Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Winter Sierra

Over the years, I’ve spent a fair amount of time in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, backpacking the John Muir Trail (JMT) and sections of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) during the summer months, and leading several Boy Scout backpacking trips. I particularly enjoy the high Sierra, with the clear lakes and creeks, beautiful granite peaks, and cool, crisp air. These mountains hold a special place in my heart and will likely be my final resting place one day. The high Sierra is incredible, but I’ve recently been introduced to a new Sierra experience – the winter Sierra.

The snow transforms the Sierra landscape into a winter wonderland. I love how the trees and granite contrast against the clean, white snow. While the views are postcard perfect in color, nothing brings out the beauty like black and white photography. My camera of choice this season was the Nikon FM2, coupled with Nikon 24mm f/2.8 AI-S and 35mm f/2 AI-S lenses, and Kodak BW400CN B&W film.

Shooting in the snow is pretty simple – meter off the snow and increase the exposure by 1.5 to 2 stops (assuming the scene is in the same light). Camera exposure meters try to make everything medium gray, so it will typically underexpose pure, white snow (and overexpose dark, black subjects). Not the most technical and elaborate explanation, but basically if metering off snow, increase the exposure to get the “correct” exposure and if metering off a predominantly black subject, decrease the exposure. I noticed a friend’s compact, digital camera had a “snow” mode, which took care of the exposure compensation for these snow scenes auto-magically.

Another technique I frequently use for my landscape work is the hyperfocal distance. Using a wide angle lens (e.g., 24mm or 35mm), I set my aperture to f/16 or f/22 and use the depth of field scale on my lens to set the hyperfocal distance. This creates huge depth of field, providing “acceptable” sharpness from near to infinity. The only issue is a slight loss of sharpness when shooting at f/22, due to diffraction. Unfortunately, many of the modern auto-focus lenses don’t have depth of field scales on them, which is why I love my old Nikon manual focus lenses.

Okay, enough technical talk. Here are a few pictures from my trip last weekend to the Desolation Wilderness, near South Lake Tahoe, California. We parked at the Echo Lake Sno-Park and started our snowshoe trip at Echo Lake. It was a nice six mile trek to Lake Aloha, with Pyramid Peak providing a wonderful backdrop. Many of my photos here were shot using the hyperfocal distance.

Traversing Echo Lake

Desolation Wilderness

Casa de Wayne

The Destination Ahead

Snow Drift

Echo Lake Cabin

Pyramid Peak


Relaxing at Camp

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