New Adventures in Familiar Places

Last weekend my friend Tracy and I went out in the very early morning to make some sunrise photos at Lake Hodges. I had suggested a spot that I’ve been to many times, but never for sunrise.

The sky was entirely clear on the Sunday morning we went together and I actually liked that – the negative space with its cool tones balances the very busy, warm-toned foreground rocks nicely. The tint of the clear pre-dawn sky adds this wonderful touch of magenta or purple that is so typical and unique for twilight photos:

You can see at the very left and right of the bottom of the frame that there’s a bit of messy invasive mustard – the reason why the composition is relatively tight (even though the photo was made at 20mm focal length). It is also a bit unfortunate that the highest foreground rock and the bushes (Laurel Sumac) both merge with the distant slope of Bernardo Mountain. Nevertheless I am pretty happy with this photo.

Two days later though high clouds were in the forecast, and so I went again – mostly because I was curious how that would actually work out during sunrise, since the direction that the camera is looking is probably North-West-North. I wasn’t sure if the color I’d get in the clouds would be even enough (and was pleasantly surprised). The compositional restrictions meant that I couldn’t go wider in a horizontal image though in order to also include more sky. For that, it had to be a vertical composition:

This is actually a panorama, made from 3 frames at 24mm, with my tilt/shift lens. You can see that I avoided the merging of the highest rock and kept it within the shape of Bernardo Mountain – but it meant moving the camera a little bit to the left. To then keep the mountain in that position in the frame, while also avoiding the mustard at the lower edges, it resulted in not having as much of the lake in the frame as I’d like to, on the left. Can’t have it all, I guess… :P

I’m pretty happy with the result nevertheless but when I go next time, I might still try to see if I can fine tune the composition a little bit – more for fun and as a personal challenge. I’ll drill some tripod holes then to find the exact same spot again – this was surprisingly difficult between the Sunday photo and Tuesday morning! :)

There are other compositions with these rocks that are interesting (all those diagonal lines…) and which I might want to try in that beautiful twilight. When Tracy and I were there on Sunday we went back to hike a little bit and didn’t wait for direct light at this location either. I was curious how that would work out and stayed a little longer on Tuesday morning. Since the sun remains hidden behind a ridge to the east for a bit longer after “official” sunrise, the clouds are all white already, and you can see that their shape has also changed a lot, compared to the previous photo. Hard to believe that only ~20 minutes lie between the image above, and this one:

Another reason to stay for the direct light was this group of Sycamore trees. I photographed them Sunday morning more as a quick high-ISO sketch, wondering if they’d be illuminated by the rising sun (hoping that the hillside behind them might stay in the shade). I had to see if that would work out, and I guess it did… but I think this scene will look much nicer in spring… or with a little bit of mist, perhaps?

While I trained the camera with the telephoto lens onto the Sycamore group, I briefly swept across the landscape and noticed another spot that seemed interesting: an oak tree and some boulders on a ridge, side-lit by the first direct sunlight. I completely botched that exposure though because I overlooked that the (much) longer focal length would require a longer exposure delay with the lightweight 70-300, to avoid blur from the shutter slap. One more reason to go back and explore the possibilities from this spot.

Those were two nice mornings (so far). I wouldn’t have expected to find these photographic opportunities so close to home after living here for (almost) ten years now. I’m actually excited to go back more often to photograph these “new” old scenes, in different conditions! Never dismiss what’s close to home and think you’ve seen it all…

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11 thoughts on “New Adventures in Familiar Places”

  1. Beautiful images! I think I like the one with the colorful sky best but I like them all a lot. I like how the rocks and Mustard? replicate the shape of the mountain. Very nice.

  2. I very much like the general theme here, about returning to local/familiar places and exploring them further. And this is also a great example of how quickly light can change, just 20 minutes and you have a completely different photograph, even if it had been composed the same. All light can have potential with the right scene/subject, but that soft light of twilight really is gorgeous.

    • Thank you, Todd! The most astonishing thing was just how brief this moment of delicate color was – just two minutes later, the color in the sky had intensified considerably, making it all almost over the top, for my taste.

  3. I like the first image of the rocks perhaps the most. As you mentioned the negative space of the sky allowed the rocks to be the sole focal point. In the following two images I found my eye flitting between the clouds and the rocks. Not a bad situation but a little distracting to me. But, I’m nitpicking, they’re all good. I do like the photo of the Sycamores. The contrast, vibrant green and warm morning light is especially pleasing…and I just like trees. it looks like a fine painting. :-)

    Often the limiting factor for photography opportunities at any given spot is our own patience and imagination. Good post!


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