Uhhh, I can explain…


Before Sunrise, South Tufa, Mono Lake
Canon EOS 5D Mark III
3.2 seconds
ISO 100
17 mm

October 4, 2013

On my just completed Eastern Sierra workshop, the fact that I was in possession of three (THREE!) iPhones was a frequent source of amusement (dismay?) to my group. I thought I did a pretty good job justifying (rationalizing?) my obsession, only to return to read my daughter’s recent blog rekindling my defensive instincts (as an extremely proud but unbiased dad, I hope you take the time to read Ashley’s short piece). But sometimes it takes our kids to shine the light of perspective, and Ashley is just the mix of Laura Ingalls pioneer and jailbroken Android super-geek, knitter/blogger (who makes her own soap and tweets from the cozy wifi comfort of her commute train) to do it.

The truth is, I’ve been drawn to my “toys” ever since my college roommate and I de-boxed, connected, and powered on my brand new component stereo system. I have no memory of the first album to wobble my woofers (though I’m certain it was a painstaking decision process), but I’ll never forget the receiver’s soft blue glow illuminating my otherwise dark dorm room—ahhhh.

But anyway…. A couple of years ago I was permanently scarred when I accidentally drowned my (only!) iPhone on a shoot in Hawaii. I travel a lot, often to locations with little or no connectivity, and suddenly having to live without my iPhone’s contact, e-mail, map, sunrise/sunset, hyperfocal, and other data necessary to execute my business on the road gave me some inkling of the suffering endured by the Donner Party. I immediately replaced that iPhone with a 4s (thank God for insurance), and when the iPhone 5 came out, rather than sell the 4s, I kept it as a backup—even though the cell service is turned off, I keep it fully synced via wifi, so it’s always ready to jump into action in the event of the untimely demise of my iPhone 5.

But three iPhones? Okay, this one’s a bit more of a stretch, but here goes. When I replaced the stereo on my (7-year old, 130,000 miles thank-you-very-much) Honda Pilot (somehow I didn’t get the fancy-new-car gene), the USB interface wasn’t fully compatible with my iPhone 5, so my backup iPhone took a full time position in the center console as the dedicated travel entertainment center.

Then the iPhone 5s came out. I tried to resist. I really did. But a fingerprint sensor? 64-bits? Improved camera? Dual flash? A dedicated motion detecting coprocessor? You had me at fingerprint sensor. My original plan was to sell the 5 (because who needs 3 iPhones?). But before I could do it, possibility started to conspire against reason: With my iPhone 5 I can again have a dedicated backup. Not only that, with the 5’s GPS and fully synced iTunes library, I won’t have to get my new 5s sweaty on my daily runs, nor will my they be interrupted by phone calls or e-mail. Plus…. Okay, I can see this isn’t working.

But seriously. As someone who remembers phones with cords and rotary dials, I sometimes shake my head at the technology in my pocket that allows me to communicate instantly with almost anyone from the most remote locations on Earth (sometimes with the help of an amazing two-way satellite receiver). But more than a communication device, this little block of aluminum and glass instantly puts information at my fingertips that once required multiple trips to the library and days of research. It entertains me on long trips with my entire music collection, reads to me, guides me, and allows me to record and report whatever activity or sight currently engaging me. Do I need three? Of course not. (Thanks, Ash.)

About this image

Believe it or not, despite the demands of managing three iPhones, I was able to find time for photography this week. My Eastern Sierra workshop started in Lone Pine, where we photographed Mt. Whitney and the Alabama Hills. From there we moved and hour north to Bishop, concentrating there on the bristlecone pine forest of 4,000 year-old trees, and the brilliant fall color decorating North Lake and Bishop Creek. While that part of the workshop was great, it was dogged by persistent blue skies that made being outside nice, but were less than ideal for photography.

That changed on the Lee Vining stage of the workshop. The clouds arrived just in time for our two days at Mono Lake, blessing with a South Tufa sunset that I can only describe as electric, reprised by an equally spectacular South Tufa sunrise the next morning. We also enjoyed a surprise sunset at Minaret Vista (a substitute location to replace suddenly inaccessible Olmsted Point in just-closed Yosemite), and wrapped up with crescent moon enhanced, sunrise at a remote, solitary Mono Lake beach that never disappoints.

