This has been a weird weather year in the Sierra so far. Lots of precipitation and moisture, but crazy warm temperatures as well. That’s a combination that’s typically a shoe-in for monsoon thunderstorms and drama, but cooler temperatures in early July seemed to prevent the typical updraft and release of moisture over the Sierra crest. Which meant our High Sierra Monsoon Workshop was having a stare down with a clear clear clear forecast. Thankfully, one of the beautiful things about photographing in the Sierra is the alpenglow we get on clear days. So I knew we’d have fun photographing this ruby red light on the high peaks near Mammoth, regardless of whether any clouds showed up or not. And actually, Mother Nature decided to bestow upon us some high scattered clouds at the dusk and dawn ends of the day, giving us great opportunities for photography.
The workshop started out at Mono Lake, where a high few clouds mixed with late-day contrails and a gorgeous crescent moon. And as the sun and moon went down and darkness settled in, the stars and Milky Way came out with a blazing fury. With warm temperatures it would’ve been easy to shoot there all night, but an early call time in the morning had us thinking about bed after a few hours of star shots. The next morning we met at 4:45 am and were soon on our way to Minaret Vista, a high ridge on the Sierra Crest which gives stellar views of the Long Valley Caldera to the east, and the iconic Ritter Range to the west. As the sun colored up the early morning clouds we first shot the layers of hills leading all the way to the White Mountains, and then quickly whipped our cameras 180 degrees around as the morning alpenglow began to light up Ritter, Banner, and the Minarets. After the light grew harsh it was back to the hotel for breakfast.
We getting psychedelic on this here workshop
Later that afternoon after a image review / post processing session we made our way under clear skies to a favorite grove of aspens near Silver Lake in the June Lake Loop. Aspens are a wonderful subject to photograph under clear skies because of the way sunlight makes their leaves glow. This shoot presented a great opportunity to try all kinds of creative approaches to abstract and intimate photography, including panning, zooming, and spinning. After everyone was dizzy enough from that we left the grove and headed to Tioga Pass for our first high country hike. A few of the group were being affected by the 10,000 foot elevation and opted to shoot sunset from Dana Meadows, most of us set off up the steep switchbacks leading to the wide open Gaylor Lakes Basin. The basin provides a fantastic view of the Cathedral Range to the south, and even if it is a tricky place to photograph the experience of being in the high country at sunset is a wonderful one.
On Saturday morning an even earlier call time gave us a chance to hike into the Mammoth Lakes Basin to beautiful McLeod Lake, which sits just below the start of the Mammoth Crest. As the sun began to appear above the eastern horizon some beautiful warm light splashed onto the crest, giving us a beautiful subject for our shots. And as the morning wore on high winds helped a series of beautiful mares’ tail clouds appear in the sky, giving some great interest to our photos. It was then back to the hotel for breakfast, a nap, and some image review.
That afternoon we opted for a later start, knowing we’d be out again for night photography until the wee hours. This time we headed deep into Tuolumne Meadows to photograph cascades on the Tuolumne River just below Pothole Dome. The wonderful thing about these cascades is that they afford a magnificent view of Unicorn Peak to the southeast. After having lots of fun with the moving water we hustled back up to the meadows themselves to photograph the setting sun over the Cathedral Range. And here again we got lucky with perfect reflections, gorgeous aplenglow, and even a large cloud which seemed to be stuck right over the mountains and which caught beautiful pink light at sunset. Then as darkness descended we packed up and found our way back to Mono Lake for another Milky Way session.
On the final morning the winds were howling and we had to scrap our original plan of shooting at Convict Lake because of the gale-force gusts coming across the water. We quickly drove to Hot Creek, where conditions were much more mild, giving us a chance to really breathe deeply of the sulfuric smell of the place. Once again it was only a short time before the rising sun shone its warm light across the landscape in front of us, leading to beautiful conditions for photography. Then, with a few more clicks of the shutter it was time to wrap things up and head back to Mammoth for a final, celebratory breakfast.
One more great workshop for the books, with beautiful scenery, lovely light, and a fantastic group of participants. A thousand thanks to our group for putting up with the long days, chilly mornings, high winds, and mosquitoes for the sake of good photography! Cheers to Dave, David, Jacelyn, Donna, Sara, Pom, and SangWook; we couldn’t do it with out you.
Now be sure to check out everyone’s photos from the workshop down below, along with Behind the Scenes photos of all the places we went.