Posts Tagged ‘Eastern Sierra’

Best of 2012 – Results

February 6th, 2014

The results are in and you have selected your favorite photographs of 2012.  Before presenting the results let me just say how much I appreciate the input from everyone that participated.  This has been an exciting experience for me and I hope you had fun.

So, on to the results.  There were eight photographs in the final runoff.  They were the top two of their categories – California Deserts, Big Sur, Eastern Sierra and Zion National Park.  So each one is a winner in it’s own right.

Let’s start with number 8 – Sunrise, North Lake.


North Lake is in the Eastern Sierra just outside the town of Bishop,, California.  It is one of three lakes that are up Bishop Creek.  North Lake sets itself apart from the other two (Sebrina and South Lakes) in that it is naturel.  Besides being the smallest there is no dam to back up water and generate electricity.  The only development is a pack station at its head.  And there’s a rustic campsite upstream a little ways.  I always return to this same location because of the boulders in the foreground, the soft grasses and the snag in the middle ground.  The colors at sunrise are magnificent with the cool blues and greens that are still in the shade and the bright warm morning light on the peak in the back.  I get a strong feeling that all is well with the world when I’m there.

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Best of 2012

January 18th, 2014

In 2013 we started a fun project – picking the best of my photographs from 2012.  We approached it area by area, choosing the best from each.  It’s been a lot of fun so far.  And now it’s time to finish what was started and select the best photograph of 2012.

There are photographs from four areas – California Deserts, Eastern Sierra, Big Sur and Zion National Park in Utah.

death_valley_sunrise_2012California has two wonderful desert national parks.  Joshua Tree here in Southern California is a blend of both high and low desert, the fantastic trees that give the park its name, outcrops of granite that attract climbers from all over the world, not to mention the great photography.  Death Valley is the premier desert attraction in the country.

pfeiffer_beach_sunset_2012At the opposite end of California’s diverse spectrum is incomparable Big Sur, one hundred miles of the most incredible coastline in all of North America. Big Sur is famous for its precipitous cliffs that plunge into the pounding surf of the Pacific Ocean but it also boasts redwood groves, waterfalls, classic bridges and more.  One small stretch of the coast captured your imagination and for good reason.  Pfeiffer Beach is blessed with some incredible rocks just off shore pounded by powerful surf.  And when the light is just right the photographs are unbeatable.


The Eastern Sierra boasts the mighty Sierra Nevada mountains to the west and rivers and lakes along the Owens Valley.  One of the prime attractions is the Mammoth Lakes area with it’s superb skiing and a beautiful string of alpine lakes and laughing streams.


Zion National Park in Southwest Utah attracts visitors and photographers from all over the globe.  Its spectacular red sandstone cliffs create a canyon that of unparalleled beauty.  And when autumn storms roll through, the drama of the already impressive cliffs and towers is intensified.

This is a sampling of the photographs that are being considered for the Best of 2012.  The top two images from each of these areas are presented for your evaluation.  Take our survey to view them all and pick the ones you like the best.

Thanks for participating.  Have fun and enjoy.

Please feel free to share this with your friends.  The more input we have the better.

Join me on an upcoming workshop.  Click here for more details.

To see more of my photographs click here.


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The Same Ol’ Question

June 18th, 2012

Every time I do a show I get asked multiple times if my photographs are manipulated.  My answer is always, ‘Yes, of course.’  The hidden expectation is that photographs are supposed to be accurate depictions of the scene that is photographed.  This expectation is not new.  And any photographer that seeks to make art rather than documentation must face this question.

Take Ansel Adams for instance….


The above iconic Ansel Adams photograph is titled Winter Sunrise.  It is of Mt Whitney and Lone Pine Peak above the Alabama Hills with Adams’ characteristic dramatic lighting.

There’s an interesting excerpt regarding this photograph from his book, “Examples, The Making of 40 Photographs.”

