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Twilight, South Tufa, Mono Lake

Posted by
Gary Hart (California, United States) on 14 June 2010 in Landscape & Rural and Portfolio.

Would you believe that I photographed this with a pop video being filmed just over my left shoulder? Seriously.

Preparing for the first of my two Eastern Sierra workshops last fall, I had driven down a day early to scout the conditions and get in a little of my own shooting. I had so much fun photographing Lundy Canyon that I didn't allow myself any margin for error at South Tufa, my sunset destination. But I'm so familiar with South Tufa that I didn't feel the normal urgency to arrive early, and I made up a little time by taking the dirt road shortcut along the shore rather than the easier paved drive on Highway 120. No problem.

So imagine my surprise arriving at South Tufa shortly before sunset to find the parking area brimming with big rigs, motor homes, vans, cars, and a bevy of bustling workers. Skirting a roaring diesel generator at the top of the trail, I followed a six-inch diameter umbilical cord of cables all the way (about 1/4 mile) to the lake. The trail exited to a beach swarming with more people, video cameras, director's chairs, massive speakers, and a towering bank of bright lights. At the vortex of all this activity was a gyrating Japanese girl who looked and sounded like an Asian Britney Spears.

Darkness was falling fast, but, bolstered by artificial light, the video crew was clearly undeterred. As interesting as all this was (it really was), the sky was beautiful and time was short, so I slipped behind the action to the next cove. I often like to shoot South Tufa several coves over, where I can get a view to the east, but on this evening the best sky was north and this is where I stayed.

The biggest problem with this location was finding a composition without shadows cast by the video lights. It took me a while to find something that worked, and as you can see by the exposure settings, by the time I shot this it was quite dark, far darker to my eyes than the image reveals. One bonus of shooting this late is the way the long exposure smoothes the water, which was actually fairly choppy. Just one more lesson in letting your camera's vision trump your own.

The video shoot wrapped up shortly before I did. I couldn't believe how quickly they cleared out of there--the beach was almost completely empty of equipment as I walked through, and even the parking lot had started to empty by the time I made it up there. I never did find out who this girl was, but I don't think she's on anyone's radar here in America. Given the magnitude of the production, I imagine there are teens in Japan who would be quite mystified by my decision to opt for a Mono Lake twilight shoot over watching this pop diva's performance. I guess it's all about priorities, and I have no regrets. :)

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

Marie LC from Dauphiné, France

Nice place. Rocks are very beautiful and impressive.

14 Jun 2010 6:47am

Tamara from Aarschot, Belgium

Wow ! Fantastic... It looks like we've just landed on another planet ! Another great capture Gary !
Have a nice day :)

14 Jun 2010 7:22am

Florence from Paris, France

It's really gorgeous... I feel like beeing on another planet. The landscape is so unusual. Remarquable rocky formation.

I love your story here and laught a lot with "At the vortex of all this activity was a gyrating Japanese girl who looked and sounded like an Asian Britney Spears". :-)))))))))))))))))))))))))))))

14 Jun 2010 7:39am

Vaido from Võrumaa, Estonia

Really wonderful sky for that mystical landscape! Long exposure gives nice reflections, too.

14 Jun 2010 7:40am

MK from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

beautiful colors n lights on this wonderful subject

14 Jun 2010 8:33am

Skyriani from Nelson, New Zealand you say....eloquent

14 Jun 2010 8:36am

Vitor Martins from Lisboa, Portugal

I like the POV in this image and the great rock details. I think it´s the same place of a previous image taken during the night, its a nice place.

14 Jun 2010 8:41am

KriKridesign from Cully, Switzerland

Tell me please...Is it the place where the "Wish you were here" image has been catched??? The same place as the one from 2 days ago? Amaising geological formations...

14 Jun 2010 10:53am

@KriKridesign: Thanks, Christine. Yes, this is South Tufa at Mono Lake, the same place as my June 2 and 8 images. There is no outlet for this very large lake so it is very salty, more salty than the ocean.

Dimitrios, think positive. from ATHENS, Greece

the light is simply BREATHTAKING, BRAVO!

