June Lake holds a special position in our memory. It is the first place in Eastern Sierra that we visited many years ago during autumn season. This year, we explored it again when the fall foliage just started here. While driving past this section of the road, our eyes were caught by the bright white trunk of several aspen trees — they stood out from the background of warmed colored leaves. We carefully composed this shot and singled out only one aspen tree, making its trunk the dominant subject in a relative uniform background.
We arrived a bit late after a winter storm, and thus missed the best time to photograph the snowy Yosemite valley. However, we ran into a rare low fog that blanketed the valley floor. Due to code temperature, the fog was retreating at a very fast pace. In the end, we only got time for two photos.
The past week, Yosemite welcome its first snow of the season. We did not get a chance to go there until the snow stopped, and thus missed the best moment when the valley was blanketed by fresh powder. However, clear evening brought an opportunity to shoot the Tunnel View under moon light with large format film camera.
For people unfamiliar with large format photography, it was commonly accepted that night is the enemy for this form of photography due to a few limitations. First of all, it is extremely challenging to focus and compose with the ground glass in evening because there was virtually no image to look at on the ground glass. Secondly, film has a notorious problem for long exposure, namely reciprocity failure. It means that a long exposure in digital world need to be extended to an extreme length.
Fortunately, our experience had told us we could try to focus on the moon or bight stars in the evening. And in this evening, we had a clear sky with an almost full moon. It was relatively easy to focus on the moon on the ground glass because it was a big and bright circle on the sky. Bright moon light also created a not-so-bright image visible on the ground glass. It made composition possible.
The other benefit of bright moon light is that it brought down the exposure time to several minutes at a relatively low speed of ISO 400, a common speed for fast films. Reciprocity table pointed to at least 4 times of the exposure for the Ilford HP5 Plus film we used. And we decided to push it to 10 times longer, which gave us 60 minutes exposure in the end.
The result was surprisingly good. The film responded to the moon light very well, and held a great deal of details with barely visible grain. Whether this was the first attempt to capture the evening Tunnel View on large format film, we do not know. It surely was a rare one.
Santa Cruz island features many milkweed trees, a specific plant that provide food source for larva of the famous migrating monarch butterfly. We didn’t find any monarch butterfly on those trees on the island. Nevertheless, the trees were a wonderful subject to photograph on black and white film, just like oak trees.
These two milkweed trees were at the edge of a campground on the island. When passing by them, we were attracted by the shape of the trees with their far-reaching branches and bare barks. We set up our Intrepid 4×5 large format camera, and captured this photo on a sheet of Fomapan 400 film. We positioned the tree in the front and let it play a dominant role in the frame. The tree in the back, while smaller, provides a sense of depth and balances the weight in the frame. At a small aperture of f/32, both trees retain the sharpness we wanted.
We love the fall season! Mother Nature brings us so many wonderful colors each year during this period. In California, Eastern Sierra is one of the most popular destinations to observe fall colors. Melting ice water from the top of Sierra mountains create many creeks here. These creeks provide valuable water source to many aspen forests, which changed color seasonly. We had been to this region many times in the past, and every time there were new surprises, even at the same locations.
In a late afternoon of early October, we arrived at Conway Summit, a popular scenic viewpoint alone high 395 in Eastern Sierra. Alone the hill, some aspen forest was near the peak of fall colors. Several years ago, we captured some memorable pictures here after the peak. This year, it was a mix of green, yellow, and orange. It was even more impressive than pure yellow.