Mono Lake is a saline soda lake in the Eastern Sierras just north of Mammoth Lakes, CA. It has a geological oddity in which many columns of limestone rise above the lake surface in the form of tufas. These tufas are fascinating to experience and photograph. At least that is what has been told to me over the years. During our first two visits, my success rate has been close to nonexistent, unable to capture the uniqueness I was seeing. This visit I want to see improvement in my photos, whatever that means.

The weather outlook for this evening is gloomy, cloudy, rainy, stormy, perfect for a landscape photographer. We arrive to a nearly full parking lot, never have we seen this many visitors here. We silently curse under our collective breaths that we may not be able to shoot the way we want, people hanging on and around the tufas. We make our way to the South Tufa Area where there is abundance of tufas just waiting to be photographed. The clouds thicken as we move through them looking for a spot to shoot. I can’t find anything interesting. I think back to our previous visits where my photos were tufa portraits, a single tufa or family of tufas. It was as if I was hired by a tufa family to take pictures for their family album. Interesting for them, not so much for anyone else.

We continue to walk by one tufa family after the next, my frustration growing. What is it about this place that curbs my photographic creativity? It should be a fascinating experience. Then, as we got to the end of the tufa range I looked up. In front of me is a vibrant rainbow growing out of a tufa head. Then it hit me! I’m not here to take portraits but to photograph landscapes. I want to incorporate the environment into my photos. The creative juices begin to flow. There is rain. I don’t care! There are ominous clouds. Bring them on! There is lightning. I am ready for most anything!

I spend the next 45 minutes in photographic heaven. Here is some of what we captured.

This scene caught my eye and changed how I look at tufas. They are now a supporting element of the photo as opposed to the main subject. If you look carefully you can see a hint of a second rainbow.

Just a few moments later the second rainbow became more prominent. You’ll also notice the sun is no longer shining directly on the tufas which gives the photo a completely different look.

Perhaps my favorite of this rainbow series, the rainbow nicely frames the scene.

Ominous clouds set the mood. [photo by Kathryn]

Rotating about 90 degrees we notice the sky is lighting up even though it is heavy with clouds. There was also lightning which we unfortunately missed photographing (a story for another day).

My final shot of the night was perhaps the most beautiful. The alien glow reflecting on the tufas and the lake provided a surreal scene.

Do you think I captured more than just a portrait?

Remember, it’s all about the light!