Big Clouds, Mono Lake

Mono Lake

Mono Lake is a very interesting place.  Not only because of it’s unique ecosystem, but also because it’s one of my “happy places”.  I find myself daydreaming about the many visits I’ve been able to make over the years, and the numerous photo opportunities I’ve been presented.

Big Clouds, Mono Lake

It seems that I’m looking back more and more to those quiet and serene places I’ve visited in the Eastern Sierra.  As my job becomes more demanding and tedious, I look forward to each opportunity to get away and pay another visit to Mono Lake.  Once I’m there, I also try and make it a point to slow down and breath it all in.  This may sound silly to some, but I want to have a clear mind and really attempt to feel the spirit of this wonderful place.

While I consider Mono Lake to be almost sacred ground, there are others that may not share my feelings.  It’s true that if you visit Mono Lake during the middle of the day, you may come away disappointed.  There are no trees to offer shade, and it can get hot.  And there are the flies.  Yes, lots of flies.  These black flies inhabit the shoreline of Mono Lake in uncountable numbers, turning the ground black.  The interesting thing about the flies (called Alkali Fly) is that they are not your typical house fly, and will rarely ever land on people.  And finally, some will be put off by the smell.  Mono Lake is more salty than the ocean, and does have a unique odor.

I don’t want to turn this post into a science lesson.  If you’d like to learn more, click on this link –  Mono Lake.

Getting back to the fluffy stuff, I just love walking along the shoreline of the South Tufa State Reserve.  While I do love getting up in the dark and arriving before sunrise, I was privileged to see some amazing sunsets.  This happened last year, late in September.  The sky kept changing, becoming more colorful with each passing moment.  Just when it seemed like the show was over, the colors changed from various shades of red to a warm golden sheen.

Mono Lake Sunset

For those that can’t get out of bed for sunrise, and for others that may not be able to make the trip for sunset, there are other options.  While mid-day sun doesn’t usually provide the best light, you aren’t completely out of luck.  The trick is to keep an eye on the sky.  I’ve had plenty of mid-day to late afternoon photo ops, but I always wait until there is some sort of action in the sky.

What kind of action?  Storm clouds.  Luckily during the summer months the chances for afternoon thunderstorms increase.  There’s an old saying, “bad weather, great photos”.  I’m not sure who said that, but I find it to be true.  I’m not talking about gray, drab rain clouds that fill the sky and have not character or features.  I’m talking about big, bold, billowing thunderheads, reaching thousands of feet into the air!  The kind of clouds that make you feel small and insignificant in comparison.

One note of caution is advisable here.  It’s one thing to stand in awe and take pictures from a respectable distance.  I’ve done this safely many times from the South Tufa, watching and photographing the storms passing across the middle of the lake and on the far shore.  But you need to pay attention!  If the storm shifts and moves in your direction, you need to seek shelter.  Not only can you get caught in a major downpour with your camera gear, but there can be some pretty severe lightning.

Mono Lake Clouds, black and whiteNext issue – what kind of camera gear do you need?  Good question!  I’d say whatever you have will be ok.  It just depends on what you want to do.  I’ve seen (and used) everything from simple point and shoots to high end DSLR’s to View Cameras.  There’s another old saying, “F8 and be there”.  The  f-stop is up to you, but being there is very important.  You can’t take pictures if you don’t have your camera, and all the camera gear in world will do you no good if you aren’t there!

As I already mentioned, I’ve used everything from my “Precious” (little point and shoot) to a large DSLR and various accessories.  This includes a tripod.  Just remember, large cameras require large lenses and large tripods.  I’ve carried them many times down the boardwalk from the parking lot to the shoreline.  I usually don’t get too tired or sore until after the long walk back to the car.  My point is that this stuff can get heavy, so be prepared!  It may also get dirty, so you’ll need to exercise some caution in and around the sand and water.

No matter which camera (or cameras) you decide to bring, try to mix up your shots.  In addition to those eye level grab shots, don’t be afraid to get down low.  Bring a towel to kneel on, and shoot low to get a unique perspective on this fantastic landscape.  And try to remember to shoot a few vertically.  I’d also suggest that in addition to a wide angle lens that you consider something in a moderate telephoto, say 70-200mm.  You can zoom in on some of the birds that call Mono Lake home, or isolate a unique tufa formation.

Brand, make, or model don’t really matter.  This isn’t the time or place to worry about the specifications of your gear, or wishing you had something else.  Fixed lens or zoom, again it doesn’t matter.  I think this quote from Ansel Adams is appropriate – “A good photograph is knowing where to stand”.  You just need to be there.  Use what you have, and enjoy the show!

Tufa Sunset, Mono Lake

In closing, I hope you are able to pay a visit to Mono Lake.  Be sure to stop by the Visitor Center!  And if you have the time, drive over to the South Tufa and enjoy the view.  I’ll talk about another area of Mono Lake with some very unique and delicate formations called Sand Tufa.

Until next time – Happy Shooting!