No Clouds, No Problem

The forecast for our recent trip to the Eastern Sierra Mountains of California was all sun and few clouds. This might seem like a dire forecast for the landscape photographer seeking beautiful sunrises and sunsets against dramatic skies. Not being able to control the weather, I just decided to work with it. It was literally an enlightening experience that I will take with me when running my photography workshops in the New Jersey Pine Barrens.

The idea of photographing the Eastern Sierra mountains landscape without the possibility of dramatic clouds presented a challenge. It was a problem that required a creative solution. Below are the solutions I used on our trip to the Eastern Sierra Mountains.


Working the Light

You can depend on the twilight and golden hours at the beginning and end of the day. When the sky lacks something interesting like clouds, just lower your camera angle and find the beauty in the landscape.

Here are some tips for working the the light.

  • Start very early. Include twilight and even a few stars. The light at that time can be provide a soft and subtle beauty that rivals the most colorful sunrise or sunset.
  • Point your camera in the opposite direction of the sun and watch the beauty as the early light changes the landscape.


First Light On Mt Whitney by Richard Lewis 2023


Early Light On Mt Whitney by Richard Lewis 2023


Before Dawn In The Eastern Sierras by Richard Lewis 2023


Sun Kissed Mountain by Richard Lewis 2023


Dawn In The Alabama Hills by Richard Lewis 2023


Hot Springs Near The Owens River by Richard Lewis 2023


Sometimes it’s not necessary to include any sky.

Daybreak In The Alabama Hills by Richard Lewis 2023


Photographing by Moonlight

By following my work you know that I’m not an astrophotographer. I prefer to photograph the night landscape by moonlight. This trip to the Eastern Sierra mountains was timed around the full moon cycle so I could take advantage of its rising and setting. Timing a moonrise or moonset is different in the mountains. Photographing the moon in the flat landscape of the New Jersey Pine Barrens means the moon will be visible around the time it rises and sets along the horizon. The height of the mountains will change that timing.

Moonlit Alabama Hills by Richard Lewis 2023


Moon Over The Eastern Sierras by Richard Lewis 2023


Moonlit Roadway by Richard Lewis 20023


Full Moon Over Mammoth Lakes by Richard Lewis 2023


Find the Unusual

There are landscapes that are so unusual that the sky doesn’t matter. In fact, a dramatic sky might just compete with the landscape.

Mono Lake

One of the most unusual landscapes of the Eastern Sierra mountains, maybe even the world is Mono Lake. This large lake has oddly shaped natural towers along the shore called Tufas. Their odd, almost alien shapes look like like something out of a science fiction movie.

First Light On Mono Lake by Richard Lewis 2023


Sunrise On Mono Lake by Richard Lewis 2023


Mono Lake Sunset by Richard Lewis 2023


Mono Lake Twilight Glow by Richard Lewis 2023


Crowley Lake Columns

The extremely weird and bizarre columns on the edge of Crowley Lake look like an ancient ruin, but they are natural and not built. It is theorized that they are the result of a volcanic process. The challenge here is the location, light and people. The way to the columns requires either a boat, a 4 wheel drive vehicle, or a 4+ mile hike. Lacking any of the first two, we did the latter arriving at the Crowley Lake columns in the early afternoon. Maybe hiking out early or late would solve some of these issues, but we didn’t have that option. So, we worked with what we had. That meant photographing deeper in the columns to avoid the harsh afternoon light and working with more intimate scenes to avoid our fellow explorers.

Crawley Lake Columns by Richard Lewis 2023


Crawley Lake Columns 1 by Richard Lewis 2023


Crawley Lake Columns 2 by Richard Lewis 2023


Crawley Lake Columns 4 by Richard Lewis 2023


Challenge Yourself to Photograph Challenging Light

One morning, after the sunrise, I decided to drive around and scout out some locations. The sun was well above the horizon, but the landscape was glowing. On a small rise was an interesting rock outcropping that I’m calling Californiahenge because of the way the sun passed through a notch in the rocks.

Californiahenge by Richard Lewis 2023


Landscape Painters can find the beauty of the light throughout the day. We photographers should take inspiration in that. This scene reminded me of something that a Hudson River School artist like Asher Durand would have painted.

Eastern Sierra Morning by Richard Lewis 2023


When I first drove to the Mono Lake area it was very dark and I couldn’t see the landscape around the lake. When driving out, it was shocking to see a barren landscape that looked like it was scorched by a wildfire. Still little clumps of white flowers were blooming, creating a real contrast. Here the harsh light casting shadows enhances the mood of this scene.

Recovery by Richard Lewis 2023


Bodie is a large, abandoned mining town in a California state park. It is quite fascinating, but also only open during the worst time of day for photographers. Still, these old buildings are interesting to photograph in this harsh light. See more Bodie photographs here.

Bodie Landscape 1 by Richard Lewis 2023


Bodie Landscape 3 by Richard Lewis 2023


A Different Point of View

The Owens River area seems almost featureless from the ground, but from a drone it is something completely different. The first photograph from a low altitude show a colorful, but flat landscape with the Owens River and its tributaries winding their way through it.

Along The Owens River by Richard Lewis 2023


From a higher altitude, with the drone’s camera pointing straight down, the landscape becomes very interesting. Foliage and alkali mix with the waterways to create abstract designs and a wide mix of colors. One could easily think that this was an artist designed landscape.

Owens River Abstract 1 by Richard Lewis 2023


Owens River Abstract 2 by Richard Lewis 2023


Cracked by Richard Lewis 2023


Owens River Abstract 3 by Richard Lewis 2023


Owens River Abstract 4 by Richard Lewis 2023


Owens River Abstract 5 by Richard Lewis 2023


Owens River Abstract 6 by Richard Lewis 2023

Nature photographer Sara Marino once correctly cautioned to avoid becoming a “Cloud Snob.” The landscape is beautiful and that is why we photograph it. That beauty changes with the light and understanding where to find it will broaden one’s creativity. I’ll leave you with this. The first rule of landscape photography is that there are no real rules. The light is what it is, the scene is what it is, and the beauty is there to discover for the “enlightened” photographer.


See more of my California photography here

I still have openings for my Fall Pine Barrens photography workshops. Learn more here!