Natural Perspectives: Capturing the majesty of nature

Some of us members of the Photographic Society of Orange County traveled to the Eastern Sierra last week to photograph fall foliage. Vic stayed home to take care of the chickens and to teach his college classes. That work thing of his really interferes with his ability to accompany me on my various forays into nature.

Taking Diana LoSchiavo's watercolor class at the Huntington Beach Art Center is affecting my photography in positive ways because I now pay more attention to colors and shadows. I also take pictures of things that I would like to paint later.

Nature is a great subject for photographers and painters alike. I look at rocks, trees, grass, streams, lakes, sky and clouds as elements in my photographs. I search for groupings of those elements with good composition. I look for S curves, diagonal lines and groupings of three or five to make pleasing pictures.

I try to divide a scene into thirds from top to bottom, and in thirds from side to side. The center of attention should go into where the imaginary lines intersect. If the subject is clouds, then the horizon should be in the lower third of the picture. If the subject is terrestrial, then the skyline goes at the bottom of the top third of the picture. These aren't hard and fast rules, but understanding the elements of good composition can make the difference between a snapshot and a good photograph.

On this trip, I found myself looking down as well as to the horizon. I found compositions at my feet in swirls of golden aspen leaves lying over pine needles. A tiny pinecone frozen in newly formed ice made an interesting close-up. Swooshes of golden grass backlit by the morning sun created a fine photo.

Sometimes the images lay readymade in serendipitous perfection. But I wasn't above moving some frost-encrusted aspen leaves onto a gnarled branch of weathered sagebrush wood to get a better composition. Sometimes an errant blade of grass needed to be moved aside to improve a photo. Mostly, it was me that moved. If a composition wasn't right from one angle, I moved left, right, up or down. Low-angle shots provide a unique perspective, especially if using a wide-angle lens.

Most of the photo club members carpooled on the long drive up to Lee Vining, where we all stayed at Murphey's Motel. I carpooled with Mark Singer, whose wife Marlene also had to teach. We're looking forward to a time when our spouses retire and will be able to join us on these photographic outings.

The club members generally go their separate ways during the day, gathering for happy hour to discuss what prime areas they found to photograph. But we never know for sure what the others found until the next month's meeting in Huntington Beach, when we each show our three best shots.

On this trip, I took both my Nikon Coolpix P90 and my Canon EOS 30D. The advantage of the Canon is that it will accept filters. I consider the use of a polarizing filter essential for photographing the high country. A polarizing filter snaps out the clouds against a sky that is rendered a deeper blue, and it eliminates reflections on leaves and water to intensify their colors.

I'm really not a morning person, so for me to get somewhere before dawn is a rare event. And I don't function well at that hour. On our first day in the area, Mark and I arrived at the visitor center at Mono Lake a half hour before the sun came up. We had to use flashlights to set up our equipment in the frigid 19-degree, pre-dawn darkness.

The air was clear, but my mind was foggy. I don't know if it was the early hour or the cold, but I couldn't remember how to use either camera. I knew one of them had a special setting for shooting sunrises, but I didn't remember which one, and I couldn't find the setting. I couldn't even remember how to attach the cameras to the tripod.

The color of the sky changed from a pinkish purple tinge on the horizon to an intense and fiery red-orange that covered the sky from horizon to straight overhead. It had to have been the most spectacular sunrise I have ever seen. But I wasn't catching it on my cameras. By the time I finally woke up enough to remember how to use my equipment properly, the sunrise was nearly over.

Fortunately, the rest of the day went much better. We drove into Yosemite as far as Tuolumne Meadows before heading to Mammoth Lakes to photograph some hot springs there.

Then tragedy struck. That evening, Mark learned that there had been a death in his family. We decided that we would return to Huntington Beach the next day after joining the rest of the club at Bodie State Historic Park in the morning to photograph the old buildings there.

Even though we cut our trip short by two days, I came home with 1,174 photos, of which I processed 321 using my computer software. I narrowed that batch down to 207 that I consider good enough to show to others. Now I have to pick out three to submit with this column. That's going to be the hardest part of this trip by far.

You can see more of my photos from the trip on my blog at

VIC LEIPZIG and LOU MURRAY are Huntington Beach residents and environmentalists. They can be reached at

Members of the Photographic Society of Orange County who attended the Mono Lake field trip included:

Glen Buto

Shelley and Don Davis

Denji Ebisu

Annette Globits

Linda Gray

George Hagen

Leroy Hannon

Gordon Hastings

Wendy and Dave Hill

Ron Knivel

Jane Longfellow

Mike and Judy McNulty

Kierstin Misterek

David and Alison Murphy

Lou Murray

Mark Singer

Vern and Verna Steger

Stefan Steinberg

Donald and Suzanne Van Dyke

Mike and Nancy Whitmore

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