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Rocks and Reflection, North Lake, Eastern Sierra

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

North Lake is an alpine gem near the top of Bishop Creek Canyon in California's Eastern Sierra. Early each fall the aspen on the lake's north shore come alive with yellow and red, an event not lost on photographers, who frequently stand shoulder-to-shoulder in the frigid dark waiting for day's first rays. Despite the cold and crowds, it's one of my workshop students' favorite locations. With groups, friends, and on my own, I've photographed here in all kinds of conditions, including wind, rain, snow, and utter calm. One of my favorite shots here was a firey sunset, but warm front-light on the snowy peaks across the way usually makes sunrise the best time to photograph North Lake. In addition to the warm light, sunrise also offers the greatest potential for still air necessary to turn the lake's surface to glass, and I'm a sucker for a nice reflection.

On this morning in early October, all the elements necessary for something special seemed to converge. We arrived to find the aspen grove at its color crescendo and the surrounding mountains dusted with fresh snow from an overnight storm. Overhead the storm's cloudy vestiges played with the light, adding a touch of visual interest to the all-too-frequently blue sky. For most of the morning a whisper of wind stirred slight ripples on the lake, blurring the surface, but when the wind calmed for a couple of minutes, the reflection snapped into place and we all snapped into action.

I'm asked quite a bit about the filters I use. The answer is quite simple: I use a neutral polarizer for virtually every daylight shot, and a graduated density filter when conditions call for it. Because this morning the contrast between the bright sky and foreground shadows was greater than my camera (or any other camera) could handle, I knew I'd be using a GND. I opted for a 3-stop soft because the more gradual dark-to-light transition of a soft GND is less obvious. Burying the transition in the mountainside sloping down to the lake enabled me to save the blue in the sky and still bring out the detail in the still shaded lake (which was entirely in the transparent portion of the filter). The filter actually darkened the sky a little too much, so in post-processing I dodged the top of the frame a bit to brighten the sky to a more natural tone.

The polarizer proved to be an interesting decision. I'm always reluctant to tell people that I use a polarizer for all my daylight images because, despite my warnings to the contrary, it seems some people simply attach a polarizer and then forget about it. Without getting too technical, let me just say that a polarizer consists of two parallel circles of glass. The bottom piece is fixed and the top piece rotates. Rotating the top piece transitions smoothly from reduced to enhanced reflections, an effect that is greatest at 90 degrees to the light source, and almost imperceptible when the angle of view is perfectly aligned with the direction of the light. The benefits of turning the polarizer to minimize reflections include deepening the blue of the sky (in my opinion an overrated benefit), increasing contrast between the sky and clouds (makes clouds stand out better), cutting glare that inhibits the color of foliage, rocks, and so on, and eliminating surface reflections to see beneath water's surface. The prime benefits of turning the polarizer to maximize reflections include slightly more vivid rainbows and reflections.

So with the polarizer basics in place, let me emphasize here that if you're going to use a polarizer, you must turn it with every composition or risk doing your image more harm than good. Look through your viewfinder while turning the polarizer to determine the effect you want.

Most photographers turn their polarizers to one extreme or the other, dialing in either a maximum or minimum reflection. Generally in an image like this North Lake scene, the inclination is to maximize the reflection, which was indeed quite spectacular. I took a few frames with the maximum reflection, but decided to play with my polarizer and found a point midway between maximum and minimum reflection that retained the most dramatic and colorful part of the reflection, while cutting the reflection in the immediate foreground enough to reveal the rocks beneath the water at my feet. It wasn't until I viewed the series of images on my monitor at home that I decided I prefer this one because the foreground lake-bottom detail puts an extra dimension of depth in the frame.

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

Didier DE ZAN from somewhere, France

Very beautiful landscape, I like theses reflections and theses tones

8 Dec 2010 6:07am

Julie from Easton, United States

What a beautiful reflection you have captured! Love the detail on the rock also!

8 Dec 2010 6:09am

SOUL AFLAME from The bosom of Mother Nature, United Kingdom

An immensely beautiful frame, Gary with wonderful composition from the foreground water and rocks to the distant mountain and cloudscape. A very accompished shot and also fascinating to read of your technical details. I can fully appreciate why this is a workshop students favoured locaion, utterly glorious and what I'd give to be there.


The effect of the Polarizer on the foreground rock detail is splendid, and the entire frame is an absolute gem.

