the rest.

I waited about 20 minutes and for much of that time I thought the thick curtain of smoke on the eastern horizon, with haze settling into the foothills, would block the sunrise completely. But soon a sliver of red appears, as if the ferocious fire had itself jumped from the High Sierra to the lowly Pine Nuts. The orb was here, pretty much as my dreams must have known. 

The Portal Arch. After capturing my earlier image, I watched the sun disappear and expected it to soon be too bright in the cloudless sky. As I reached to take the camera down, the orb crested the densest plume and seduced a second shot. This may earn a large print, to be viewed at a distance.  1/15 sec, f/20, ISO 100; Canon 5DmIV, 70-200 f/4L. 

My smoke-themed photos tend to be rather dark, a reflection of the foreboding plumes of the destructive fires in our midst. Please be careful out there and I hope those affected — the people and our wild lands — can soon recover. Please feel free to comment below.  Too dark?  Is the watermark a distraction? Fire and smoke affecting you?  

Related Post: Tufa and Smoke at Mono Lake, CA.

D. Craig Young

Host of Trail Option, chaser of light and old dirt, bound to wander and wonder. Not exceptional at anything, but a solidly mid-pack trail runner, photographer, geographer, musician, and writer — there is a little of all that here.

Geoarchaeologist and Principal at Far Western Anthropological Research Group.

With my wife Desna, a founding partner of StoneHeart Ranch, our home on an old alluvial fan above Gardnerville, Nevada.

Thanks for joining me on the trails of the Great Basin and far beyond. These form my personal geography of art and science.

Let’s keep going…  

Tufa and Smoke at Mono Lake, CA

A long exposure as early darkness set the mood at Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve. 2.0 sec, f/11, ISO 100; Canon 5DmIV, 17-40 mm.

It was time to take advantage of a break in the work routine. The summer monsoons had recently encroached on the Pine Nut Mountains above StoneHeart, so maybe there would be some dramatic clouds and lightning to chase. Or, the exhausting California fires would continue to pour smoke onto the eastern Sierra, creating another saturated sunset.

I checked my radar apps all afternoon but the bright red blobs of the past few days were absent, and only a few yellow-level squalls bloomed momentarily and then scurried away in the afternoon heat. Nothing to chase in those. But I saw cumulus remnants in the direction of Mono Lake, so I steered south-bound on Highway 395 – a little later than I planned – with the goal of wandering among the near-shore tufa formations at the Mono Lake Tufa State Preserve. Smoke from the Ferguson Fire, the one that closed down Yosemite National Park for at least this week, should add some character to photographs of the tufa.

It is always a good drive through the Walker River Canyon. The drive was relatively quiet this evening, probably due to the smoke-filled skies keeping tourists away. I notice once again several outcrops and exposures along the canyon that could make splendid compositions in the right light and with the addition of some low-hanging clouds or a back-drop of fog. I will have to plan for that.

The Reserve basically circles the lake, and with the light fading fast, I dropped in to the easy access of the Old Marina parking area just north of Lee Vining. It isn’t the most dramatic tufa on the lake, but there are plenty of outcrops and towers – some with nesting Osprey – where one can find a composition or two. I dropped the three-dollar fee into the bin, grabbed my pack, and hiked out the boardwalk. I could see a group of hunched-back photographers at the distant end of the boardwalk, a workshop almost certainly; only a couple other photographers strayed from the cluster of tripods. With a happy hello – they did seem to be composing their images at the prime and fleeting moment of the smoky sunset – I circled away from the small crowed, eastward, off-trail among the sedges and flat-lying tufa mounds. It was getting dark fast, but I liked the darkening mood as the last light saturated the smoke and blurred the horizon.

Looking back, I noticed the group had departed, but a lone photographer remained, and for some reason he seemed to be composing his shot where I would be in the frame. I did not notice anyone working this direction when I passed by. I hope I’m not ruining his composition, or maybe he wants me for scale. I am, as yet, unaccustomed to wandering among landscapes with other photographers in them.

