Strange Photos from the West

To paraphrase Clutch a bit.

I’m back.


Challenging was the watchword for this vacation.  Between the weather and the accessibility issues, my photography skills were put to the test.  Sometimes I passed, sometimes I failed, but overall it was a good trip.  I just heard a weather update for the Eastern Sierras and the mountains got another 6 inches of snow the other day.  Mammoth got 55 feet so far this season.

55.  Feet.

Of.  Snow.

They probably won’t close the mountain at all which is saying something for a ski resort that typically stays open through the Fourth of July.  For an easterner, it was pretty amazing.  You gotta really love winter to live in Mammoth.  This year, that’s all you’re probably gonna get.

So I’ve sorted through my 849 photos and set 241 aside for further investigation.  Some will (and already have been) be published to flickr, some will just be for me as a reminder of my trip.  Here’s one from Bodie, the Disney World of ghost towns.


The light was the biggest problem.  High desert light is harsh pretty much all the time –  from 9 am until a couple hours before sunset.  Given that that time is the most active for us humans, most of my photos are really just for me and aren’t all that great.  Sometimes that light worked with a subject (like the burned area of desert right outside Mono Lake), but that was pretty rare.  Most of the time it was awful and unworkable with washed out colors, compressed tonal ranges and big shadows.

The next biggest problem was accessibility.  Google maps and Photographer’s Ephemeris can only do so much.  When you show up to a location to find a locked gate, a 5-foot snowbank  or a river in the shackles provided by the Los Angles Water Department, you can either give up or try for second best.  I lost a couple sunrises and sets due to this.  It’s tough not being a local.  Trying to find somewhere decent for civil twilight is a bitch.

Then there was the weather.  Overall pretty good, but a couple days were so windy down in the Mono Lake basin that you couldn’t stay outside of shelter for long.  I think I ate a half-pound of sand during the day.   And damn if the camera wasn’t filthy after that.  Bah.  Couldn’t use the tripod much either because I took the little one, not the one that weighs 8 pounds.   In South Lake Tahoe we had wind and cold temps, so I didn’t shoot much at all.  The wind off the lake is enough to freeze your fingers off.  Hard to believe it’s the end of May.  I guess complaining about New England springs is out, huh?

Creatively speaking, I wasn’t on my game.  Most of my shots are pretty average.  I stopped to take enough pictures to feel guilty about it so after a while I didn’t so much and then didn’t spend much time being creative at each location.  Part of the compromise of not being on assignment for National Geographic, but on vacation.  Basically I’ve got a lot of documentary stuff and not specifically created images.  Again, it’s a bitch not being a local.

So by now you’re wondering if there was an upside?  Yeah, there was.  Gorgeous scenery.  Seriously, I sometimes wonder why I live in the east (then I remember there’s no weather here that will destroy my house).  But for vacations, I love going west.  The sheer vastness is refreshing.  You can see so far.  And the mountains are so amazing.  Plus I love the desert and all that it holds – like the amazing wildflowers.  We climbed old volcanoes.  Witnessed a great sunrise at Mono Lake.  Drove some death roads.  Saw lots of snow.  And cows.  Oh and we went to a pumice pit – something we’re going to keep laughing about for a long time.


2 thoughts on “Strange Photos from the West

Add yours

  1. I feel your pain about the locked gates. I took up flyfishing for similar reasons. I love northern NH, and after driving many bumpy miles over paper company roads looking for a pond for my wife and I to fish in, only to find “flyfishing only” signs. Ugh!

    I also understand you cherry picking of the images you want to share. Although the ones I’ve seen so far are pretty darn good, and I think the harshness of the light really gives a sense of what it must be like in a ghost town. Gives it an old western-y feel.

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