Late in September, I spent eight days in the Eastern Sierra; five of which I attended a photography workshop lead by Gary Hart, www.garyhartphotography.com and assisted by Mark Zablotsky, markzablotsky.smugmug.com, along with eleven other participants. As always, workshops are just that – Work! More importantly though, they are fun, educational, an opportunity to immerse yourself in all things photography related, visits to wonderful sites when the light is just right, and, not the least of which, see old friends and meet new ones.
While I love the Eastern Sierra and enjoying shooting there, I never thought of it as “magical”. Certainly places like the Alabama Hills with its enormous rock formations and natural arches, and Mono Lake and its bizarre-looking tufa towers are interesting, beautiful in their own rights and great photographic locations. But magical? Before this trip I would have probably said, “No, really nice, but not magical.”
However, this trip with its accompanying workshop did proved to be a magical experience several times over. Too much to write about in one blog. Once again, I must separate my adventures into multiple segments, each about a different magical place and a magical time.
While not the first place I visited, North Lake was one of the most surprisingly magical locations. North Lake is located about 15 to 20 miles west of Bishop, CA off State Road 168. It is an out-of-the-way thirteen-acre lake surrounded by mountaintops, encircled by yellow, orange and red aspen trees, and heavily stocked with rainbow trout. No wonder this lake is favored by photographers and fishermen alike. On any given autumn day, you can be assured you’ll find scores of both vying for real estate along the shoreline especially when the fall colors are putting on their show.
Early one morning, hoping to beat some of the photographers and fisherman, we caravanned out of Bishop then turned onto a dirt one-lane road that perched itself on the side of a mountain. With almost no space to pull over, meeting an oncoming car provided heart-pounding excitement for those riding in the front seat. Heading up to the lake, we would be on the outside whenever we met a car or truck. No shoulders, must less a guardrail. Fortunately, there was very little traffic since it was still predawn and quite dark. Therefore, we, the passengers, couldn’t see the sheer drop off just inches from our tires. I was riding in the front seat with Mark who is an excellent and patient driver and did an admirable job of getting us up the hill to the small parking area. With three females passengers, there are probably still indents where we all dug our hands and fingernails into the armrests.
When we arrived at the small parking area, we were surprised to see no cars. Could it be the lake wouldn’t be inundated with humans circling the shoreline? We quickly gathered our gear from the trunks and hiked the short distance to the lake. We were astonished to see neither fishermen nor other photographers. Conditions were perfect for both. Not sure where the fishermen were. Maybe still sleeping? The lake was still and quiet with very little wind and ALL OURS. There were fourteen of us and we each quickly found just the right spot to set up our tripods. While we were all gathered pretty much in the same general area, we were pleased to have the lake all to ourselves. As dawn slowly began to break, we could see across the lake to the mountains on the other side. Then we watched as the magic began to happen. As the sunlight started to light up the far mountain peaks, clouds began to form. During the next 30 minutes, the beautiful and magical light constantly changed the scene before us. I would shoot a few frames, then stop and take in the sight before me. The words to describe the incredible beauty and serenity are beyond this photographer’s vocabulary. The image at the beginning of this blog was taken just before the sun rose high enough to erode the soft, enchanting light.
This second image, taken with a telephoto lens, shows the colors in both the aspen trees and their reflections that you might not have noticed in the first, wider angle image above.
As the sun rose higher and lit up the mountainside, the reflections became as colorful and as the special as the aspens trees along the shoreline.
After the magical light began to disappear, we ventured further down North Lake Road to a bridge overpass with Lamarck Creek, a subsidiary of Bishop Creek, running beneath it.
Just a little off the road, the trees and bushes seem to shout out to me, “Take my picture. I’m as pretty as anything along side the road.” Images five and six below drew me in. They were just nice little scenes that made me smile. Not all compositions have to be the main stars of the show. Some are candidates for supporting actor awards.
While the first image at the top of this blog may be my favorite of the shoot in and around North Lake, this impressionistic and last image, is certainly running a close second. The bare white trunks of the Aspens tree with colorful leaves in the background started my creative juices flowing. All in all, a truly magical morning in a magical place with magical light at an extremely magical time. Many thanks to Gary Hart for getting us to the right place at the right time. Each one of us left with a smile on our face and images on our cards that made that early morning wakeup call more than worth it.
Coming up in my next blog is the unworldly-looking tufa towers of Mono Lake. Another place, another time and more magic. Stay tuned!
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