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Hope Valley 10/20
Hope Valley 10/21

2017 Trip Chronicles:  Page 20

Hope Valley 10/20


After our Bishop fishing trip, I hoped to return to the Eastern Sierra in a week or two if weather conditions were interesting. However sunny fair weather with hazy skies set up under a dome of high pressure off the West Coast. Then on Sunday October 8 during an exceptionally high wind event, fires broke out in Napa, Sonoma, Lake, Mendocino, and Yuba Counties causing unprecedented horrible damage filling skies across the region with smoke. Until those fires were no longer dangerous causing human tragedies, even when smoke was not blowing over the Sierra Nevada, I did not feel like engaging in any field work. Thousands of fire fighting crews finally got control over the fires. Weather forecasts for Thursday October 19 were to bring the second cold front of the season into California further quenching the fires and bringing snow to Sierra elevations down to 6000 feet with strong winds. Thus on Thursday I packed up gear though was uncertain where to commit to. About midnight light rain with breezy winds visited my local area, then quickly moved southeast.


Satellite images showed the front was down in the Southern Sierra Nevada by early Friday morning October 20. CDEC remote weather sites showed low enough temperatures for snow at predicted elevations and enough precipitation for several inches of snow had fallen. The Kirkwood Ski Resort web cam showed about half a foot of new snow covering its landscapes. Highways SR4, SR108, and SR120 passes were all closed to the south so my only option early Friday would be SR88 over Carson Pass. That was fine because some of the lower Hope Valley aspen groves are usually the last in the range to go through leaf change. It was now so late in October that I had doubts the many groves to the south in Mono County would still hold leaves. Additionally Hope Valley had some dense groves that had orange and red leaf changes versus the more common yellow that might present a wonderful orange, yellow, and white candy cane world.

A primary reason for targeting Hope Valley was because it would be an uncommon opportunity for close-ups of fallen aspen leaves on fresh snow. In the fall of 1998 on a light storm day I had first discovered the wonderful aesthetic of such close-ups with one of those images at page right, a downsized Kodachrome 64 film Kodak PhotoCD film scan shot with my old OM-4T 35mm SLR. Such fallen leaves rapidly lose their bright saturated color in less than a single day especially if wet and in the sun, so it was important to reach the snow zone soon after the front passed.


I declined jumping into the morning commute instead waiting till 10am to get on the road. By 2pm had driven the 200 miles to Hope Valley where I indeed found a few groves to choose from with peaking orange leaves with one of the groves I drove by beside SR89 at page left. I was glad to find skies about half full of fast moving clouds that would allow close-up work without direct sunlight. The air temperature was a crisp 31F degrees that had nicely slowed melting snow. I might have worked larger landscapes of the groves however aspen leaves flutter in the slightest breezes and breezes from the receding storm were still rather continuous. Snow had ended 7 hours before with much in areas sun shown down on already melted up from the warm ground temperatures. On such landscapes, fresh snow lasts longest in areas below shading trees, atop vegetation, and grasses.

My fourth subject at 3pm was the below single frame intimate landscape of quaking aspen, populus tremuloides, leaves around one of several seep streams in the grove. The stream dropped about 8 inches into a small bubbling pool. To appreciate the wonderful fine detail in this and following images, please select the enlarged vertical slice view. Note water drops still covering leaves and vegetation from melted snow. This same subject a few hours earlier would have been a less interesting solid snow covering. Another element that made this storm opportunity unique is that had the landscape already had a snow cover, only the just fallen leaves would have been on an otherwise less interesting white snow surface.


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This next image below is a single aspen leaf showing both orange and red color atop crystalline snow that was still little metamorphosized. The advantage of working such areas with dense forest is there are many surface areas that remain shaded all day. The small holes in the snow surface are the result of fallen water drops off the tall aspen trees. Notice how the translucent snow has a subtle red hue. That is due to its shallow depth atop layers of colorful leaves below.

On all the below close-ups, my A6000 was mounted on a Benbo Trekker tripod with a Sigma 60mm F2.8 lens and a 12mm extension tube. The Sigma 60mm lens has an exceptional flat field at close range with little drop in resolution from center to edges. On a few images where sun was shining down on the following morning, I also used a 32 inch diameter collapsible diffusion disk for more even, less harsh light. Generally in this era, I take few serious plant close-ups in direct sun light. On the other hand for some close-up subjects like stone, I almost always use direct sunlight because sun reflects out of colorful translucent mineral layers enhancing saturation.


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The below intimate landscape shows the aspen grove forest floor. The trunk of one aspen is at upper mid right and a small seep stream mostly hidden by snow flattened vegetation where grass pokes in and out. It was immediately obvious upon entering the understory that large numbers of leaves had fallen onto the forest floor during an early period of the storm before most of the snowfall occurred burying leaves under a shallow layer. When I returned Saturday morning, snow in areas like this that received some sunlight Friday had fully melted and many of the leaves were already a dull gray brown.

