Milky Way

Looking southwest

Astrophotography is one of those things that requires extra effort. It means staying up late, going somewhere unfamiliar, and fumbling around in the dark for the chance to capture images that may or may not turn out in the end. It's also only an option in the summer because I'm not willing to spend a winter's evening outside freezing my lens caps off. 

So, as my trip neared its end, I realized that—in the grand scheme of things—there really were a minimal number of hurdles standing in my way. It was warm out. The moon was setting in the early evening. And the skies around Lake Tahoe are pretty dark. There weren't even any bugs. 

But I'll be honest: A stronger individual would have made the 20 minute drive up the hill to something more secluded and away from the village lights. Instead, I walked 5 minutes to the unlit soccer field next door to the hotel. My biggest obstacle that evening was the sprinkler system.

This image was made looking southwest—the lakeshore is just on the other side of those trees. The trees are illuminated by a street light, which adds a little interest to what would have been a dark silhouette in the foreground.

While I've stylized the image processing a bit, images like this are pretty easy to make. The hard part is the trial-and-error process of getting the composition right, since it's usually too dark to frame anything up in real time using the camera's finder. 

This image concludes my week long series of Lake Tahoe. Thank you for following along. If you enjoyed this series, please drop me a quick line and let me know (or simply click on the heart-shaped 'like' button below). I am considering additional projects like this in the future and the feedback helps guide the creative process. 

Clear water

Descriptive signage around the lake often notes the visibility of the water used to be 100' in the days when Mark Twain explored the area, but development has reduced that figure to about 65' today. These signs are posted to reinforce the "Keep Tahoe Blue" environmental awareness campaign, but 65' of visibility in any lake is still quite remarkable—and likely something that most people have never experienced before. 

As a result, the natural bays that occur around the lake appear freakishly artificial. The only comparable body of water that I can think of is the submarine lagoon at Disneyland. You get my point. But it's the reason why the lake draws so many to its inviting shores. 

Coming up tomorrow: Dark skies mean bright stars. 

Golden light

Bonzai Rock

Last summer, we made a trip to Tahoe in July (2015) to celebrate Carlie's birthday. There's two things I will always remember about that trip. The first is that there was a wedding at our hotel with—no joke—a freaking blue unicorn in the ceremony. (A little Googling after the fact turned up that link.)

I'll give you a moment to recover from that.

The second thing is the beautiful light that happens right before sunset. I don't know if it's the altitude, my carefree vacation spirit, or maybe the cream soda trees, but the light right before sunset is warm and stunning and it makes everything look good. Maybe it even makes unicorns appear. 

This year's trip confirmed that this light wasn't just limited to our previous trip—It reliably happens every evening. So, I tried my best to capture the girls playing in it.

Along the way, we ended up using this time of day to unwind and not worry about the next meal or nap that was headed in the kids' direction. Quinn embraced her inner engineer and took to digging in the sand, and Paige learned that she couldn't wait until sunset to begin eating the marshmallows. 

Coming up tomorrow: High visibility.

Golden Quinn

Playing in the sand before sunset

Paige takes her marshmallows raw

Vanilla in the Sierras

Lakeside cabins in Incline Village NV

At first glance, this image may look like it's about picturesque lakeside cabins, but it's really about something else: the Jeffrey pine. The Jeffrey is nearly identical to the Ponderosa (most people think they're the same tree), except for one super charming characteristic—the trunk of the Jeffrey smells like pineapple and vanilla. This odor is so distinctive—and pervasive—throughout the eastern Sierra that once you recognize the characteristic scent, you'll find yourself constantly detecting it in the air all throughout the range.   

Which brings us back to this image. Each evening at twilight, kids run across this lawn to expel their last bits of energy, while their tired parents sit in Adirondack chairs and watch bats flutter amongst the tops of the pine trees. Those in the know recognize a familiar scent of cream soda, vanilla, and pineapple in the air, and they close their eyes after another successful day of vacationing, ready to do it all again tomorrow.

Coming up on Thursday: Playing in the golden light before sunset. 

Morning Light Over the Lake

I've told this story before: One reason that many of my images have a consistent look is that they are basically all taken at the same time of day, inside a window of time which lasts for 3 or 4 minutes. This window opens twice a day, once around sunrise and once after sunset. This means that I need to be ready to go when the time arrives. 

To prepare for this, I will usually arrive an hour before the window opens and will spend time scoping out potential compositions until I have two or three candidates that I will try to capture when the window opens. Then I will work quickly within that 3 or 4 minutes to get a few variations so I have some flexibility in editing later on. 

The good news about imaging Lake Tahoe is that the shore is usually dotted with boulders that make the composition a lot more interesting. The bad news is that teetering on and around half-submerged boulders an hour before sunrise is a known hazard to both camera equipment and owner. 

I am happy to report that no equipment was harmed in the making of this image, although I can't say that my legs fared as well. Luckily, the leg scrapes will heal, and in a few months I'll just be left with the memory of being the only person who saw the sun rise over this vista this day. 

Coming up tomorrow: Creme soda in the trees.

Roasting Marshmallows

Roasting marshmallows around the fit pit

Every evening, a wonderful ritual unfolds around the lake. Graham crackers and chocolate come out. Marshmallow roasting apparatuses of all makes and lengths materialize. Adults become kids again.

I didn't go to summer camp when I was younger, and maybe this is why I'm so charmed by this activity: It's what I imagined was happening at camp. Roasting marshmallows around a fire, you can't help but drop your big city guard and make quick friends with everyone around you. 

Of course, the kids are the real focus here—or that's what we tell ourselves, anyway. As it happens, neither of my kids was into the roasting thing. They preferred instead to eat marshmallows directly out of the bag. 

Coming up tomorrow: We head down to the lake. 

Tahoe Meadows

Ophir Creek runs through Tahoe Meadows at sunrise

Tahoe Meadows is one of my favorite places in north lake. It offers great views, gentle trails for the kids, (relatively speaking) fewer crowds than what you'll find lakeside, and there's usually even a bit of running water. 

I arrived here before sunrise with the intention of making a panorama of the entire meadow. But I just couldn't frame up a compelling composition—the sun wasn't in a good location with respect to the whole scene. Sometimes what you have in mind just won't work out, but that's when the fun starts. Sometimes the Plan B image ends up working out better than the original. 

Coming up tomorrow: an evening ritual plays out at fire pits all around lake.