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Lone Pine and Cottonwoods

Lone Pine and Cottonwoods

Lone Pine Mountain is a very distinctive peak in the Eastern Sierra. With its three ridges, it can easily be identified in movie scenes and commercials, both of which are filmed in this area all the time. As a matter of fact, just a few hundred yards from where this image was taken, a dirt road named “Movie Road” begins its journey through the Alabama Hills from the north side of the area through to the southern end.

My original intent for shooting the sunrise on this particular morning was to revisit a location from which I had attempted a shot many years previous, but technical issues produced a flawed image that wasn’t suitable for printing (lesson learned: always turn off vibration reduction when your camera is on a tripod!)

Notice the sagebrush and other vegetation in the foreground of this image? The intended location that morning was a little further away from the mountain (basically about a quarter mile behind where I was set up to take this image), in an area slightly downhill from a thick patch of sagebrush, where it would form a significant foreground interest for the image. At least, that’s how it looked when I was there before.

When I arrived at the location, I immediately noticed something very different from when I had been there before: the vegetation had grown so tall that it completely blocked the view of the mountain! I’m guessing that the height of the plants is normally constrained by either grazing animals (this property is a ranch, after all), wildfires, or controlled burns to prevent wildfires, and none of that had happened for a period of time which allowed the plants to grow unimpeded.

So, with only about 20 minutes left before sunrise, I searched frantically for another composition with which to photograph the mountain. I found it in this field with two sets of cottonwood trees serving to frame the mountain, a wash running diagonally through the scene at the right side of the image and a small hill and a bit of a dirt road forming a triangle shape on the right side of the image. These elements serve to point they eye towards the mountain.  

But luck and mother nature are what really make this image. The sky turned out better than I could have hoped. Before sunset, the clouds were more thickly grouped and the eastern sky was almost completely blocked which had me worried about the likelihood of light on the mountain. But just before sunrise, the clouds started to break apart and a gap appeared in the southeast, right where the sun was going to come up over the White Mountains in that direction. The resulting salmon color on the clouds, and the warm sunlight on the mountain, stand in counterpoint to the cool colors of the foreground, which is still in shadow. 

The result is a composition of subtle elements, color and contrast that draw the eye to Lone Pine Mountain and allow it to wander through the scene without being drawn out.

I’m almost afraid to admit it, but I made a woefully embarrassing YouTube video while on location making this image. If you’d like to see how bad I am at making videos, pop some popcorn and take a gander (count the “um’s!”):

You likely can’t make it out in the online version of the image, but one of my favorite details in this scene is the snow that is falling to the left of Lone Pine Mountain, seen through the Cottonwood tree at the left edge of the scene. The light streaming through the snow that is falling (or is being blown off the mountain ridges by wind) has an etherial quality to it. Just a small detail that makes seeing this image as a print so worthwhile.

And if you’d like to let me know what you think of my video skills, hit that Contact link above and let me have it.

Stephen Girimont

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