My May 2019 Photo of the Month is LM110, taken in the Laguna Mountains during a large storm.
I like to tell my co-workers that “nice” weather doesn’t do much for photographers. “Bad” weather is what we are really looking for. So when a storm was blowing through San Diego County, I was checking with my friends and planning a trip through our local mountains.
My friend Tom Applegate came with me, and while he is usually out photographing birds, I can sometimes get him to do some landscapes with me. As my friends know, I am a sucker for clouds.
We did our normal loop through the Laguna Mountains, which most people know starts at Sunrise Highway heading North. Before we had reached Crouch Valley as the County Highway heads above 5,000 in altitude, we were completely fogged in. Several of the turnouts along the highway had visibility of a few feet. We also stopped at the Storm Canyon overlook where we got a few seconds view of the desert valley below. This would have been a great spot for the time-lapses I have wanted to work on, but it was way too windy. Kwaaymii Point, another favorite, was also the same.
We stopped at my favorite overlooks of Oriflamme Mountain and Granite Mountain, Sure enough, the clouds were clearing in sections with various shadows over Granite Peak. Beautiful as always, but we had to move on. I just have too many photos from this spot! Finally, we headed to the spot that became LM110.
A Frozen Moment
Near the Northern terminus of Sunrise Highway, there are a number of small dirt turnouts (and a larger one at the Fages Memorial) with great views of the massive meadow in Cuyamaca valley that drains into the lake. Much to my surprise, there was water on both sides of the berm that contains the lake. In addition, at this higher elevation, the wildflowers were beautiful.
I made a number of exposures (of course), but it wasn’t until the clouds had a moment of clearing that I created something I liked. If you want to truly appreciate the incredible dynamic range that modern cameras can support, it is a scene like this with both very dark and very bright tones. When I clicked the shutter and looked at the result on the back screen, I thought I had forgotten to turn on my “blinkies” because it wasn’t showing any clipping at all.
The final image is dark. The final image is also very bright. I think many photographers would be tempted to bring these tonal values much closer together. I tried to resist that urge, because I wanted to keep some faithfulness to the scene. These moments where storms clear are brilliant, dark, and fleeting. That’s what makes a photograph what it is, a fleeting moment frozen in time.
As always, thank you for reading, and I hope you enjoy the image.
T.M. Schultze is a San Diego-based photographer, traveller, and writer. He writes, photographs, and draws things of the outdoors that have inspired humans for thousands of years. He co-authored the Photographer’s Guide to Joshua Tree Park which can be purchased here.