From one extreme to another

Bristlecone at Sunset, Schulman Grove, White Mountains, California

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In my previous post I wrote about California’s extremes. I used Badwater in Death Valley to illustrate, but of course there are many more examples. Case in point: the bristlecone pines of the White Mountains, just east of Bishop, across the Owens Valley from the Sierra Nevada.

The more heralded, heavily traveled Sierra gets most of the rain and snow from the Pacific, rendering the White Mountains a high elevation desert. With very little water to sustain foliage, fierce winds scour the White’s rocky surface unchecked. Water (and foliage) also moderates temperatures (lower highs, higher lows)–without water’s moderating effect, high temperatures in the White Mountains are higher and low temperatures are lower than corresponding elevations in the nearby Sierra.

Enter the bristlecone pine, a hardy conifer that has evolved to not only survive in these extremes, it thrives. Thrives to the point that it is generally acknowledged as the oldest living thing on earth (older, even, than Larry King). Some bristlecones approach 5,000 years old; the tree in this image is around 4,000 years old, give or take a millennium (due to, believe it or not, concerns about vandalism, individual bristlecone ages aren’t revealed).

The Schulman Grove Discovery Trail is a one mile loop with great access to some magnificent trees. It’s a very well-marked, heavily used trail, but it’s quite steep. And at over 10,000 feet elevation, it will definitely test your lung capacity. At just about the halfway point of the trail, you’ll find a magnificent bristlecone pair, well worth the effort to get out there. The trail here loops around these trees, providing 270 degrees of perspective.

The most popular view here, the view that seems to attract the most photographers, is close and looking up at the trees against the sky. But this evening I liked that the (often obscurred by haze) Sierra crest was clearly visible, and saw that the sky had potential for color, so I picked a more distant vantage point up the trail a bit. From there I could isolate the tree against the mountains and compress the distance somewhat with a moderate telephoto.

Using some scruffy yellow shrubs to anchor my foreground, I decided a vertical composition allowed me to compose the tree a little tighter. It was about 75 feet away, which meant at f16 and 75mm, focusing just a little in front of the tree gave me sharpness from 25 feet to infinity (as reported by the hyperfocal app in my iPhone). The color came late, after many photographers had packed up and headed back to the visitor center. While the sunset didn’t paint the entire sky, it very conveniently peaked in direct line with my composition. I love it when everything comes together.

<< Read more about my approach to focusing >>

5 Comments on “From one extreme to another

  1. Okay, love this stuff, man. Excellent instruction. But I give up: which iPhone hyperfocal app are you using? There are several to choose from…thanks in advance!

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