I am just back from two weeks in the Eastern Sierras of California. The mountains were beautiful, but the photography was quite different than I thought it would be.

We talk about photography being, “all about the light”. On this trip, there were four light related challenges that impacted how I approached my photography.

First, there was the weather or rather the lack of it. Sunlight on the clouds can create amazing skies, just think of those breathtaking sunrises or sunsets with reds and oranges or glowing pinks. Not on this trip. I had sunny, cloudless, blue skies. This is great for a beach vacation or for hiking, but rather boring for photography. I had hoped to shoot the same locations on multiple days, but with plain blue skies it didn’t make sense to shoot the same thing over and over. 

Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite

Second, with the mountains to the west, I shot primarily at sunrise, eschewing sunset. It was as if there was no afternoon golden hour as the sun dropped abruptly behind the mountains before it could reach that magical low angle. At sunrise with the sun behind me, I looked to capture the light behind the mountains hoping for some pink/blue alpine glow or maybe some clouds lit up by the sun to accent my shots. But there were no clouds, no pretty alpine glow, just plain blue skies.

Blue Hour at Convict Lake
Blue Hour at the Minarets with a token cloud

The view at the Minarets was more interesting behind me.

Jeff looks for a composition

Third, I was shooting at altitudes between 6,000 and 11,000 feet. Although I knew in the back of my mind that the light is different at higher altitudes, it was only after shooting it day after day, that I really noticed it in my photos. Because the air is thinner, there is less filtering on the sunlight. The light is clearer and bluer.  Even the photos captured during the early mornings and the late afternoons, lacked the golden tones that I am accustomed to seeing. Instead they looked blue, really blue. The mountains looked crisper and the skies bluer. Not a bad thing, just different.

Emerald Lake – Perfectly Blue Sky
McLeod Lake – Again, Perfectly Blue Sky
Parker Lake – and even more Perfectly Blue Sky

Lastly, during our visit, there was a wildfire (Springs fire) that was constantly burning east of us. Depending on which way the wind blew, the skies would become thick with smoke. This gave me an opportunity to be creative and look for a different type of image.

Smoke isolates the tufa’s on Mono Lake

All in all, a great trip, just a little bluer than anticipated. 

Remember, it’s all about the light, even if it is blue light.