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Marching Clouds, Eastern Sierra near June Lake, Ca

Posted by
Gary Hart (California, United States) on 10 June 2009 in Landscape & Rural and Portfolio.

Find the magic….

Most of us got our first “exposure” (pun unavoidable) to photography with pictures of people: remembrances of family, friends, events, and so on. Occasionally we’d venture to the beach or mountains and return with photographs that recorded these locations we’d traveled to see. We'd identify our subject, then photograph it. What could be simpler?

But jettisoning this subject-first approach is the first step for landscape photographers who aspire to capture images that touch the emotions of their audience as does the work of Ansel Adams, David Muench, and Galen Rowell (to name a few). Creating evocative landscape images requires ignoring the obvious subject in favor of what I call “finding the magic.”

A few years ago I found myself without a plan on a fall morning in the Eastern Sierra. This was a last-minute trip I’d taken with my wife and the photography was secondary (really), but I woke before sunrise (old habits die hard) and decided to go for a drive with my camera, knowing I'd be back well before breakfast. It was dark as I left the inn, with just a thin stripe of light low in the east. As I drove north on US 395 toward Mono Lake, the approaching dawn revealed an organized formation of clouds stretching from horizon to horizon. Eastern Sierra skies are legendary (something about the flow of air over the Sierra crest), but I’d never seen anything quite like this.

When the direct sunlight arrived I was pretty much in the middle of nowhere, but the sky made it clear I needed to identify something to shoot. I took the next exit, which turned out to have a view of Mono Lake and little else, and unfortunately, Mono Lake wasn’t where the magic was. On the other hand I knew that a picture of the fabulous sky with nothing to anchor the frame wouldn’t give me anything more than a record of the moment. So I hopped out of my car and looked toward the best light. Spying this beautifully lit, solitary boulder a short distance from the road, I grabbed my gear and raced over, firing off a few shots before the light left.

Of course the most special part of the scene is the sky. And while there’s certainly nothing inherently exceptional about this boulder—it’s one of many dotting the area’s parched landscape—as beautiful as the sky was, without the warmly lit boulder I don’t think the shot would have worked. The key to this image is that my first priority was the light, even though that meant ignoring a beautiful view of Mono Lake at sunrise. The light led me to this ordinary boulder, which for just a couple of minutes that morning became extraordinary.

Next post: June 13 (to view previous posts, click the arrow in the upper left of today's image)

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Thanks for visiting. Even if I don't respond, your comments are always read and appreciated.

ali from tehran, Iran

nice pic..very good captured

10 Jun 2009 7:48am

sawsengee from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

amazing colours & cloud textures.....the lighting & depth of field are superb

10 Jun 2009 8:19am

ishm from dubai, United Arab Emirates

Wow! very dramatic cloud formation!

10 Jun 2009 11:28am

Tracy from La Selva Beach, United States

A great lesson Gary, Thanks! And a gorgeous shot to go with it :)

10 Jun 2009 1:10pm

Food from Las Cruces, NM, United States

Nice Vista!

10 Jun 2009 1:52pm

Onlymehdi from Wayne, United States


10 Jun 2009 1:56pm

Jhani from Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

great shot ...

10 Jun 2009 2:48pm

Ana Lúcia from Leiria, Portugal

Terrific and spectacular.

10 Jun 2009 4:16pm

dkc from Xanthi, Greece

I like the warm tones of the foreground and the shadows over the mountain on the background ... The sky captured at its best !!!

10 Jun 2009 4:30pm

Scott Schilling from San Martin, United States

Wonderful tones on this image Gary - and what a spectacular sky!! The other item of visual interest for me is the shadows throughout the landscape - wonderful work!

10 Jun 2009 4:38pm

john4jack from Corvallis, Oregon, United States

Exquisite light. Superb sky.

10 Jun 2009 6:53pm

Sean Hallisey from San Salvador, El Salvador

beautiful shot

11 Jun 2009 2:18am

Magda from Vancouver, Canada

Wow! This is absolutely breathtaking! Magnificent!!!

11 Jun 2009 4:41am

jdoo from Folsom, United States

Beautiful pic Gary. Really love the colors you captured!

11 Jun 2009 4:43am

c o n f l a g r a t i o from Valencia, Spain

Wonderful the color saturation and contrast.

11 Jun 2009 5:19pm from Italy

amazing picture! I love the contrast between cold and warm. Very beutiful!

17 Jun 2009 9:52pm