My feet were soaked and I’d stumbled into some deeper shoreline bogs here and there. But I’d found what I hoped for. Wading into knee-deep water, I picked out a tear-drop shaped rock leading to a set of tufa towers under a fiery, glooming sky. I set up a wide, vertical composition to get the low dynamic range, with hints of saturated color, from sky to foreground.  I took a few images in case I needed to focus stack, but I ultimately liked my first image (below). I waited into the blue-hour and the smoke settled into red-to-pink pall as I zoomed to the middle-ground towers to get them in the mirror of sky and water (banner photo above). As I was packing away my gear, a large coughing or huffing sound echoed from a nearby outcrop. I froze for a moment as the sound repeated itself. Where and what was it? It was strangely loud for being invisible, though it was practically dark. And then two large deer bounced from behind a tufa block, pogo-sticking through the grassy wetland of the nearby shoreline. Cool.

Smoke at sunset over Mono Lake tufa formations. 2.5 sec, f/20, ISO 100; Canon 5DmIV, 17-40 mm. 
I returned to the lone photographer at the boardwalk and apologized for possibly crossing into his image. He had no concerns and was merely waiting for the full moonrise. I set up to wait with him, trying to capture the red, smoke-tinted orb.  I had no luck, having not practiced much on the puzzle of the quick orbiting moon in a long lens with little or no foreground. It was an awesome sight, however. I left for the highway and turned toward home, where it would soon be midnight.

I processed the two images shown here to capture the mood of the smoke-filled basin and subdued lake in the coming night. The images are dark and saturated, captured after the heat of a long day as the destructive fires weigh on our minds and we cannot yet see the season’s end.

D. Craig Young

Host of Trail Option, chaser of light and old dirt, bound to wander and wonder. Not exceptional at anything, but a solidly mid-pack trail runner, photographer, geographer, musician, and writer — there is a little of all that here.

Geoarchaeologist and Principal at Far Western Anthropological Research Group.

With my wife Desna, a founding partner of StoneHeart Ranch, our home on an old alluvial fan above Gardnerville, Nevada.

Thanks for joining me on the trails of the Great Basin and far beyond. These form my personal geography of art and science.

Let’s keep going…  

Memorial Day at Skunk Harbor, Lake Tahoe, NV

The extended cycle of low-pressure storm systems, that seemed to continually rotate across the Great Basin, has ended momentarily. And, of course, after a few weeks of dramatic skies, morning and night, I get a break to get out on a short landscape photography evening. The western sky looked promising all day; some mid-level rotation and even some brief rain squalls at home, and I was sure I would get some golden hour to sunset light over Lake Tahoe. I have been wanting to get down to Skunk Harbor for awhile now, so this would be the afternoon to head out.

It is Memorial Day weekend, so I expect some traffic and maybe even a crowd. The cove of Skunk Harbor can get a few boats at anchor, social platforms of a kind, and I anticipate folks out for a day-hike. The cove isn’t too far from the highway, and the dirt road is an easy hike–the return can be warm and seem very steep in the heat of summer.

We’d worked around StoneHeart much of the day, trying to get a viable tree and garden irrigation system going, and planned an early dinner before I left for the Skunk. It’s about thirty minutes from StoneHeart to the Spooner turn-off on Highway 50. The gated road to Skunk Harbor is only a couple miles north of the Spooner State Park. Traffic was a bit heavy, but it is Sunday afternoon at the “official” start of summer and all Sundays will be busy around Tahoe now. The turn-out and overflow parking on the south-bound side of Highway 28 were full, not summer-time full, but I was let-down by how crowded it felt. Snuck my Subaru into the last of a long line of parked cars in the main pull-out just above the gate.

I packed up and headed down, it’s a nice easy walk. I was unsurprised when I began to pass an exodus of out-bound day-trippers; counted thirty-one as I approached the waterline. Am I alone now? No, a few folks hanging around in the last light, but I bet the pull-out parking is pretty lonely.