8 Dec 2010 8:01am

Siepi from Belgium

Wauw, 5*

8 Dec 2010 8:58am

Marie LC from Entre montagnes et Bretagne, France

5* for this wonderful shot. Love colors, reflections, frame, etc....

8 Dec 2010 9:43am

Florence from Paris, France

Stunning. A wonderful spectacle, colors, setting. Truly fascinating.

8 Dec 2010 10:04am

Sylvie49 capture image from Anjou - Maine et Loire, France

excellent pour tous les détails. Un reflet splendide.
5*

8 Dec 2010 11:22am

Denny Jump Photo from Easton, PA, United States

Hi Gary - The details in your text are so helpful - I keep a polarizer on my lenses at all times but I will will admit ignorance to some of the points you have elaborated on. I would give my lenses, tripod and more just to be standing there with you as an instructor. As a "student" of your photoblog, I feel so lucky to have your teachings at least availbale there. I am embarassed that I did not know some of the things you mention here...Thank you again so very much! - Denny

8 Dec 2010 2:31pm

PD from Overland Park, Kansas, United States

Awesome shot, love the reflections and the rocks in the foreground. Thanks for the reminder on the polarizer!

8 Dec 2010 5:26pm

¨‘°ºO Dutçh Oº°‘¨ from Neverwhere, United States

Thank you for the little tutorial on polarizers. I bought one recently but don't leave it on like you say some people do. I also turn it.. but all the different things it can do that you covered, valuable info. This image keeps popping up, in the community, in my faves and I keep looking at it. Hm, must be a keeper. The layers of color are just amazing.

8 Dec 2010 5:55pm

KriKridesign from Cully, Switzerland

as magical as an automn can be...

8 Dec 2010 6:33pm

Tulip from kerman, Iran

Wow very nice view

8 Dec 2010 8:08pm

Bill Brown from California, United States

Just beautiful Gary! Would you believe just last night I was going over some my images from the 2008 Eastern Sierra workshop and processed a similar image to post later.

8 Dec 2010 8:47pm

Stefan from Thiersee, Austria

Amazing landscape, wonderful reflections!

8 Dec 2010 8:55pm

Franz from Baden, Austria

quite the best!

8 Dec 2010 9:07pm

Vitor Martins from Lisboa, Portugal

Very beautiful, great work.

8 Dec 2010 10:22pm

MOHAMMAD from BANDAR ABBAS, Iran

wow 5*****

9 Dec 2010 11:59am

Tamara from Aarschot, Belgium

Wow ! These reflections are gorgeous ! Fantastic work. Have a lovely day :)

9 Dec 2010 12:26pm

Longroute from Cagliari, Italy

Excellent photo and excellent explanatory note. The first filter I'll buy when i'll have a DSRL is the polarizer, the second a ND graduated.
I'm really amazed by the beauty of this mountain and its reflection. The colour palette is fantastic.
A gem!
Best compliments,
Donato

9 Dec 2010 9:33pm

DarkElf from Perth, Australia

wonderful composition and work with the nd grad filter to keep great light balance across the frame! i like how you have a lot of space to the reflections - they really add a lot of depth to this scene and work well with the rocks in the foreground! amazing place!

10 Dec 2010 5:20am

Scott F. Schilling from San Martin, United States

Wonderful work on this image Gary! This has some of my favorite elements. I always enjoy seeing through the water below the surface at the bottom of the frame, and then moving to the reflections deeper in the frame, and in this case you were able to top off the image with fresh snow and fall colors - breathtaking! I hope to be there one of these days with your workshop group!

11 Dec 2010 3:55am

Barbara Kile from Ft. Worth, United States

Striking image, Gary, with the lovely reflection and the wonderful lines and fall tones!

11 Dec 2010 8:12pm

Mike from California, United States

Gary, I like this image alot. Picking a "mid-point" with the polarizer is a great tip...I usually have a tendency to go for "all or nothing". Hope you're having a great weekend.

12 Dec 2010 4:35am

Vincent de Perrot from Tokyo, Japan

Most impressive, and thank you for sharing your knowledge.

12 Dec 2010 4:13pm

guillaume from Paris, France

Stunnig shot ! Love your work !

13 Dec 2010 9:43am

Tracy from La Selva Beach, United States

Oh wow! A heart stopper!

13 Dec 2010 2:41pm

Magda from Vancouver, Canada

Magnificent shot!

16 Dec 2010 3:50pm

Tinx from Kuressaare, Estonia

Excellent!

14 Mar 2011 2:53pm