Behind the Image: Mountain Time

The image below, Mountain Time, captures Banner Peak reflected in Thousand Island Lake within the Ansel Adams Wilderness (California).  I made this image on the second morning of a five-day backpacking trip in 2013.  It is a 90-second exposure made possible by the use of a neutral-density filter, which (for non-photographers) is basically a dark piece of glass used to lengthen exposure times to capture smooth water, cloud movement, and similar effects.

The image, taken shortly after sunrise, features clouds left behind by a clearing storm.  The night before was warm (for the Sierra) and included brief rain showers from time to time.  In truth, I did not intend to take any pictures this morning after a long hike into Thousand Island Lake the prior afternoon.  Waking before sunrise, however, I was pleasantly surprised to see Banner Peak reflected in a perfectly calm lake with just the right array of clouds for a long exposure (smaller clouds often work better).

Mountain Time,     Banner Peak and Thousand Island Lake, Ansel Adams Wilderness, California (August 2013)

Mountain Time, Banner Peak and Thousand Island Lake, Ansel Adams Wilderness, California (August 2013)

Without much time before sunrise, I hurried down to the lakeshore and looked for a composition.  A simple 50/50 reflection is rarely my preference because there's nothing special about can do it with any lake, any time.  But in late summer, the wildflowers along the shore were gone and with the limited time available I couldn't find anything more compelling to serve as a foreground.  At least there was a small pine tree to help create some interest on the right hand side of the image.

In hindsight, I think the 50/50 reflection worked very well for this type of shot.  The calm lake made for a near-mirror image, and the cloud movement highlights Banner Peak and creates a lot of depth and visual interest.  The image works nicely in color, but I eventually opted to convert it to black and white for a more artistic feel.

For the sake of comparison, a color version of substantially the same scene is posted below (without the neutral density filter).  It's certainly a pleasing image and I've had some people say they prefer it to Mountain Time.  Both images help justify the extra effort it requires to haul about 10-12 pounds of camera gear on a backpacking trip, not to mention the mental effort of getting up early when staying in my tent would have been the easier choice.


Mountain Time was selected as the Grand Prize winner from nearly 350 submissions in the "Twelve:  Natural Magic" contest sponsored in December 2013 by the Viewpoint Gallery in Sacramento, California.  It was displayed and sold in the gallery during the holiday season.