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Prehistoric Dawn, South Tufa, Mono Lake

Posted by
Gary Hart (California, United States) on 8 June 2010 in Landscape & Rural and Portfolio.

A paradoxical reality of doing photography for a living is that often the images themselves drop to the bottom of the list of things to do. When I return from a trip I generally do a cursory run-through of my images, maybe working on one or two that jump out at me and making a mental note of others to return to when there's time. But somehow that time never materializes, and the images just languish on my hard disk. Sigh.

Fortunately there are lulls in my schedule, and I'm just entering the biggest one of the year. The summer gap between my spring workshops (which usually end in May) and my fall workshops (which don't start until late September) is when I catch up on all the things I've put off since last summer, and maybe even start a project or two. My current project is to catalog all my images in Adobe Lightroom, a wonderful application that (among other things) has forced me to keyword everything, and has pretty much imposed organization on my seat-of-the-pants image management system. The project has also forced me to revisit all those images that I knew were there but hadn't made quality time for. Including today's, six of the last seven images are brand new results of that project, with more on the way.

But anyway....

The comment I most frequently hear about Mono Lake is, "It's like a different planet." I suspect this image will do little to discourage those sentiments. On this chilly morning last fall I had my workshop group at South Tufa about 40 minutes before sunrise. Experience has taught me that the quiet water necessary for glass-like reflections is most likely before the sun rises, and pre-dawn light can start at least 30 minutes before the "official" sunrise time (and it's better to be ten minutes early than one minute late). Arriving this early also allows my groups to get the best locations at this usually crowded location.

We got a particular treat this morning when the chilly temperature, low dew point, and still air combined to form an ethereal, lake-hugging fog that gave the scene a primordial quality. Shooting east into the pre-sunrise sky means extreme contrast between the brilliant horizon and dark foreground that simply doesn't allow for shadow detail, so the objective here is to simplify, simplify, simplify. It's all about color and shape. The sky color and its reflection serves as the canvas that holds the shapes, which must be both strong and complementary.

In scenes like this, where simplicity is key, I usually opt for a mid-range telephoto zoom, in this case my 70-200. With my camera off the tripod I look for strong elements and visual balance, slowly panning and zooming until something stops me. If I decide it's worthy of an exposure, I meter (spot-meter in manual mode on the brightest part of the sky, choosing an exposure that retains the color), return the camera to the tripod, refine the composition, focus, and shoot. If I really like the scene, I try variables of the same general composition, wider/tighter, horizontal/vertical, high-horizon/low-horizon.

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

KriKridesign from Cully, Switzerland

make me think in a way to the "Wish you were here" PinkFloyd album cover...Splendid!

8 Jun 2010 6:45am

Tamara from Aarschot, Belgium

This is magic Gary ! You really feel on another planet... the mist rising from the water, the special shapes of the rocks and the soft colors... everything is beautiful ! Wonderful shot ! Have a nice day :)

8 Jun 2010 8:22am

Fred from Manila, Philippines

Gary you just took me away and brought me back to the time when megalodons and t-rex's ruled the earth. It also reminds me of the lochness lake. Beautiful framing of all the elements and the inclusion of the fog. Exposure is perfect! Good job!

8 Jun 2010 10:06am

Amir Taheri Kondar from Bandar Abbas, Iran

very nice capture !

8 Jun 2010 11:08am

Vaido from Võrumaa, Estonia

That is the moment, when title adds so much to special nature moment captured here :-) Superb light and composition!

8 Jun 2010 11:13am

Daniel from Kenmare, United States

nice silhouettes.

8 Jun 2010 12:10pm

Dimitrios, think positive. from ATHENS, Greece

absolutly breathtaking scenery BRAVO****

8 Jun 2010 1:07pm

Tracy from La Selva Beach, United States

So beautiful! this does have a very prehistoric feeling to me....The formations look like ancient dinosaurs to me, foraging in the early morning light :) (But maybe that's just me and I need more coffee!)

8 Jun 2010 2:35pm

Julie Brown from Indianapolis, United States

Gorgeous light, Gary. I like the low clouds and tufa silhouettes.

8 Jun 2010 2:40pm

Denny Jump from Easton, PA, United States

Hi Gary - UI'm with Tracy on this one - I see a Viking boat just off to the right hand side getting ready to attack that sea monster - more seriously this is exquisite light as Jule says also. I love this!!!

8 Jun 2010 4:42pm

ehsan kamaly from bojnord, Iran

power shot

8 Jun 2010 5:39pm

melessa t from United States

I bougt your book The Undiscovered Country it is wounderfull. I hope to paint some of your photos. I am a very beginner painter and only do it for my self . I'm not good at all, along the lines of only a mother could like it. With three kids and a husband who is more like the biggest kid it is the only relaxation I get. Thank you for your inspiring photos

8 Jun 2010 7:45pm

@melessa t: Thanks, Melessa--I'm glad you like the book. If you end up painting any of my images, I'd love to see one (or more).

MARIANA from Waterloo, Canada

This is a magic !!! Tones are perfection !

8 Jun 2010 8:08pm

LauraS from Chico, United States

Most excellent shot. Love it! Very unearthly, out of this worldly.

8 Jun 2010 11:48pm

MK from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

yeah, magical colors n forms

9 Jun 2010 2:14am

john4jack from Corvallis, Oregon, United States


9 Jun 2010 3:32am

DarkElf from Perth, Australia

well... it does look like another planet! almost a sea of fire and lava rather than water with strange shapes sticking out and the bit of cloud and fog adds even more to the surreal and mysterious mood! superbly captured!

9 Jun 2010 3:38am

Julie from Easton, United States

As I sit here with my mind wondering and going 1,000 miles a minute, I stop to look at your photo and suddenly a peaceful calm came over me. I find this photo to be quite tranquil, calming and pleasing to my eye. Thanks for the moment of ahhhh.

9 Jun 2010 6:18am

pixator from kerman, Iran

Very great!!

9 Jun 2010 7:39pm

Dutch from Chicagoland, United States

Like lava at the beginning of time yet it is so smooth.. the glassy surface seems surreal. Yes it does look like its from another place, some things just have that feel to them. This is .. stirring the imagination.

10 Jun 2010 5:56pm

Florence from Paris, France

Like several Nessies swimming ! Wow ! Colors, colors, colors ! It's really superb Gary.

10 Jun 2010 7:18pm

Marie from FRESNES, France

magnifique, les couleurs sotn très belles.

11 Jun 2010 5:56pm

Ansie from South Africa

Bathing time for them, you must be careful out there1 Lovely, yes water is normal the most quiet just before sunrise, unfortunately! ;-))

13 Jun 2010 4:56pm

Vitor Martins from Lisboa, Portugal

The composition is very beautiful but the strenght of this image comes from the fantastic light i the water.

14 Jun 2010 8:33am

Skyriani from Nelson, New Zealand

..the shadows....mmmmmmmm...

14 Jun 2010 8:37am

photomf from ravenna, Italy

Very great!!

17 Jun 2010 7:28am

Didier DE ZAN from somewhere, France

monster coming out of the waters , great !

11 Jul 2010 9:57am