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The Eastern Sierra Ultimate Photo Expedition

Holly Higbee-Jansen
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Holly Higbee-Jansen

Holly is a passionate photographer, photo workshop leader and instructor for Jansen Photo Expeditions.
Holly Higbee-Jansen
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The Eastern Sierra Ultimate Photo Expedition

It’s five a.m. and all I can see in the pre-dawn is the light from my headlamp as I head across the desert. My husband and business partner is waiting for me at one of the famous sandstone arches in the Alabama Hills. This arch is hidden from view and not easily found without a guide. It is the first morning of our Eastern Sierra photo workshop.

Behind me, four hopeful photographers follow in the 4am darkness. It’s my job to guide them through the sage-and-stone-scattered tundra, through and around large boulders, across a stream bed and up a small hill to the arch.

The plan was for me to look for my husband’s flash light across the dark desert. For the first 10 minutes or so I didn’t see it.  As we came close to the wash, (a dry seasonal stream bed), I noticed Mark’s light. We headed down into the wash and back up the other side to the arch.

Light Painting

As we set up our cameras and tripods, Mark starts to explain about the light painting and how we are going to capture this amazing arch in this challenging lighting situation. We spent some great moments shooting in the predawn light, photographing and “painting” the arch with a broad beamed light. In the time between the darkness and the arrival of the dawn, I took this picture called, “Waiting for the Light” which really describes this incredible morning durin this photo expedition.

As we get ready to do our next Eastern Sierra Photography workshop, I think about all the times I’ve been  there, in all sorts of weather and conditions.

The Eastern Sierra is one of the best places for photography in California.

We’ve hiked, biked, backpacked, fished, cross-country skied, snowmobiled, and snow-shoed across those mountains multiple times. We never tire of them.  Every visit is different and each time there are incredible opportunities for creativity.  We know the area like the back of our hand, and we’re always excited to share this beautiful area with our clients. We’ve spent many years in the back country of the Sierra Nevada, so the trips we take with our clients are tame compared to some of the excursions we’ve been on in the past.

What I love about this photo expedition is we help people connect with their photographic imagination.

They start to see compositions and exposures on their own and begin to sink into the creative “zone”.

After the sun rose and we finished our breakfast, we headed up Highway 395 in search of more photographic compositions.  As the light is best in the late afternoon, we had a few hours to make it to our next stop, the Bristlecone Pines.

This famous area is home to some of the oldest living organisms on the planet. A few trees here are over 5,000 years old!  They make compelling subjects and with the right light, make beautiful images. The trees are located at 10,000’ in elevation, so it takes a little time to get used to the altitude.

As we puff up the trail, the old trees show themselves, and they never fail to delight with their twisted, gnarled exteriors.

Of course for us, sunset is the ideal time for landscape photography and on this particular trip it was more spectacular than ever.  The color of the sky developed into the raspberry red that is so characteristic of the Eastern Sierra, and the snowcapped mountains in the distance made for a complete composition.

How to Shoot Bristlecones at Sunset

For this particular exposure, it’s really important to wait for that moment of light just as the sun sets.  If you’re lucky, the reflection of the sun’s rays against the clouds can bring out some amazing colors.

I always double check that my foreground and background are tack sharp by focusing about 4’ ahead of me (or about 1/3 up into the frame) and set my aperture to F18 to give me the widest depth of field.

If your camera is set on aperture priority, it will set your shutter speed for you and you would do your meter reading off the sky being careful to watch your histogram for any over or underexposed areas in your image.


In this particular picture, I was able to bring up the darker areas of the tree in Lightroom and highlight some of the beautiful patterns in the gnarled bark. (If you’d like more information on how to do these types of settings in Photoshop or Lightroom, we offer online and in-person classes on this software.)

If you’re interested in finding out how to shoot like a pro, Jansen Photo Expeditions offers a variety of in person private and group photo workshops and online classes that help you create stunning images. Single and multi-day photography workshops are our specialty, and if you’d like to take a longer trip, we offer workshops in Iceland, Big Sur, Yosemite and San Francisco workshops coming up.

Contact us now to book your next photographic expedition, www.JansenPhotoExpeditions.com.

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