Eastern Sierras Geology in Action

Eastern Sierras Geology in Action

Ryan Leary

My last trip down 395 was cut short after a big fall on the mountain bike resulting in a separated shoulder. Initial plans of mountain biking, hot springs, and photography became mountain biking, hospital, pain killers, and figure out how Keegan and I would drive my stick shift back home between his busted foot and my busted arm. Feeling better (capable of carrying a camera), it was time to return.

It's amazing this area of California isn't visited more. It's stunning. Sheer mountain walls, hot springs scattered across the valley, and incredible gas station fish tacos.

The bucket list photo

I've had this on my list of photos to take for a few years now. Always just a pin on the map of "places to take photos". Constantly tempting me on my IG feed as I'd see yet another person post an absolute banger. It was time.

One other photographer was setup when I arrived and we both prayed to the sunset gods for a nice fire in the sky, lighting up clouds. They delivered, but got the location wrong....

I ended up taking 3 shots at different exposures. Darker to ensure I kept details in the sky. In between which I think was actually kind of useless. And a brighter one where the sky is blown out, but you can actually see the river now.

Lightroom -> Photo Merge HDR gave me this stunner:

Now the hard part. How do I take this and turn it into magic? I knew what I generally wanted - a nice looking creek and epic sunset over the mountains. I really liked the depth - creek up front, the sierras in the middle, and then the beautiful sky above.

After a bunch of dragging sliders around in Lightroom, I ended up with:

Now we're talking. But it still felt off to me. The sky almost felt fake. In trying to bring out the creek to draw attention, it ended up a little more bright and yellow than desired. The depth wasn't really there. I kept fighting with it, and overall was pretty happy, but felt there was still something not quite there.

So....I enrolled in a online photography course taught by two guys on IG who's photos I really like. Netflix and Prime video were out. Teachable binging was in. I'm not done with the course yet, and still have to turn a lot of what I watched into practice, but I do think the results speak for themselves.

Even with the super incredible epic amazing sunset not in frame, I'm thrilled with this shot. New techniques included that nice warm orangey sunset glow (maybe I overdid it this time?), utilizing tone/color curves more than the sliders, dodging/burning light to really shape where I want the viewer's eyes drawn and to really sell the sun cascading across the photo), and adding an Orton effect which really made the peaks in the distance look good.

I'm pretty excited to dig through the archives and revisit some older photos with some of the new techniques I learned.

This spot is really just magical. Bubbling boiling water, heated far below from HOT MAGMA, rushes up to escape via steam. I camped out and stuck around for sunrise.