“The enterprising youth of the Lone Pine High School had climbed the rocky slopes of the Alabama Hills and whitewashed a huge white L P for the world to see.  It is a hideous and insulting scar on one of the great vista of our land, and shows in every photograph made of the area.  I ruthlessly removed what I could of the L P from the negative (in the left-hand hill), and have always spotted out any remaining trace in the print.  I have been criticized by some for doing this, but I am not enough of a purist to perpetuate the scar and thereby destroy – for me, at least – the extraordinary beauty and perfection of this scene.”

It seems the debate raged in Adams’ day and continues today.  I guess you know where I stand.  Oh, and for those ‘purists’ that revere Adams, if they only knew.

Winking smile

Go ahead.  Express yourself in your photographs.

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Lightroom Tutorial – When You Get Home

June 17th, 2012

I recently returned from seven fantastic days of an exciting photography workshop in the Eastern Sierra (any day or night in the Eastern Sierra is fantastic).  I organized all of my photographs in Lightroom.  And I thought it would be a good idea to share the steps I go through in case you might find it useful.



I try to keep up with importing the photographs from the day’s shoots into the copy of Lightroom running on my laptop.  I’m not going to go into the specifics of the import process but you can read about it here.

Lightroom Tutorial – Importing Photographs

I’ve set up Lightroom to apply certain adjustments to the files as they are imported.  For example, Lightroom applies adjustments in the following Developer areas – Basic, Tone Curve, Detail (capture sharpening), Lens Correction (lens make and model) and Camera Calibration (Process and Profile).  The details are spelled out in this post.

Lightroom Tutorial – Camera Specific Presets


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New Eastern Sierra Photographs

September 27th, 2011

I just published a slew of new Eastern Sierra photographs on the website.  Here’s a sampling of some of my favorites.


Let’s start with this one.  In June the South Fork of Bishop Creek, somewhere between Bishop and South Lake, spring is just getting started.  And you can find a stand of aspen and willow that are just starting to dress themselves in their summer garb.  I really like this scene.  It feels balanced and uplifting.

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Photography Workshops in 2012

July 29th, 2011

I’m excited to announce the 2012 Ralph Nordstrom Photography Workshop schedule.  More beautiful locations; more wonderful photography.  But before discussing each of the workshops I’d like to say a few words about my philosophy on photography because it carries over into the workshops.

death_valley_dunes_2011I believe that photography is art.  And I believe art is interpretation and communication.  That is to say, we are each artists to one degree or another.  And our photography is a unique expression of our view of the world and our interpretation of reality.  One way to grow as an artist is to expand the way we see the world, to see the world in new and fresh ways.  And we also continue to grow when we become more fluent in communicating our world view through our photographs, when we expand our Creative Vocabulary.

Granted, a large component of a successful photography workshop is being in the right place in the best of light.  And work on technical skills is also important.   But I also like to challenge the participants to stretch themselves creatively, to get in touch with how they relate to a location and explore how they can express their feelings and impressions in their photographs.  It’s a meaningful experience and I’ve received feedback from some telling me that it has helped them slow down and see photography in an entirely new way.  I’m always humbled when I get that kind of response.  So you can expect to be challenged to shoot things you normally wouldn’t see, to perhaps get outside your comfort zone and hopefully to return home with new insights into your art.

But where does all this magic take place?  Well, in magical places of course.

Death Valley Photography Workshop, February 11-14, 2012

badwater_dawn_2011The Death Valley Workshop is always very popular so if you’re interested you better sign up right away.  I like to go in February because it’s still the ‘rainy’ season.  And for three years running we’ve been delighted with a lake in Badwater.  This is really an incredible time of year with clear air, wonderful temperatures and great light.

2012 Death Valley Photography Workshop – click here.



Eastern Sierra Photography Workshop, June 2-7, 2012

mt_whitney_first_light_2009I love the Sierra Nevada Mountains and this workshop takes us to some of the most amazing wonders this area has to offer.  You may ask yourself, “Why June?”  The answer is simple. This is springtime in the mountains.  The aspen are sending out their first shoots of foliage.  The streams are splashing and dancing.  The bristlecone pines are always an inspiration.  Everything is fresh and clean and full of life.  There is so much to experience that we it takes a full five nights and six days to cover it all.