There are some nice rock buildings here, and some comprehensive interpretive signs telling the story. Come see and it all makes some sense. Otherwise, it is a classic and lovely east-side Tahoe cove with a small beach and the cliché-rounded granite boulders. There are some jetty pilings that sometimes provide leading fore-ground elements (ones that John Peltier has used to perfection) but with the return of high lake levels these are now inundated and only a single wooden support breaks the water’s surface, and just barely-it looks like flotsam.  Although the parallel series of abandoned, now-submerged pilings would be a nice addition to any composition, it’s the current lake-level that helps their preservation so we should be thankful when the lake overtakes them; I had hoped to catch an image of the parallel dock remnants, but happy to see the lake high and the beaches practically gone–we need some water in the bank.
I wandered back-and-forth a bit, hoping to catch a composition. I’m not always patient enough to do this, but tonight I focused on simply taking my time and seeing what presented itself. I thought about the sunset–for once, I had a couple hours to consider it–and wandered to some bouldery outcrops on the north side of the cove. From here I could look back toward the rock building, let the setting sun help me out, and maybe get some backlit clouds in a wide angle view. It was about now, although the thought had occurred to me at the car, that I realized how heavy my pack was. Why do I carry all this stuff?  I should be able to trim this kit once my experimenting and learning catches up with my gear syndrome.  Still, it’s fun to set up my main composition and then wander around practicing with other gear. Right now, I’m typically shooting “target” images with my Canon 5D mIV, while wandering with a Canon 80D. The lens choice varies with my composition, but I’m usually carrying a 17-40mm, a 24-70mm, a 70-200mm, and a prime 20mm. That’s simply too much and too many, but I’ll make better choices eventually, I hope.
I set up looking back toward the building and waited an hour for the light to grab the clouds. Wait, what? Where are those clouds that have been here for weeks, teasing me each evening as I stare longingly toward the Carson Range? They are basically gone. A few filaments hang here and there but I can tell the storms are spent and I’ve timed my excursion for a cloudless golden hour. Good light nonetheless, and a good time to practice patience to see what unfolds.  The cove lights up for a few minutes at sunset and the clear skies feel like summer. It must be Memorial Day.
Checkout more images in the Skunk Harbor Gallery here.

D. Craig Young

Host of Trail Option, chaser of light and dirt, bound to wander and wonder. Not exceptional at anything, but a solidly mid-pack trail runner, photographer, geographer, musician, and writer — there is a little of all that here.

Geoarchaeologist and Principal at Far Western Anthropological Research Group.

With my wife Desna, a founding partner of StoneHeart Ranch, our home on an old alluvial fan above Gardnerville, Nevada. Thanks for joining me on the trails of the Great Basin and far beyond. These form my personal geography of art and science.

Let’s keep going…  

Seascape Photography is Difficult — Stinson Beach, CA

An open beach on a calm morning is basically a simple pattern generator. No big breaks, just repeated wave-sets, steady and calming. The sun had just cleared the headlands, getting first-light on the foam. 1/100 sec, f/11, ISO 100; Canon 80D, 18-136mm.
Every couple years the Far Western team of directors gathers for biannual retreat to re-group under our core principals and plan for the future. It is an intense long weekend of collaboration and brainstorming. Our biannual retreat is long tradition of organic growth and excellent motivation.

The 2017 retreat had an auspicious beginning. One of the larger, intense storms in a series driven by a well-established atmospheric river deluged the coastal ranges, making for difficult travel and dramatic conditions on the beach. Our rental was cold and leaky, but we settled in to work against the storm. The storm cleared by the second morning.

In the midst of our gathering there is ample time to explore the beach and the hills of the Marin Headlands. The coastal landscape provides the opportunity to practice in an unfamiliar environment. This images reflects my early attempts at coastal photography in a variety of conditions — from the storm’s morning-after to the brightness of a weekend sunrise. The images also archive the immaturity of my processing skills. As always, it was important to be out there, experimenting and trying to capture the motion of the ocean and the serenity of the beach. 

Before sunrise on the morning after the storm; my first attempt at a seascape long exposure; really, my first long exposure ever. I purchased a 6-stop ND filter especially for this morning. I struggled with focus while using the filter, and battled the fog while processing, but I do like the mood that came through. This is not a compelling composition, however. 2 sec, f/8, ISO 200; Canon 80D, 18-135mm.