14 Jun 2010 11:05am

Daniel from Kenmare, United States


14 Jun 2010 12:11pm

Denny Jump Photo from Easton, PA, United States

What a HILARIOUS story,Gary! - I can only imagine the bewilderment in your mind like- OK....NOW what do I do? Anyway I really love the light and resultant color the way you did this. Do I see a Lenticular cloud smack in the middle of the sky?? The way this entire image works with the light and the awesome colors is really an emotional uplift to me- Fantastic as ever!! Best Regards - Denny

14 Jun 2010 12:25pm

digitalCG from Manchester, United Kingdom

Wonderful, wonderful image. That you weren't sufficiently put off by all the activity to move along the coast a little (as most of us probably would have) has paid huge dividends here.

14 Jun 2010 12:29pm

Mike Cirella from United States

Great perspective Gary. I especially like the contrasting 'feel' of the sharp edged rocks in the foreground with the smooth water and sky from the long exposure. Interesting how you have captured both a visual and tactile image. The leading line created by the dark area at water's edge draws my eye to the highest outcropping close to the one-third point. Well done...but you never fail to please. Thank you for sharing the image and the back story too. :)

14 Jun 2010 12:45pm

@Mike Cirella: Thanks, Mike. It really was pretty surreal to be out there with the video crew. They ignored me and I tried to ignore them, but it was like having a soundtrack playing, and I couldn't control the volume.

Marie from FRESNES, France

un endroit superbe, pour une très belle photo.

14 Jun 2010 1:44pm

Tracy from La Selva Beach, United States

So glad you decided on this, rather than the video! Amazing what a photographer can accomplish by what he does NOT include in the frame....

14 Jun 2010 2:04pm

Philip from South Wales, United Kingdom

Almost prehistoric with some soft flowing clouds. The lighting is very graceful and your efforts in finding the correct area was obviously worthwhile. The reasonably wide angle opens up the landscape well.

14 Jun 2010 3:31pm

MontereyJohn from Salinas, California, United States

You and Scott Schilling with the superb processing! Very nice.

14 Jun 2010 3:37pm

Julie from Easton, United States

That sky is too cool! Lovely shot!

14 Jun 2010 4:31pm

Lin from Taipei, Taiwan

wow, gorgeous image!! beautiful colors and composition

14 Jun 2010 5:12pm

john4jack from Corvallis, Oregon, United States

Exquisite. Absolutely terrific.

14 Jun 2010 6:44pm

Julie Brown from Indianapolis, United States

Isn't South Tufa a state park? I'm surprised they were allowed to do that-assuming they had a permit. Anyway, you managed to disregard the distractions nicely and produce another beautiful image. The silvery blue tones are gorgeous.

14 Jun 2010 7:00pm

Paul from summerside, Canada

Very nice

14 Jun 2010 8:00pm

Wild Mustang Photography from Carlisle, United States

Beautiful Composition! Nicely done! Perfect! 5*****!

15 Jun 2010 2:23am

Stefan from Thiersee, Austria

Very impressive rocks, beautiful composition!

15 Jun 2010 3:54am

Scott F. Schilling from San Martin, United States

I guess I could kind of see you dancing as you were working on this composition and listening to the music!

I like the long exposure with the smoother water and the slight reflections of the tufa on the foreground water! Fantastic sky also!

15 Jun 2010 4:57am

DarkElf from Perth, Australia

superb composition! i like the way the rocks and landscape build up from the foreground up! the clouds and water have a fantastic quality to them - the mood and colours you captured are really great! nice work with the 25 second exposure!

15 Jun 2010 4:59am

lili from *, Iran

Amazing ! super cool shot!

15 Jun 2010 7:58am

Dutch from Chicagoland, United States

I think it would be interesting to see that video and what they made of it from the same setting as you used for your photograph here. I can see why they were so intent in filming there, this is absolutely beautiful. Maybe you should have gone down there and danced with the girl ;) You could be famous you know! This image is breath taking and again thank you for sharing another of your great stories.

18 Jun 2010 4:23am

steve loos from hollister, United States

This is a magical place Gary and you captured it beautifully.

22 Jun 2010 4:27am

Elora from Genoa, Italy

you are right the sky is amazing, well worth skipping the pop diva's performance :))

28 Jun 2010 12:48pm

Didier DE ZAN from somewhere, France


11 Jul 2010 9:56am

DA Hamburg from New York, United States

Gary: Great shot and interesting blog. Just a suggestion: The blog is very difficult to read with light grey letters on a black background.


24 Aug 2010 2:15pm