2012 Eastern Sierra Photography Workshop – click here.


Big Sur Summer Photography Workshop, August 6-9, 2012

bixby_bridge_2011If you haven’t been to Big Sur you’re in for an incredible treat.  Quite simply, it’s the most spectacular meeting of mountain and sea on the entire West Coast.  Nowhere else will you find mile-high mountains that plunge into the sea in as little as two miles.  But Big Sur is more than majestic headlands.  Coves and beaches with crashing surf dot the coast.  Streams splash down narrow canyons and leap over waterfalls.  Hidden groves of coastal redwoods abound.  And the name of the famous restaurant in the village of Big Sur sums it all up – Nepenthe, the cure for sorrow (by the way, once the home of Orson Wells and Rita Hayworth).

2012 Big Sure Summer Photography Workshop – click here.


Zion National Park Photography Workshop, October 13-16, 2012

Riverside_Walk_2007Zion is one of the most inspiring places I know of.  There’s something almost spiritual about this beautiful canyon and its surroundings.  And I’m not the only one that feels that way.  Zion means “Place of refuge.”  There is a tremendous feeling of contrasts here with the gentle Virgin River set against the power and majesty of the towering red cliffs.  Many call this the red Yosemite.  And we are here at a magical time when the first touch of autumn begins to paint the trees.

2012 Zion NP Photography Workshop – click here.


Bryce Canyon National Park Photography Workshop, October 16-19, 2012

silent_city_2010If you’re already in Zion you may just as well drive the short two hours to take in the other wonder in this corner of Utah – Bryce Canyon.  I don’t know where on earth you will ever find more stirring sunrise than at Bryce Canyon.  But that’s not all.  Surrounding Bryce are many other exciting wonders that we will explore.  It’s a perfect extension of the Zion workshop.  And when you’re in country this beautiful who in their right mind would want to rush back home?

2012 Bryce Canyon NP Photography Workshop – click here.

So we offer a special Utah Southwest Super Workshop that combines these two workshops and is offered at a very special price.  It’s a full week of exciting, challenging and immensely rewarding photography.

2012 Utah Southwest Super Workshop – click here.

Big Sur Winter Photography Workshop, November 5-8, 2012.

plaskett_rock_north_2011Big Sur is such a magnificent place that it deserves a second visit.  In winter this wild coastline offers a completely different experience.  Early winter storms can churn the surf and turn gentle streams into rushing torrents.  It’s even been known  to snow higher up in the mountains.  And I’m the lucky one; I get to be there for both summer and winter.

2012 Big Sur Winter Photography Workshop – click here.

I’m working on some other workshop ideas.  I have some really special places in mind but it’s too early to announce them.  Stay tuned.

Take Advantage of these Discounts

We offer a number of discounts that are spelled out on the website.  But I want to point out a couple you might be especially interested in.

The Early Bird discount of 10% is available to those who sign up for a 2012 workshop by December 31st, 2011.  This is 10% off the 2012 workshop prices.

Returning participants can take advantage of the Alumni discount of 15%.

I also want to let you know about the ‘Bring a Friend’ discount.  If you go to the trouble of recruiting another participant I am happy to give you a whopping 33% discount.  After all, there ought to be something in it for you.

Only one of these discounts can be applied to any given workshop.

To help you get started, here are links to the signup forms.

2012 Registration Form – click here to download

Assumption of Risk Form – click here to download

Pick the workshop that inspires you and reserve your space now.  Download these forms and return them to me with your deposit either by fax or mail and you’re in.  We accept check, Visa, MasterCard and American Express.

I’m looking forward to shooting with you in these incomparable locations.

To see more of my photographs click here.


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The Making of a Photograph – Pond, Owens Valley 2011

July 8th, 2011

It all started with kneeling in the mud.