At Mono Lake I aways cross my fingers for the still lake surface that delivers the mirror-like reflections that make photographs there particularly special. On this trip we were fortunate to get reflections at each of our three Mono Lake shoots, reflections ranging from gently abstract to utterly mirror-like.  This image is from our South Tufa sunrise shoot on workshop day-four. The previous night’s sunset was more vivid than this, as was the subsequent sunrise a few minutes later (and I’ll no doubt share those images at some point). But I liked the softness of the subdued hues of this moment, when the morning was still under the influence of twilight. I snapped this when the light was still low, enabling an exposure long enough to smooth gentle, breeze-stirred ripples.

To best capture the exquisite detail of the tufa (calcium carbonate towers formed by submerged springs, exposed by receding lake levels), I focused toward the back of the long, low tufa at the bottom center; at 17mm I probably could have gotten away with f11, but I wanted a longer shutter speed to better smooth the water. I used a two-stop hard graduated neutral density filter to hold back the bright sky, hand-holding it at a 30-degree (or so) angle along the top-right edge of the frame. The 3+ second shutter speed allowed me to move the GND slightly during the exposure, all but eliminating the telltale GND transition line. What little transition remain was easily blended away with a few Photoshop dodge/burn brush strokes.

Epilogue, September 2016

I’m back to one iPhone now.

Eastern Sierra Photo Workshops

An Eastern Sierra Gallery

Click an image for a closer look and slide show. Refresh the window to reorder the display.

19 Comments on “Uhhh, I can explain…

  1. Gary,

    Have you ever been to the Castle Tufa Towers. wonderful sunrise photos and no people. They are not mentioned in any guide or map as the locals do not want people going there. They are delicate and beautiful.


  2. Thanks, Dad. Full disclosure: a month or so ago, Chris, Trevor and I were all hanging out in our little living room, and I counted all the toys: three tablets, five (FIVE) smartphones (three Droids, a Blackberry, and a Windows phone, if you’re curious), two Kindles, two laptops, a desktop PC, several gaming consoles (I don’t even keep track of those) and a big fancy TV. IN ONE (SMALL) ROOM. I had to pull out my knitting just to stop the hyperventilating… never mind that one phone, one tablet, one Kindle, and one laptop all belong to me. Yowza. Even the frontier-minded among us have our addiction to toys.

    (I’m glad you liked my post. I like yours, too.)

  3. We’ve yet to give in to the smartphone revolution. Actually, I don’t even know where I left my cell phone…I’m sure its battery has been dead for a week or more. But an iPhone will probably be necessary eventually as it actually has capability for Tibetan script, so all our friends are crazy for it. We even see monks with iPhones all the time. They just seem so ridiculously expensive. But they do seem quite handy.

    • They certainly aren’t cheap, but for those who use a smartphone for its connectivity/information/entertainment/memory-capture capabilities (rather than as a status symbol), it’s easy to understand how they’ve become so ubiquitous. You can actually use most of a smartphone’s (or an iPod Touch) capabilities without a cellular contract. For example, even my two iPhones that aren’t connected to AT&T’s network will play all of my music and podcasts (and sync them over wifi), surf the Internet (wifi), give me directions, track and log my runs (the GPS still works), give me all the sunrise/sunset/celestial data I need, display my pictures, and even take phone calls over Skype or other Internet services. You can find a relatively new, fully functional used iPhone or Android phone for surprising little money and completely avoid selling your soul to a cellular carrier. Okay, end of sales pitch. 🙂

      • Ha. Well, in China, you don’t have to worry about the cost of cell service. That is actually quite cheap. It’s the phone itself that is expensive.

      • Thanks! I was hoping I wouldn’t be forgotten. I ended up going to upper northern Minnesota and Wisconsin to photograph fall colors. Next year will be the eastern Sierra’s again (if Congress has passed a budget by then and Yosemite is open HA!).

  4. Lovely picture. I have never been there. I was wondering where you focused to get the foreground and background so sharp?

      • I hate it when I fail 🙂 I think I was too inspired by your photo to pay attention to what I was reading.

  5. Good. I hope it got me out of trouble for my short attention span. I will endeavor to read more closely before I get too drawn into the photograph.

  6. Pingback: Photographic vision: Motion | Eloquent Nature by Gary Hart

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