My trip to Eastern Sierra has been filled with once in a lifetime opportunities. From previous writings you see how I had to chase them down in the early morning or endure less professional photographers for the perfect shot. In other cases, I have had only to trust my instincts and go where the landscapes beckoned. That is the case in these next adventures.

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So, let’s get right to the Travel Journal.

Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest

My next shooting spot was the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, just east of the Owens Valley. This protected area in the White Mountains is around 10,000 feet high. The area is filled with ancient trees aged around 5,000 years old. The only problem was that I did not have enough time to more fully explore the area on this visit.

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I found an ancient tree for the foreground and knew the Milky Way would rise behind it,

I setup my camera on a hillside, waiting for dusk and the rise of the Milky Way in the nighttime sky. It was windy, cold, dry, and dark. I found an ancient tree for the foreground and knew the Milky Way would rise behind it, as I had checked the direction in advance.

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When night fell, there were a lot of stars and I could see the Milky Way center with my naked eye. It was amazingly beautiful, memorable, and such a thrill. (The noise made by the wind scratching heavily against the ancient trees was equally memorable. It sounded like wild animals were coming out of the dark to catch me alone.)

  • Lights on
  • Lights out

I lit the tree with my torch (please press the button under the photo to toggle) in order to feature the bark details, but a friend said they preferred the silhouette version . It is more romantic and mysterious. So, which one do you prefer ?

North Lake

Autumn Leaf around North Lake

On another day, I stopped by North Lake and Lake Sabrina. The fall season made for amazing images. The sky was blue and the water was crystal clear. It made a near mirror image in some photos (as you can see) with the water appearing like a highly shined piece of glass.

The reflections become like paintings themselves, abstracting the colors of fall into bold smudges. The ripples give depth and texture as a painter would with a palette knife, transforming reality into dreamlike scenes. I was lucky to capture this naturally occurring image through a small thicket of sharply defined brush for contrast.

Lake Sabrina

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The tree leaves were turning bright shades of yellow and orange. They made it look almost like a fuzzy sweater had been wrapped gently over the scene. It was peaceful, but exciting.

This group features more delights of fall. There are tall trees with bright yellow leaves casting long shadows and rooftops peeking out from amid the forest. You can see the meandering pathways cutting through this area and the otherworldly quality of the shallow water ways. In one, I found a leaf gliding like a small boat with it’s dew drop cargo.

Mobius Arch

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The Alabama Hills Natural Arch, better known by its nickname as the Mobius Arch, is a familiar site. It has been captured and filmed countless times. To get to the location, you take Movie road from Lone Pine, CA. The trip is immediately worth it, as you travel away from the tall slopes of the Sierra Nevada and see the huge boulders along the Alabama Hills. The rocks have been carved by nature over time, leaving these stunning archways.

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I planned to do a major shoot in this area. The landscape was extremely interesting and I thought the rock formations would make a nice background for my starry sky shots.

I arrived to the arch in the afternoon. Since it was a famous spot, there were already a few photographers “in line” to take photos around the site. The arch was surrounded by sloping rocks and there were not many good places to stand and photograph. So, I prefered to wait rather than setup in a poor spot.

 

I was surprised by the behavior of two extremely impolite Asian photographers. They were speaking loudly in their own language, snapping 360 degree shots of the arch and jumping between the rocks with no regard for everyone around. They dropped their bags and took up the only flat surface with their things. Judging by the noise from their shutter, I would say they took a thousand high speed pictures over the course of an hour or more. It seemed like they weren’t even thinking before pressing the shutter. That was the most bizarre. Luckily, they finally left as the sun was setting and then I set up my equipment.

The sky condition was great ­ clear and dark. The Milky Way center could be easily seen and I took an hour shooting. Although it was a bit scary in total darkness, I remembered to cherish the opportunity. This was a perfect night and this was what my trip was all about, so I kept going.

A photographer from Germany joined me. He was kind and we talked for a bit. I moved my prime spot (as I had already captured some wonderful images there) and allowed him to setup. I suppose I could have had another star trail picture if I kept shooting, but I remembered that good etiquette is important too. I would be very disappointed if he didn’t get that perfect shot because of me. I changed to a new composition and kept going. After he finished and left, I spent some more time there. I turned my camera’s timer on and lay on the ground looking at the sky. It was a special treat. It was worth all the time and trouble and I was happy with the results.

For the star trail images below, I took 20 exposure at 30 seconds each. At the end of the session, I lit the arch with an LED torch. After stack processing, the results were just lovely and even better than I expected. I did some stacking variations with my own stacking recipe. I like them all, but what is your favorite?

Mobius Arch against Milky way photo - Single Shots
Mobius Arch against Milky way background (Single Shot)
Mobius Arch against Milky way and star trail photo (Normal Stacking)
Mobius Arch against Milky way and star trail background (Normal Stacking)
Mobius Arch against Milky way and star trail photo (Enhanced Stacking)
Mobius Arch against Milky way and star trail background (Enhanced Stacking)

For the Milky Way shots below, I took 10 exposures at 30 seconds each (without a tracking mount). It wasn’t that great on the camera’s viewscreen, but already some of the best I have taken thanks to the extreme dark sky. The color and details in the Milky Way look really wonderful. When I returned home and processed the image, it was even better. At first, I used photoshop (Pic. B) to stack the multiple exposures into one. That cleaned out the noise and the picture quality was greatly improved. Later on, I stacked the same set of photos again, but with “Pixinsight” (Pic. A). That was even better and the color of the nebular really popped out from the composition. Now, I can’t wait until the next shooting session, but that will not be until next summer.

  • A - Pixinsight version
  • B - Photoshop version

My trip has been filled with so many once in a lifetime opportunities. Sure, I had to chase them down in the early morning or endure less respectful photographers as I searched for the perfect shots, but it was worth every minute of difficulty. I have learned to trust my instincts and go where the landscapes beckon. I can’t wait to show you how those lessons helped me in the rest of my journey.

Read more :

Part 4- Ultimate
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Bonus Day in San Francisco (Coming soon)

Part 3
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From Yosemite all the way down to SF (Coming soon)

This chapter
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Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, North Lake and Mobius Arch

Part 1
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The trip start, from SF to Mono Lake and Convict Lake

Wilson Lee, Son Gallery, 2016

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