I was with David Muench, Jerry Dodrill and twelve other eager photographers on a Mountain Light Gallery workshop in May.  We lined up along the bank of the pond just outside Bishop, California and aimed our cameras at magnificent Mt Tom, the dominant peak in the Eastern Sierra crest in this area.


I’d like to take you through the process of making a photograph from the images I captured that morning.

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Eastern Sierra Workshop: Leg 3 (Part 2)–Bodie

June 15th, 2011

Well, the third leg was so exciting and so filled with beautiful locations that its account had to be divided into two parts.  So we pick up after sunrise at Mono Lake and continue on with the wonderful ghost town of Bodie, California.

If you missed the first thee posts here they are.

Eastern Sierra Workshop: Leg 1 – Lone Pine

Eastern Sierra Workshop: Leg 2 – Bishop

Eastern Sierra Workshop: Leg 3 – Lee Vining

Bodie is a fascinating place on several levels.  It is one of the best preserved examples of a boom town, supported in grandeur between 1877 and 1880 by the gold that was extracted from its mines.  Many of the buildings are still standing although considering that at its heyday there were around 2000 buildings that housed a rip roaring population of about 5000 to 7000, the several score of buildings that are left is rather small.

And yet, walking along its streets it’s easy to let your imagination run wild and guess what it might have been like to live there.

This was a wonderful day to visit Bodie.  The parking lot was surprisingly empty except for two big yellow school busses up from Mammoth.  The 4th graders were having a field trip as part of their studies of California history.  And boy, what a field trip that must have been.

I’ve never had so much fun photographing Bodie as on this day.  So I think I’ll just let the  photographs speak from themselves and present them without further comment.


eastern_sierra_110609__A1P6255 eastern_sierra_110609__A1P6254 eastern_sierra_110609__A1P6257 eastern_sierra_110609__A1P6263 eastern_sierra_110609__A1P6269 eastern_sierra_110609__A1P6278 eastern_sierra_110609__A1P6282 eastern_sierra_110609__A1P6284 eastern_sierra_110609__A1P6287 eastern_sierra_110609__A1P6288 eastern_sierra_110609__A1P6292

And finally as we retraced our steps back down Cottonwood Canyon a farewell party met us to send us safely on our way.


So that’s it.  Not long after this last photograph was captured I found myself unwinding the week that had just passed as I returned down highway 395 towards home.  As I left Lee Vining and passed through Mammoth, Bishop, Big Pine, Independence and finally Lone Pine wonderful memories came over me like passing through a dreamy fog.  I felt a sense of both gratitude sadness, gratitude that we had been so fortunate to have such wonderful light and sad that it must come to an end.

But my family was waiting for me 300 miles away and I was ready and eager to see them again, share my experiences with them and catch up on what I had missed while I was away.

If you know of someone who might enjoy this account please feel free to pass this post along.  There is a Share button at the top of the post for that purpose.

Join me on an upcoming workshop.  Click here for more details.

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Eastern Sierra Workshop: Leg 3–Lee Vining

June 15th, 2011

With two wonderful and highly successful legs already completed we left Bishop and headed further north.  Our travel day was a big day for photography with a lot of very exciting stops planned.

But before heading out, here are the links to the first two legs in case you missed them.

Eastern Sierra Workshop: Leg 1 – Lone Pine

Eastern Sierra Workshop: Leg 2 – Bishop

For our sunrise shoot I had planned to photograph the snow clad mountains from the Alkali Ponds just north of Lake Crowley.  It was going to be a 45 minute drive and we wanted to arrive at 5:00 so you can do the math.

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Eastern Sierra Workshop: Leg 2–Bishop

June 11th, 2011

After a great few days in Lone Pine (click here to read about them) we headed north to Bishop.

We were following the weather north. “What is he talking about?” For the three days we spent in Lone Pine the great weather – magical clouds, wind and rain – was on top of us and extended north from there. This made for some exhilarating photography. But when the weather petered out in Lone Pine and moved farther north, that was when we were planning on heading north anyway. So we couldn’t have asked for more perfect conditions.