Long ago I learned one secret to photographing objects atop fresh snow is to keep peak exposures levels well below what the histogram shows as still within dynamic range. A camera sensor viewing all the bright white will tend to underexpose by nature however in order to bring the white snow down to the level where other elements that in this case are leaves expose correctly, the exposure may need to be even lower. In any case one ought experiment with their specific camera to find out what works so would advise bracketing the first time working these subjects.


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The 4 column panoramic stitch at page top, shows a dense patch of colorful fallen leaves atop a large dark black lichen covered boulder. The boulder plane is at an inclined 30 degree of so angle that caused most of the leaves hitting the rock to slide off and accumulate densely below. Note the small patches of still unmelted snow that is more visible on the center slice of the enlarged vertical slice view. The image was worked at 5pm when the sun was well below the horizon mountain slope to the west and above was mostly blue skylight allowing for an even diffuse illumination. This was my fourteenth subject over about 2.5 hours of the afternoon and the light was becoming rather dim so I called it an afternoon then drove off to overnight sleeping in my Forester. Within Toiyabe National Forest, Hope Valley has several places just off the highway some fully out of highway view where one can legally disperse camp.


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With outside temperatures in the teens, I let the sun rise up above mountains to the east on Saturday October 21 before getting out of my warm winter goose down sleeping bag and driving off to aspen groves. My first two subjects given now calm air were modest grove landscapes, however stupid mistakes with my panoramic head made both worthless. In any case I was more interested in more close-ups so was soon tramping about in shaded aspen grove understories looking down at aspen leaf subjects atop the snow. This next subject above worked at 10am is a single brick red aspen leaf with yellow veins atop the now one day metamorphosized snow surface. During the cold night water vapor had frozen out of the air creating a dusting crystalline layer across the landscape, here visible atop the leaf.


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The next image above shows two overlapping leaves atop snow, one yellow orange and the other red. Notice the water drops on the left leaf that had apparently landed on its leaf surface then splattered about. Also note on the left side of the red leaf periphery how the leaf has melted down slightly into the snow surface.

When post processing these snow close-ups with Photoshop CS6, the Edit...Auto Blend Layers command often does a poor job with snow areas resulting in an out of focus mushy blur. Also the edge areas are likely often quite blurred requiring cropping. That is one reason I usually use Zerene Stacker instead which does an excellent job rendering all areas sharp. However at such close lens to subject distances, even moving the camera slightly between focus stack frames will result in a lack of perfect overlapping registration during blending that then requires tedious manual frame selection work. Thus it is very important to have a rock stable tripod and head position and being very careful while touching a camera focus positioning control and lens focusing barrel to focus stack frames. That would tend to mean using the less movement prone Spot Auto Focus mode versus Manual Focus, however the former at least on the A6000 has trouble focusing consistently on near snow surfaces.


RI06232-43  3800x4800 pixels  1 frame 12 image focus stack blend  A6000 60mm extension tube diffusion disk
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The above image has another single aspen leaf subject atop snow with considerable frost crystals and leaf colors of brick orange, orange, and green. Note while viewing the enlarged vertical slice view" how many of the frost crystals have a long rectangular shape.


RI06244-61  4000x6000 pixels  1 frame 18 image focus stack blend  A6000 60mm extension tube diffusion disk
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My last close-up image from the morning session at 10:50am was an aspen leaf on snow with a snow bridge across the leaf. With thousands of leaves to look at in the grove, I saw many leaves that were partially covered with snow. However one with a snow band like this was rather unique so caught my eye. The snow surface shows wet depressions where water drops have fallen from tree branches above creating little bomb holes. Also note how the upper left edge of the leaf that tends to absorb more infrared heat has melted down through the snow surface and orange color of another leaf under the snow surface is becoming visible.


RI06291-01  6000x4000 pixels  1 frame 11 image focus stack blend  A6000 30mm
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It was time to drive back home. Highways SR89 and SR88 both had much more traffic by late morning, many of which were weekend gamblers on their way to Nevada though a minor number were on a Saturday drive to see the new snow that was quite visible from valley areas far in the distance below as the air was exceptionally clear. As I reached areas below Stanislaus National Forest, increasing black oak, Pacific dogwood, wild grape, and bigleaf maple trees showed their colorful autumn leaves. Thus turned off of SR88 to venture down one of my favorite backcountry roads beside a gold country stream. And found the streamside jungle of vegetation full of colorful subjects. With sunny skies and a modest breeze, I had no reason to stop for most of the way. However one minor section was rather shadowed by its steep canyon walls so stopped and climbed down an unpleasant crumbling bank where I hopped about the shallow 20 foot or so wide stream bed on rocks. Beneath a dense area of bigleaf maple, acer macrophyllum, trees found a shallow pool full of its yellow leaves where I took out my Sigma 30mm F2.8 DN lens for the above single frame focus stack blended subject. The blue spots at frame bottom are blue sky reflections. Bigleaf maple have the largest leaves of any North America maple species and grow throughout central and northern California west of the Sierra below 5000 feet.

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   David Senesac
   email: info@davidsenesac.com

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