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Cloud and Granite, Alabama Hills, California

Posted by
Gary Hart (California, United States) on 14 July 2009 in Landscape & Rural and Portfolio.

Thanks for indulging yesterday's detour. I now return you to your regular programming....

What's the deal with Eastern Sierra skies? Is it just me or does is seem that a disproportionate number of my Eastern Sierra images feature dramatic clouds? Of course there's a meteorological reason that involves the prevailing west-to-east flow of air over the Sierra Nevada Mountains that rise gradually on the west from around sea level to over 14,000 feet, then plummet precipitously on the east side. But the bottom line is that it makes for fabulous photography.

On the morning I took this picture I had guided my Eastern Sierra fall workshop group to the Alabama Hills' Mobius Arch (see my January 27 blog) for a Mt. Whitney sunrise. After a morning of nice photography we started to head back to the vehicles when I saw this sickle-shaped cloud moving up from the southwest.

Too often we become so focused on what we set out to shoot--in this case it was Mt. Whitney and the arch--to the exclusion of other great opportunities. Light and sky can change fast, so merely surveying the surroundings when you arrive isn't enough. Train yourself to slow down. Step back and look around. Look left and right, front and back, up and down. Take your camera from the tripod and play with compositions.

On that morning last fall there was nothing subtle about this cloud. In fact it was was quite prominent, stretching from near the horizon to nearly the zenith. But many (though not all) in the group had stopped seeing the world like photographers and had shifted into "what's for breakfast" mode. I called their attention to the sky and urged them to take a few minutes to find a foreground for it. Fortunately foregrounds aren't a problem in the Alabama Hills, so I didn't need to look long. The whole area is riddled with weathered granite boulders, some standing by themselves, others assembled in groups like this, and still more piled high in mountainous jumbles.

I walked across the road toward these rocks and made a few shots. I went wide to take in lots of sky. When the most interesting part of the scene is the sky, I position it prominently in the top two thirds of the frame (at least). I started vertical, but also made some horizontal compositions (one of which will be in my book). Then we went for a nice hot breakfast.

Workshop update
I still have a few spaces remaining in my Eastern Sierra fall workshop, September 29-October 3, I’ve timed it for a full moon, so among other things, we’ll be doing some moonlight photography of Mt. Whitney from here in the Alabama Hills.

Next post: July 17 (please view my previous posts by clicking 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.

kate from lincolnshire, United Kingdom

beautiful colours , beautiful picture!!

14 Jul 2009 8:17am

Didier DE ZAN from somewhere, France

Nice composition and colors

14 Jul 2009 8:33am

Tracy from La Selva Beach, United States

Fantastic! that cloud is crazy! and the colors are just wonderful :)

14 Jul 2009 1:52pm

@Tracy: Thanks, Tracy. That's exactly why we go out at sunrise, isn't it? Terrain that would be a washed out brown in the harsh light of day reveals all its color in the warm morning glow. And that ubiquitous yellow shrub isn't particularly photogenic most of the day, but I kind of like it here.

Vinay from Bangalore, India

Nice photograph... It does seemed to me initially that the photo was worked upon... but then I too believe that the cloud movements create some of the best abstracts I have seen in my life. Kudos for sharing all the nice cloud photographs you have taken.

14 Jul 2009 4:06pm

@Vinay: Thanks, Vinay. I'm trying to understand your "worked upon" reference. Surely you know that it's impossible to photograph with a digital camera and not have an image that's interpreted either by the camera or the photographer (or both). If you mean the scene itself, I assure you it's completely untouched. If you mean the processing, I simply applied my standard processing, which is curves, dodging/burning, noise reduction, and sharpening. I also lightened and desaturated the blue channel in the sky a bit. So if that's what you mean by "worked upon," I'm afraid I'm guilty.

In general I'm happy to share my processing workflow with anyone who asks. Some images require more than others (and if memory serves, the biggest problem with this one was evening out the sky).

DLB from Saint Joseph, United States

Outstanding work Gary! Your images are all very well executed. Love the way the clouds grab your eye and carry you through this image! Again well done!

14 Jul 2009 5:49pm

Food from Las Cruces, NM, United States

Wow, another amazing colorful shot. Nice composition between the rocks and clouds.

15 Jul 2009 12:58am

Onlymehdi from Wayne, United States


15 Jul 2009 4:46am

LM from France

Very nice , you take really this shot at the good moment at the right place. well done

15 Jul 2009 7:58am

Joe from Folsom, United States

Another great shot Gary. Would like to see you post an article/blog entry on your common pp techniques.

15 Jul 2009 12:52pm

@Joe: Good idea, Joe. I am certainly not a PS expert--rather, I have a workflow that works for me with the minimum amount of processing time, but I think that's the way everyone should do it. For me photography is so much more rewarding when the creativity is in the capture and not the processing.

Vinay from Bangalore, India

Hi Gary, When I said worked upon, I actually meant a lot of post processing... Coz, for me the clouds seemed to be dramatized! They are so smooth... they look more like sea water than clouds!! Also the rocks look a little out-of-place! But then I said I believe, because everyday when travelling home from my office, I too see such dramatized sky and beautiful patterns created by the very same clouds! So you know my response was "I.... err.... believe it.... but.. hmm... you know..." kind of response!!!

I truly appreciate your photographic skills as much as your post-processing skills. Thank you for explaining about the photograph and the post processing that you have done on the same.

15 Jul 2009 5:29pm

Vinay from Bangalore, India

Between.. I checked your website ( You have truly amazing collection of marvelous pictures! Kudos to you for having patience and for having spent time and money to take such wonderful photographs.

15 Jul 2009 6:40pm

@Vinay: Thank you for your comments, Vinay.

Mags from Paris, France

Beautiful colors!

15 Jul 2009 6:43pm

pernilla from Andonno, Italy

Amazing scene! The clouds and the morning light is absolutely fantastic.

16 Jul 2009 7:04am

Stefan from Thiersee, Austria

Good composition, great colors!

17 Jul 2009 2:14pm

Eleftheria from Athens, Greece


23 Jul 2009 6:31am

@Eleftheria: Thank you, Eleftheria.

Derrald from United States

The arch in th sky bringing the attention to the detail in the rocks is very effective and elegantly captured. Well done.

25 Aug 2009 6:37pm