Now Bishop is the “big city” in the Owens Valley with a population of nearly 4000.  One of the main attractions for landscape photographers is the Mountain Light Gallery.  This is Galen and Barbara Rowell’s gallery and a kind of Mecca for nature photographers.

There are a number of really interesting places to photograph around Bishop.

For example, once we got settled in to our hotel rooms we headed north of town to photograph the Owens River.  It still runs free in the Bishop area; that is, LA hasn’t diverted most of the water into the California Aqueduct.  We drove out the Five Bridges Road off of US 6 to where it crosses the river.  We got out and walked to the west along the river bank.  The river runs through an open pasture with grazing cattle so you need to be careful where you step.  But between the fishermen that frequent the river and the cattle, there are plenty of good trails.


The sunset was happing to the north so we found a location to shoot from that had a bit of a reflection of the clouds in the water.  The river comes around a sharp bend here, almost 180 degrees, so there is a lot of upwelling of the water that creates a constantly changing texture on the surface.  This was where I knelt down on the muddy bank to get the camera low to the water and maximize the reflection.  It was only after shooting for a while that I noticed the smell – cow pee.  Well, you do what you have to do to get the shot – right?

Above Bishop in the Sierra are three lakes you can drive to – North Lake, Lake Sabrina and South Lake.  The plan for the following morning was to drive up to North Lake for sunrise.  We got up at 3:00 AM to make the drive up.  But when we got there the road was still closed.  Spring is coming really late to the Sierra this year and the snow melt hasn’t really gotten underway yet.  That was a disappointment because North Lake is exquisite and they drain Lake Sabrina and South Lake during the winter so that when the spring melt does come the lakes have enough capacity to hold the runoff.  Otherwise there would be uncontrolled flooding downstream.  But that means there are no photographic opportunities at either of those lakes.

But there is a really excellent plan B in the area – the South Fork of Bishop Creek.  You could tell from the aspens that grow in groves along the creek where spring was.  At the high elevations of South Lake the aspens hadn’t started to bud yet.  But as we traveled down the creek to increasingly lower elevations we first noticed buds, then sprouts and then full blown leaves.


The place along the road where we stopped to photograph was where the aspens and willows both were just in the sprouting stage.  We photographed the mountain side in open shade which combined with the fresh green and red colors of the emerging aspen and willow leaves to produce a very soft, delicate effect.  This is what keeps pulling be back to the Sierra at this time of year.

From Bishop we’re about an hour and a half drive from the ancient bristlecone pines.  These are the oldest living trees on the planet.  It is a humbling experience to even be in their presence.  You realize that not only have countless generations of humans come and gone in their 4500+ years of existence but entire civilizations and empires have done the same.

But this year we couldn’t get to the bristlecones, again because of the late spring.  The road was not open to my favorite tree.  But along the part of the road that was open is a magnificent viewpoint that looks across the Owens Valley to one of the most rugged sections of the Sierra Crest – the Palisades.  So with thunder storms all around we drove up there to experience this view under some truly remarkable conditions.


While the weather conditions were really exciting, this is still a difficult shot because of the great distances involved.  So I rendered the photographs in black and white to fully emphasize the incredible excitement and power we felt as we watched the weather unfold.


The folks fortunate enough to live in the Eastern Sierra talk about God Beams or God Light.  Well, as you can see they were streaming down all around Mount Tom and the town of Bishop.  You know, you’re up there and see this kind of light go on for literally hours and you get kinda giddy.  It’s difficult to put the excitement and joy you feel into words.

Shortly after the 8:15 sunset we headed back to the hotel in Bishop.  It was close to 10:00 when we got back to our rooms – a very long day.  And the following morning was going to be another 3:00 AM wake up call.  But you really don’t mind.  The energy you get from being in these beautiful places keeps you going.  You can always sleep when you get home.

There’s one more leg to our workshop, the Lee Vining, Mono Lake leg that I’ll share with you in the next post.

Join me on an upcoming workshop.  Click here for more details.

To see more of my photographs click here.


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