Leading 15-20 photo workshops per year means coming to terms with photographing the same locations year in, year out. This is not a complaint—I only guide people to locations I love photographing—but it sometimes makes me long for the opportunity to capture something new. Which is why I’m loving visiting my familiar haunts with my newest lenses, the Sony 12-24 G and Sony 100-400 GM. (I’ve had the Tamron 150-600 for a couple of years, but find it too big to lug routinely.)
Back-to-back Eastern Sierra workshops earlier this month meant multiple visits to Mono Lake. My first group hit the jackpot on our South Tufa sunset shoot, finding a glassy reflection (usually reserved for sunrises here) beneath a striking formation of cirrocumulus clouds. Because I was with my group, and I’d guided them all to the spot where the majority wanted to be (justifiable so for first-time visitors), I couldn’t go out in search of something a little different. Instead I just whipped out my 12-24 lens, dropped my tripod to lake-level with one leg in the water, and started composing.
I’m still getting used to shooting at 12mm, which is not only considerably different from what my eyes see, it’s considerably different from what I’ve become used to seeing in my viewfinder (the difference between 16mm and 12mm is huge). The lesson here is the importance of a strong foreground in a wide composition—the wider the focal length, the more important the foreground becomes. Here the entire lakebed was so alive with color and shape, and the water was so still and clear, finding a foreground wasn’t really a problem. I just needed to make sure I organized all the scene’s visual elements into something coherent.
Anchoring my frame with a nearby quartet of small rocks (just a couple of feet away) and a larger protruding lump of tufa a little behind it (everything else in my foreground was submerged), I peered into my viewfinder and quickly decided to go for symmetry with the larger background elements. The clouds couldn’t have been more perfectly positioned—combined with their reflection, they seemed to point directly my composition’s centerpiece, the “Shipwreck” tufa formation (not really an official name, but widely used) that is probably Mono Lake’s most recognizable feature. At 12mm depth of field wasn’t a huge concern—I focused about three feet into the scene and was able to achieve sharpness throughout my frame.
Anyone who has ever been to Mono Lake’s South Tufa can appreciate, looking at this image, how 12mm on a full frame body shrinks distant subjects—the Shipwreck is a very prominent feature here, but the wide lens shrinks it to almost secondary status. On the other hand, dropping down and getting as close as possible to the shore at 12mm really emphasizes the beautiful submerged patterns.
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Wonderful images and interesting post, Gary. I agree, the foreground of Big Picture adds a great dimension to the image.
Thanks, Jane. Yeah, I love the fresh perspective of the ultra-wide.
Gary – Have you published your updated equipment list anywhere? I saw that you have now added the 16-35 GM. Do you use primes at all?
I really don’t have it posted my equipment list in one place, but that’s probably something I should do. A couple of years ago I did a “What’s in my bag” piece for Sony Alpha Universe, but it’s outdated now. I’m redesigning my website—maybe I’ll had a page with that info.
Given my travel and hiking, I need the compactness and flexibility of zooms. And I’ve been so happy with the quality of my Sony zooms that I haven’t felt the need for primes. I do use Sony’s 90mm macro lens, and a Rokinon 24mm f/1.4 for some of my night stuff.
Amazing photos………..I have recently bought the Sony a7ii………I love the 12mm…….maybe I need to look at investing in something like this.
Thank you, Julie. And congratulations on the new addition!
Such amazing photos. Can see far off into the horizon. Thank you for sharing!
Always eager to see your beautifully composed shots, Gary. Thanks for sharing. ck
Beautiful work! I definitely want to visit Mono lake this year