Catching Mono (Lake) – Part Two

“Let’s see if I can do this…Yon, Jenean, Denise, Lynn, Dean, Ro, ER, Ruby.” Keith, our workshop leader took roll call and managed to attach names to right person. We stood on a raised patio in the parking lot of Murphy’s Motel.

The Eastern Sierra Photography Workshop had kicked off under the warm Lee Vining sun. Cars sped along the main road and a few of us tilted our heads to hear Keith begin our initiation to becoming better photographers. Due to the road noise and strong wind it was difficult to hear so we walked to a small park nearby.

In this quieter location, Keith asked us to share our photography experience and what we wanted to gain from the workshop. The responses ranged from lots of experience to just some. But it was clear we all had one common goal: we wanted to learn. To be better, no matter what our level was. This was my second photography workshop with Keith. I took his Los Angeles Street Photography workshop in February of 2011.

Two years later, I was adept at taking photos of people and my dog but I wanted to learn more…to take stills of nature in an interesting way. Learning this skill would help my Airstream Bambi trips. It’s easy to capture the beauty, humor or uniqueness of friends and family since I care about those subjects. It’s not as intuitive with nature because sometimes I’m at odds with her. And it isn’t because I don’t appreciate nature…I just have difficulty connecting to her. The massive landscapes and their permanence makes me think about how impermanent I am.

Keith explained a cameras’ aperture by using our fingers and at that point it clicked for me. No matter how many times I’ve read about aperture, I was always confused about the concept until that day. I realized that having the right tools to create is important but even with the right tools, you need to understand how it works so you can effectively create.

With our orientation completed, three car loads of enthusiastic students made our way to Mono Lake. It was a few hours before sunset and the weather was warm. This was the time of day when everyone’s skin glowed regardless of their skin tone.

The assignment was to shoot the sunset and then later, the stars above the tufas. The tufas are eerie rock formations framing the lake. The salty lake was a bright blue and if you focused on the middle
part, you couldn’t tell it was a lake. To me, it looked like the ocean.

Another thing about nature is that she’s unpredictable. We try to apply our standards, our rigidity but nature is set in her own way and will do things on her own time. Keith challenged us to play with composition and lighting as we waited for the sun to set. It was past 8:30 p.m. and we were almost there. We set up our tripods, cameras and then began our series of test shots. We needed to capture the stars at a moment that was right for us, the camera, the environment. After a long wait, the sun set behind the mountains and the sky darkened. And somehow in an instant, the stars came out.

Keith helped me to set my camera on “Bulb” setting, adjusted the ISO to 1600 and told me to press down the shutter then count one, two, three…up to ten and let go. The first couple of shots were so-so. I didn’t have the shutter open long enough. I experimented and pressed the shutter down until 15 then 20 counts.

After a while, somewhere in between those counts, I got the shot I wanted: the stars high above the tufas complimented by an unusually bright moon.

Photos taken with Fujifilm Finepix X100. Not edited.

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