Single-Image Sunday: Storm over the Sierra   19 comments

An April snowstorm knocks on the door of the Sierra Nevada in California.

An April snowstorm knocks on the door of the Sierra Nevada in California.

I’ve been covering tripod use on Friday Foto Talk lately.  Since I missed this past Friday, I thought I’d relate something that happened this past spring along the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada in California.  It’s an example of when using a tripod might cause you to miss a great shot.

A storm was trying to force its way over the mountains from the west.  It was a strong, dramatic front, carrying snow as it turned out.  The snowstorm, once it made its way over, forced me to abandon any hope of making it to Mono Lake, which I had hoped to reach by sunset that evening.

Most of the Sierra were covered in clouds, the sky dominated by grays.  But I could see the potential if I could just catch a break in the clouds, so I kept my head on a swivel as I drove.

Sure enough, I looked back over my shoulder and saw a field with cows grazing, the clouds beyond showing signs of breaking.  After a quick U-turn, I approached the meadow and saw the mountains starting to emerge.  But it looked to be a small & brief window, the kind that closes up as fast as it appears.

Instead of getting the tripod out and taking the extra half-minute to mount my camera and extend the tripod legs, I opted instead to make haste.  As I was whipping off the highway & parking on the shoulder, I decided which lens I would need, mounted it, and beat feet to a viewpoint I spied some 50 yards away.

Just as I got in position the scene came together.  I spun the ISO a bit higher so my shutter speed was fast enough to avoid blurring, held the camera as still as I could, and took the shot.  Seconds later the clouds covered the peaks again and the light dimmed.  I didn’t know if I had gotten anything decent; the mountains never revealed themselves fully.  But I knew I liked the composition.

I was happy when I looked at the picture later on.  I knew I had an image that communicated the drama of the approaching storm, a drama I had been feeling that entire afternoon.  Not really knowing what I want to shoot, but having a feel, in the back of my mind, for what I want to communicate, that’s often my goal.  For me it’s one of the most fun ways to do photography.

It could have worked out so I had plenty of time, and I would’ve felt dumb for not grabbing my tripod and getting a slightly better quality image.  But you never quite know for sure.  You need to make quick decisions while driving or hiking (even running) into position.  One is which lens you’ll use, and the other is whether to risk the extra moment to use your tripod.  The idea behind photography in my opinion is to get the shot.  It’s not to make each of your images technically perfect.

Have a great week!  And to my fellow Americans, happy Independence Day!

19 responses to “Single-Image Sunday: Storm over the Sierra

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  1. Gorgeous!

  2. Beautiful image!

  3. Impressive capture – you took the moment pretty well!

  4. Beautiful. I understand that you, Mr. Flaherty, recently traveled to Livingston, Montana. Once a real cow town.

    Rick "The Livingston Kid" Savard
  5. great advice, and although this post is about not always using a tripod…which for me is the norm…’re inspiring me to think about using or trying it sometimes. I really only ever do if I’m using a blocking filter…moving water usually. You’re inspiring me to try the tripod…..thanks!

  6. Wonderful lighting and an image with the suggestion of imminent change, even apart from the commentary.

  7. As beautiful as any you’ve posted before Michael, almost painting-like. I like the contrast between the approaching storm and the peacefully grazing cattle.

  8. Perfectly timed and beautiful shot!

  9. The color and terrain variation is pretty wild–almost as if you’d photoshopped three separate images together. Interesting to read about your creative process too.

    Melissa Shaw-Smith
  10. Thanks Rosemarie and Annette!

  11. The light you captured is especially effective.

  12. Amazing!

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