A Fall Visit to Lake Tahoe

In mid-October my wife and I drove to Lake Tahoe for our first trip away from home since her surgery in early July. We try to get to the lake at least a couple of times a year but this was our first time there in the fall (usually we visit in late spring or during the summer — we are definitely not snow people). Our primary purpose was to test Billie’s travel-resilience in a familiar place and to just get away from normal every-day routine. My (in this situation, secondary) photographic purpose was to spend a bit of time seeking some fall colors to photograph and also to check out Nevada’s progress in completing some work in improving access to the Memorial Point Overlook which is (a free) part of the Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park which lines the northeastern shore of the lake along State Highway 28.

Most important, our primary purpose was a great success. Lake Tahoe’s surface elevation is about 6,500 feet. For any of us “flat-landers” this is a large, and sometimes trying, elevation change. Billie, particularly, found herself able to fairly easily walk and talk without serious strain. The two of us actually spent a couple of sessions working out together at the fitness room of Marriott’s Timber Lodge while we were there.

My photographic purpose was also fairly successful. The west coast is not known for its fall colors in the same way the east coast is. But, despite the very ‘evergreen’ nature of our scenery there are areas of the state that do a good job of showing off such color. The eastern side of the Sierra Nevada mountains (where we weren’t), especially, does an excellent job of it (see this photo from one of my favorite photographers, Gary Crabbe). Wandering around Lake Tahoe I did find some excellent examples, however, like the image at the top of this post and these photos.

My other objective, to check on the progress of the Nevada Lake Tahoe State Park was also successful. For the past couple of years, whenever we were visiting Lake Tahoe, I would drive north around the east side of the lake, first on US 50 and then onto Nevada 28. This trip of about 40 minutes from South Lake Tahoe, was intended to stop at Memorial Point — a public parking location, including restrooms, along 28 which also provided access to rustic hiking paths close to the surface of the lake and an excellent starting point for good photo opportunities. But over these two years, it has been closed to public access, instead being used as a staging area for construction vehicles and materials for the under way improvements.

Billie and I drove there again this time, happily discovering that it is open again. The improvements are just terrific. From memorial Point there is now an approximately four mile paved path (suitable not only for day hikers but also for bicycles and wheelchairs) replacing the rustic paths of before). It stretches approximately two miles south to Sand Point and Sand Harbor as well as roughly another two miles north toward Incline Village. Along the way there are entry points which provide access directly to the edge of the lake.

While Billie took a short nap in the car, I grabbed my camera backpack and my tripod and hiked north about half a mile just checking it out and scouting possible early morning shooting locations (regular readers of this blog or my travel and landscape photography website know that I often like to make sunrise and pre-sunrise images). At one of the breaks in the fence, I climbed down toward the lake and setup for some test images.

There were lots of other hikers and bikers using the trail and some climbing around the rock formations near the lake surface (another reason to shoot early in the morning, in addition to the more interesting morning light, is that there are usually few others about). I found a spot that was clear of people and setup for some experimental test images using my neutral density (ND) filters .

Warning! What follows in the next few paragraphs is a bit technical, discussing the workings and purpose of ND filters. An ND filter is a colorless-gray, transparent filter that goes over the front of the camera lens. It lets light through the lens without changing the colors in the image but depending upon the amount of grayness (its density) allows lesser amounts of light through. The photographer can offset this light reduction to obtain a properly exposed image by setting the camera to a slower time exposure (the shutter speed) having mounted the camera on a tripod, or otherwise secured it, to prevent camera movement during the exposure.

Okay, so WHY go to all that trouble to gain a properly exposed image? Because by slowing the exposure anything that is moving will be blurred while stationary objects will be rendered clearly. Photographers can blur moving water (e.g., in a river or waterfall) to make it look more silky-smooth (and kind of ‘record’ the fact that the water is moving in a still image). This also works for large bodies of water like an ocean or a lake but the result is a bit different as I’ll demonstrate shortly.

Different ND filters are designated in terms of the amount of light reduction they provide. This is generally referred to as ‘stops’ (different amounts of light reduction similar to the f/stops used within a camera lens to control light). I own two 6-stop ND filters. I can reduce light reaching the lens by either 6 or 12 stops (be stacking the two NDs together). Putting a 6-stop ND filter in front of the lens requires the exposure time (shutter speed) to be increased by 6-stops to achieve the equivalent exposure. Enough theory — here are the test shots where one can see the effect.

On the way back to the car, I stopped along the trail and took this (hand-held and unfiltered) photo of Memorial Point.

Memorial Point, mid-day under a very cloudy, overcast sky. You can just make out the wooden fence that lines the hiking path (just behind the large tree on the left) which also provides access points for hikers down to the water.

After I returned to the car, we continued to drive north, and then west through Incline Village and on to Carnelian Bay where we stopped at Garwoods Grill and Pier for a late lunch before driving back to the Timber Lodge at South Lake Tahoe.

Confession time! I had definitely planned to get out dark and early the following morning. I got up early and checked the weather. It had rained lightly overnight but was clear. And the temperature was a very chilly 27 degrees Fahrenheit. I had two immediate thoughts: (1) it is too damned cold (for me) to go out and shoot and (2) I don’t do snow (as I already mentioned) and there is likely to be black ice on the road this morning from last night’s rain. The morning after that it wasn’t wet but the temperature was even lower at 24 degrees Fahrenheit. Not for me!

So, while I was very anxious to take advantage of the re-opening of Memorial Point and the easier access to more lakeside photo locations, I have no experience driving in this kind of weather (I was born and raised in the moderate temperatures of San Francisco, after all) — and even though I was prepared with cold weather clothing, for me, it was just too damned cold. I’ll just have to look forward to coming up here again when the weather is more compatible with my experience and comfort level.

I wasn’t a total sloth, however. I used the time (indoors and warm) to work on a first draft of the October Kelby’s Worldwide Photowalk blog entry previously posted.

As usual some of the photos on this blog are also visible at CedBennett.Photography at larger sizes and higher resolution. Please feel free to comment in the section below or on the photography site.

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