Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Tufas of Mono Lake, California Photography

This last Sunday, May 2, 2010, I was driving back home from Mammoth Ski Resort and I realized that I had time to stop at Mono Lake and get some photos of the tufa towers. I had been wanting to shoot this area for years but I'm usually in a hurry when driving by.  This weekend wasn't supposed to be a photo trip but I got lucky and made it one.

I fired up Google Maps on my Motorola Droid and I easily found the South Tufa area. Here's a link to the location I tagged with my Droid. (I plan on writing a post soon on how my Droid and it's great apps help make me a better photographer, stay tuned) For more information on visiting Mono Lake, please visit

I had a great afternoon and evening running around like a kid in a candy store shooting the giant tufa towers. There are plenty of trails around the tufas, and there are signs posted to not climb on them or remove pieces. I saw why. There were about ten other photographers out there but I saw one of them try to climb up a tufa tower to get a better angle. I was thinking "that's lame" when all of a sudden a chunk the size of small ice chest broke off and came crashing down on the guy. He was obviously very embarrassed but he was proud he didn't get hurt or break his camera. I wasn't impressed.

When you follow the trail from the parking lot to the South Tufa beach area, you can go to the right at the beach and keep your shoes clean. But if you go to the left, expect to get your shoes muddy this time of year. I veered a little off the trail and stepped on what looked like solid ground but I broke through the thin dry crust and ended up past my ankle in green stinky mud. Oops.

I didn't have my big camera bag with all my gear, only my Canon 5D Mark II and a 24-105 L lens. I also had my graduated neutral  density filter and I saw other photographers using theirs, but I opted not to use mine. The tufa towers break the horizon too much in my opinion to use it. I also didn't use my polarizer filter but I kind of wish I had when I shot the very green water, I would have liked to cut down on the glare a bit more.  I occasionally used my flash to help fill in the shadow areas of the tufas with some light and also during late sunset when the tufas would have all been silhouettes without it.

I would highly recommend using a tripod out there. Most of my shots were at f22 in order to get the tufas in the foreground and background in focus. This made the exposures too long to handhold, especially at sunset.  Bumping up my ISO would have helped but I prefer a low ISO when I'm planning on making large 30"x40" prints.

All in all, I was very happy with my Mono Lake photo experience. Easy access, no need for my 4x4. Very unusual and bizarre subject matter. The sunset was incredibly beautiful and seemed to last a very long time.  My only complaint is that I didn't get to shoot a sunrise, good excuse to go back. Here are the photos from the shoot. What are your thoughts?

Tufas of Mono Lake, California - Images by Scott Thompson

To view larger images, click on the "full screen" icon on the slideshow.

All photos are available as stock photography and fine art prints.


Pamela Hunt Lee said...

The tufa shots are truly captured the feel of the area.

Scott Thompson said...

Thank you Pamela, and what a fun area it is. I will definitely be back for more...

Herman said...

It's my 2nd day here and this place was fantastic! It's very cold in the morning and evening though. Nevertheless I was as you said like a kid in a candy store :) I find it fairly difficult to find a good spot to set up the perfect framing (even though the tufas were everywhere..) Tomorrow morning I'll try walking towards the west from the south tufa.

Scott Thompson said...

Hi Herman, glad to hear you're having a fun time out there. I want to bring my kayak next time, I think that might help get some more interesting angles on the tufas. Good luck today, hope you get some great shots! (Come back and post an url when they're up.)

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