Another long exposure try with a bit more emphasis on processing for what the scene looked like; it’s less blue and I used a slightly faster exposure to isolate the clouds and fog. Or that’s what I thought I was doing. Very fun morning getting to know my camera, and getting my feet wet in the rising tide. 1 sec, f/8, ISO 100; Canon 80D, 18-135mm.

I was still learning my camera (I still am) and had probably jumped to long exposures and neutral density (ND) filters prematurely. My focus and depth-of-field feels off, especially when viewing the images a year later. The compositions are working better, but Stinson is not a dramatic landscape. It is basically a long, crescentic curve of sand, but the openness is calming. I would like to learn to express that story.

This is the photo that taught me about zooming in on a composition using a basic cropping tool in processing. It was one of the first photos taken with my new 70-200 lens; with the APC sensor of the 80D, the focal length is effectively 360mm. Very cool. 1/200 sec, f/11, ISO 200; Canon 80D, 70-200 f/4L.

You cannot pass up a brilliant, post-storm sunset at Stinson Beach. After waiting for over an hour, I wasn’t sure the sun would get through the mid-level clouds; I almost wasn’t ready when it did. There isn’t any foreground interest, but I like the two people (and two gulls) for scale. 1/25 sec, f/11, ISO 200; Canon 80D, 18-135mm.

I tried to catch some light on the breaking waves but that over-exposed the sky. A graduated filter in processing helped, but I don’t care for the subdued sky when the reflecting blue in the water is a more accurate expression of the morning sky. I like the image because it reminds me of the morning, but the processing is heavy-handed. Seascapes are difficult. 1/250 sec, f/11, ISO 100; Canon 80D, 18-135mm.

Please let me know which long exposure you prefer in the comments below. And comment on any of your experiences with seascapes, I’m looking forward to getting back to Stinson, and elsewhere!  

D. Craig Young

Host of Trail Option, chaser of light and old dirt, bound to wander and wonder. Not exceptional at anything, but a solidly mid-pack trail runner, photographer, geographer, musician, and writer — there is a little of all that here.

Geoarchaeologist and Principal at Far Western Anthropological Research Group.

With my wife Desna, a founding partner of StoneHeart Ranch, our home on an old alluvial fan above Gardnerville, Nevada.

Thanks for joining me on the trails of the Great Basin and far beyond. These form my personal geography of art and science.

Let’s keep going…  

Deep Freeze at Bridgeport Reservoir, CA

Inversion fog forms misty strata above Bridgeport Reservoir. A seven-shot panorama of the Sawtooth Range, Sierra Nevada. Focused on the structure to emphasize the softness of the frosty background. 1/500 sec, f/5, ISO 200; Canon 80D, 18-135 mm.  

I discovered YouTube. Silly me. I had, of course, spent hours browsing YouTube content, mostly checking out concert videos or while solving some home repair puzzle. But now the puzzles of Lightroom had sent me searching for tutorials and that, in turn, allowed me to stumble upon a couple channels that suddenly inspired me even further.  I found Thomas Heaton and Nick Page. These guys – Thomas from the northeast of England and Nick from the Palouse in eastern Washington – are pros with a knack for teaching and sharing their photographic inspiration and talent, along with their joys and their occasional failures. It’s dangerous binge material, not to mention the rather serious gear-envy with every “what’s in my bag” video. However, to avoid the danger, it is better to follow the inspiration and get out to photograph some landscapes, just like my new mentors.

So, I’m up in the pre-dawn of a brutally cold Saturday morning driving happily, once again, the dark two-lane of Highway 395. Driving through here a couple weeks ago in a deep snow storm, I thought the sunrise on the Sawtooth Range of the Sierra from the perspective of Bridgeport Reservoir would challenge me. It’s an expansive range, with a ragged high-point I climbed many years ago; and with the frozen conditions and new snow this should be fun!

