Eastern Sierra Day Landscapes & Night Stars Photography Workshop | August 2014

Eastern Sierra Day Landscapes & Night Stars Photography Workshop - August 5th & 6th 2014

The Eastern Sierra offers diverse landscape and breathtaking photographic opportunity. The tallest mountain in California - Mt. Whitney - is located here and the John Muir Trail and the Pacific Crest trail stretch across sections of this impressive mountain range. This area attracts millions of visitors each year and it is easy to understand why.

We met a group of 9 enthusiastic photographers in Bishop, California for a 2-day workshop exploring some of the most iconic locations. We did some quick introductions and then Stephen outlined the schedule for the weekend. We planned to cover a lot in 2 days and Saturday was action-packed, which meant a very early start. We answered a few additional questions about what to bring in the morning and then it was off to bed to get some much-needed sleep before our 4:00AM departure.

The next morning our students were ready to go just before 4:00AM, and we wasted no time in getting underway. Our destination this morning was the Alabama Hills, an area known for its bizarre and unique rock formations and arches. We made a quick pit stop in Lone Pine for a coffee infusion and then out to our first stop. We parked the van and everyone loaded up for short hike out to an arch rock formation and it's striking views of the mountain range in the distance. The full moon was in perfect view and we got our students set up to capture the arch with the moon setting behind the range. We did some test exposures to get the settings dialed in and then waited for our shot to materialize. Mother Nature was doing her part and providing amazing conditions and our group was able to get some fantastic pictures. Once the moon had fully set, we moved in closer to the arch for some tight views of Mt. Whitney through the arch. One of our students, Naomi was kind enough to stand in the arch to provide some perspective. We stayed here for about another 30 minutes then moved on to our next location.

This next arch doesn't seem to be very well-known and we were happy to be able to share with our students a truly unique experience photographing this wild looking formation. From one angle it looks like giant ant head -- from another, an elephant head and trunk. We stayed for a while to allow students to take advantage of every compositional opportunity from wide angles, to close up.

But we weren't done yet! We hiked back to ApCab and drove to our next location of the morning - iconic Mobius Arch. Mother Nature was holding true and we got beautifully blue skies dotted with white puffy clouds as the backdrop. We set up around the arch for a few wide shots, and once again Naomi stepped in to add a sense of scale. Then we moved in for close up compositions that used Mobius as a frame for the mountain range in the distance. We worked with each student to get the right settings and then let them snap away. A few quick reviews of the results showed that we had a group of very talented students.

While Stephen was finishing up with a few students at Mobius, DeAnna took a small group over to Lathe Arch - our final location for the morning. This shot is all about perspective. Lathe arch is deceptively small, but with the right lens and composition, you can make it look 100 feet long in your photo! There isn't a lot of room to set up, so everyone waited patiently for their turn.

We spent about an hour between the two arches and by then the temperature had started to rise. We hiked back to our comfortable, air-conditioned van and were chauffered back to Bishop for our afternoon break, have some lunch, charge batteries, and take a much-deserved nap to get ready for our evening shoot.

At 5:00PM, we meet our rested students and pile into Apcab. We monitored the weather conditions during the break tracking a severe storm moving through the area, but we decided to brave the conditions and head out to the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest. We make a quick stop at the grocery store for some dinner snacks to eat later on location, then on we go.

We watch the storm over the mountains as we drive and witness some very impressive lightning strikes. This could turn into an Extreme Workshop! We take our time driving up the winding mountain road hoping the storm will move through and clear in time for sunset. We stop at an overlook to wait out the rain, eat some dinner, and watch the lightning show. Unfortunately after about 2 hours of waiting patiently, the weather just didn't cooperate, and we decided to call it and head back to Bishop. Stephen did a little more weather research and suggested an alternate plan for the next day. Get up at 3:00AM and hopefully get some star shooting. Our students are troopers and gamely agreed, so off to bed we went with hopes of success in our heads.

3:00AM comes all too quickly, but our group is up and ready to go, so we load everyone in the van and head out to Lake Sabrina. We had partly cloudy skies and the last phase of the full moon showing. It's quite a bit cooler this morning as we make our way down to the lakeside and several hats and gloves are deployed.

We spread out along the dam and get set up to some test shots. We find the best direction for star trails and start shooting a series of long exposures over about 30-45 minutes. We are getting some great results and will have a lot to work with in post-processing later.

The sky is starting to brighten up and the stars are slowly disappearing, so we head back to the van to wait for sunrise, have some breakfast and warm up cold fingers and toes. As the sun crept higher into position for sunrise, we head back out to our spot to set up for some alpine glow. We have several options for composition and Stephen and DeAnna helped students find what worked for them. As the sky got lighter, we adjusted settings and directed the use of ND filters to get the best photos.

As the sun rose behind us, a beautiful warm glow was cast on the mountains and reflected in the lake below. We used longer exposures to smooth out the water and were able to capture some gorgeous shots with the last minutes of the moon in view before it vanished below the horizon.

Our light changed quickly and soon it was time to move on, so we pile back in the van and drive to our final location of the morning. Just up the road on the way to North Lake, we stop at a grove of Aspen trees. The white bark and dark leaves provide a great environment for some moody black and white photography. Stephen makes some quick recommendations for compositions and settings and the students were off on their own to find the shot that spoke to them.

DeAnna also took advantage of the amazing variety to work with a few students on some Macro photography. She pointed out how texture and light can make for striking abstracts and helped everyone refine their composition and settings for just the right tone in their photos.

We let everyone get creative for a few more minutes and soon it was time to head back to Bishop for a well-deserved Starbucks stop, then back to the hotel to pack up and check out for those that needed to. We met back in the common area of the hotel to review our photos from the weekend, and spent about 3 hours on post-processing. Working between Lightroom and Photoshop, students learned photo blending techniques, exposure and color correction, as well as focus-stacking and layering of the star trail shots from that morning.

We saw some really amazing work from our talented group and everyone was happy with the results.

Time flies when you're having fun, and soon it was time to say goodbye, and send everyone on their separate ways. While we had some challenges on this workshop, we had a great group of students who were up for anything, and fun was had by all.

Until next time,

Stephen, DeAnna the rest of Team Aperture Academy

P.S. If you'd like to join us at one of our workshops, you can find the schedule/sign up here.

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