Mono Lake Photography: 4 Essential Tips
- Where is Mono Lake?
- What is a Tufa?
- Mono Lake Photography Tips
- Wildlife Wilderness Photography Tips
- Mono Lake Photography Workshop
- Recommended Photography Gear
Some wilderness areas are so interesting that you simply can’t wait to start taking photographs. If you ever get the chance, travel to Mono Lake, California, and try your hand at Mono Lake photography in order to capture some of the most interesting images of natural formations you’ve ever seen.
For capturing artistic images of unique landscapes, I have four Mono Lake photography tips you should consider.
Also, I’ll be illustrating this article with images from Jeff Sullivan and Lori Hibbert, co-founders of Great Basin School of Photography (with their permission, of course).
Table of Contents:
Where is Mono Lake?
To start out taking Mono Lake photography images, you first need to know where it is. It’s part of the California Parks Department, officially named the Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve or Mono Lake Tufa SNR.
It’s fairly easy to get to as well: East of Yosemite, West of the state line with Nevada, and near the town of Lee Vining, California, and very close to another premier photography site, Bodie State Historic Park. Whichever direction you’re coming from and what state highway, the drive itself is very pleasant and full of beautiful scenery.
What is a Tufa?
The state park name has an interesting word in it: Mono Lake Tufa. What does tufa mean? Is it a place, a person, a thing?
A tufa, or tufa tower, is a column of limestone calcium carbonate rock that forms in the highly alkaline waters of a soda lake such as Mono Lake. These rock towers form slowly at the bottom of such a lake and can be exposed as they grow over several decades or centuries and as water levels fluctuate seasonally. It’s somewhat similar to stalagmites and stalactites found in many cave systems.
The Mono Lake tufa towers are a favorite target of photographers familiar with the area. As lighting conditions change throughout the day and night, sunrise and sunset, Golden Hour, Blue Hour, and in full astronomical night, these formations take on different qualities, evoking any type of feeling you can artistically envision and capture.
Some people say it looks like you’re walking on the Moon (Earth’s large natural satellite), and having seen NASA footage of the Moon and of the surface of Mars, I can see the resemblance. I could easily imagine Star Wars, Star Trek, and Doctor Who scene designers taking inspiration from these formations.
Mono Lake Photography Tips
This naturally leads us to talking about some useful Mono Lake photography tips, such as times of day, exposure settings, filters, and so on. Plus, some tips on wilderness photography in general.
There are advantages to the different times of day we can go out for landscape photography. Sunrise and sunset can give us warm sky colors, Golden Hour provides a warm light quality, Blue Hour provides a unique view of subjects, and night photography has its own aspects.
Knowing the in and outs of the Exposure Triangle allows you to control depth of field and motion effects, sweet spot aperture is vitally important for night photography, and you can adjust so many things with ND, GND, and C-POL filters.
Since Mono Lake is so salty and so alkaline, you also need to be extra careful about dust and moisture around your camera, lenses, and other accessories.
Wildlife Wilderness Photography Tips
Mono Lake photography also means great bird and wildlife photography opportunities. There are many species of birds that flock to the area at different times of the year, taking advantage of the huge numbers of flies and brine shrimp in and around Mono Lake. Yummy!
So, you’ll be happy you remembered your bug spray or lotion. And you'll be glad you included your fast telephoto lens and sturdy tripod, plus a good versatile monopod can come in very handy. There are many types of wildlife, from wild horses to butterflies, that you can find as subjects.
Mono Lake Photography Workshop
Since there are many things to consider with being at such a special place, I also like to recommend the fine workshops put on by Jeff Sullivan that include Mono Lake photography guidance and ideas.
There are two workshops this year that can include Mono Lake photography, a late August workshop for Bodie, which includes night photography instruction and post-processing, and a Fall colors Bodie area workshop with lots of things to photograph.
Learning from the experts in the area is one of my valuable Mono Lake photography tips for getting yourself to be able to capture amazing images like the ones you see in this article. Besides, it’s a whole lot of fun!
Where will you be spending late August or mid-October? Spaces are limited for these workshops, so book soon if you want to attend!