Knowing the reservoir was frozen, I wanted to use it and the lifting fog to highlight the range in the first sunlight. That was the plan, and it worked out pretty well.  What I didn’t anticipate was just how cold it was going to be. First, I could not find a good place to park due to the plowed berms along the highway; the road crews had worked to clear the highway after the recent storm but they didn’t see the need or have time to create convenient photography pull-outs. Dropping into 4x4 Low, I made myself a parking spot where I thought the turn-out to the reservoir dam might be. Oh, and it was now -16F, so the cold smacked me hard when I jumped out of the truck. Luckily, I loved the viewpoint and thought I had several good compositions I could capture just short distance from the truck – maybe I could even climb back in with the heater running once things were set and I waited for the light. The sun was unlikely to ever reach me, so ambient warmth was not coming soon.

I had my new tripod and remote cable trigger so I was ready to be a real landscape photographer, and I was earning it! I’d even cut the finger off one my gloves so I could work the touch-screen on the camera and easily adjust the buttons. I did not, however, plan on losing the feeling in that finger!  It soon felt and looked like a dried-out, pink eraser on an old No. 2 pencil. I could not feel a thing, that finger was useless. But the light was coming, and it was awesome.

I tried several tricks that Thomas and Nick had touched on. With the highlight being a seven-image panorama that I stitched together in Lightroom. I wasn’t able to work with anything in the way of foreground interest, but the control building at the dam is a cool feature of the pano, and the scene from the frozen lake is about the space. I was very happy with this first outing with a tripod, having weathered the brutal cold common in the Bridgeport basin.

 

The pre-dawn chill at Bridgeport Reservoir. I think the panorama at sunrise a few moments later captures the expansive valley better; a multi-exposure pano provides the wide view that can, at first, feel limited in a crop-sensor camera. I should have gone for a greater depth of field here, compensating with a longer exposure given that I was using the tripod.  1/30 sec, f/5.6, ISO 200; Canon 80D 18-135 mm. 

Sunrise on the Sawtooth Range and Matterhorn Peak, Sierra Nevada, above Bridgeport Reservoir. Starting to think clearly about my camera settings, and emphasizing some depth. The freezing inversion keeping some softness in the distance. Climbed a couple Class 5 pitches to the Matterhorn summit (left peak) in 1994, on a much warmer day. 1/400 sec, f/11, ISO 200; Canon 80D 18-135 mm.

As the sun hit the reservoir near me, the ice reflections mirrored the freezing mist beyond the frosty tree. This drew my attention away from the distant mountains, and toward the nearby shore. It’s a simple in-camera zoom and reduction in depth of field that alters the composition from the preceding image — augmented by a slight addition crop in post-processing.  Along the with panorama, this one captures the deep freeze of the winter morning at Bridgeport Reservoir.  1/1250 sec, f/5.6, ISO 200; Canon 80D, 18-135 mm.

Some small steps forward with Lightroom processing, especially syncing and working with the panorama creation. I also saw the benefit of cropping and zooming. I’ve somehow since lost the RAW files from this outing, however. The Canon 80D performed flawlessly in the cold, and I remembered to let it warm slowly in it’s bag for the several hours of driving later that morning. Plopping the cold camera on the desk in the warmth of home may have allowed water vapor to condense in the lens or elsewhere. Don’t do that.

The upper layers of my fingertip actually fell off after turning black several days later. Frost-nip on the exposed portion, the result of a smart move altering cold-weather gear and stepping into the deep freeze. I never had that happen to me in the mountaineering days; I had to wait to experience that while standing on the edge of a frozen lack with a camera, on a tripod, and pointed at a mountain. Perfect.

Keep going…

D. Craig Young

Host of Trail Option, chaser of light and old dirt, bound to wander and wonder. Not exceptional at anything, but a solidly mid-pack trail runner, photographer, geographer, musician, and writer — there is a little of all that here.

Geoarchaeologist and Principal at Far Western Anthropological Research Group.

With my wife Desna, a founding partner of StoneHeart Ranch, our home on an old alluvial fan above Gardnerville, Nevada.

Thanks for joining me on the trails of the Great Basin and far beyond. These form my personal geography of art and science.

Let’s keep going…