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1116 Vista Point Ln
Concord, CA, 94521
United States

(925) 286 6721

The visual works and portfolios of Josh Harmon. Northern California native photographer, videographer, and seeker of moments specializing in portraits, landscapes, and water. 

Summer's End (not really)


Summer's End (not really)

Josh Harmon

View from US-50 entering Lake Tahoe

So my summer is coming to an end. Yup, soon I will be among the ranks of the 9-to-5ers. But before that happens I decided to let summer's end be a bang, well metaphorically speaking. In the spirit of spontaneity I decided to make my way to Lake Tahoe and camp for a day or so during which I wanted to take as many photos as I could. I timed it such that I would be leaving for home just as all of California was heading up for the 4th. 

Distant thunderhead and storm as seen from south shore. Not visible were the occasional lightning strike.

Originally I was planning on solo camping and being alone the whole time, which is fine with me, but I ended up convincing my mom to join me, which made the excursion considerably more nice. 

We arrived late afternoon and setup camp quickly. By the time we were setup and came back from dinner it was already very close to sunset. We decided to find the closest beach access for this sunset and not bother going far out of the way. Luckily this worked quite well as we ended up on the beach just in time for the sky to light up. There was a large thunder head in the distance across the lake on the Nevada side. As the sun touched the horizon it lit up dramatically with occasional lightning flashes striking in the far distance below it. The sky over the other side of the lake also was catching the decaying light magnificently. The sky was very much on fire. The California side of the lake had higher altitude clouds which held their color longer than the thunder head. Overall this was one of the most magical sunsets I've ever experienced. No single part was extraordinary by itself but as a whole, combined with the warm temperature and smells of the forest, it was simply sublime.

Higher altitude clouds hold the decaying hues of the sunset long after the thunder head went dark

The next day we hiked down Emerald Bay to lower Eagle Falls in the morning. Unfortunately the sky was partially clouded with higher altitude and featureless clouds giving a general muggy feel. Regardless the hike was nice and fun. My mom and I then drove around the lake, stopping for lunch and then minigolf, until we made it to Sand Harbor.

Lower Eagle Falls, about a 1/15th second exposure to give the water so motion

Granite boulders along the other edge of Sand Harbor

The main beach at Sand Harbor, my favorite beach in California

Sand Harbor is hands down my favorite beach on the lake if not in California. It is the easiest beach to swim in that I've ever been too. It's warm, shallow with a gentle slope in, and pure sand. You can go 200 feet out and still be only 6 feet deep. The bottom is pure quartzite sand from the granite boulders all around; there are not large pebbles or sharp rocks, nor plants (aside from algae in the shallows). Beyond these features it is absolutely beautiful with an amazing panorama of the lake. Next to the beach are thousands of granite boulders, eroded and weathered to oblong spheres, that cascade into the lake.

These boulders are the second reason I love Sand Harbor. They provide for fun boulder hopping and exploring, but more importantly they make for amazing photography. In the day they have amazing texture (large quartz and feldspar grains) that lends well to B/W photos. At sunset/sunrise they provide static reference to the sky and water. With long exposures they stand out sharply against misty lake water and fiery sky.

Where the boulders meet the lake is an interesting and gorgeous combination of texture, reflection, and mood

I spent the afternoon swimming and cursing myself for not owning a GoPro or water proof camera (my underwater housing is long dead). I would love to do an underwater portrait shoot at this beach! After swimming I then boulder hopped and explored around the other parts of the beach, scouting for sunset shooting locations. I eventually found a perfect spot that I could get to carrying a tripod and my Pentax gear.

Pentax 6x7 with 55mm f/4 loaded with Kodak Ektar 100 perched on granite boulders while waiting for the light

A quick drive towards Zephyr cove for dinner and then back again to Sand Harbor. I was ready to shoot some film! I set out with my photo backpack holding my Pentax 6x7, 55mm f/4, 135mm f/4, and 200mm f/4 as well as a pile of Kodak Ektar 100 in 120 size. Around my neck was my Canon 7D and 17-40L, mostly for its metering ability since the metering prism for my Pentax can't measure beyond a 1 second exposure. In my hand was my trusty Giottos tripod with ballhead.

I scampered carefully across the boulders to the spot I scouted out earlier that day. I was glad I found a nice view that was possible to get to without having to walk through water to. I arrived on my selected boulder and sat down. I had to figure out how to setup my tripod solidly, find a place for my pack that I could trust would not fall in the lake, and then pull the big Pentax out without having anything fall out of the pack. All in all I was very nervous and timid about the process but luckily nothing went wrong or crashed or fell in, phew. 

A quickish snap while metering for the Pentax using my Canon 7D. I wrangled in post quite a bit to bring detail out of the rocks, mind the banding and noise.

I setup and shot a roll right away. It was just on the verge of sunset with late afternoon warm hued light. I had plenty of film so why not shoot some right? My goal for the shoot was to capture long exposures of the lake and granite boulders. I was assuming, and hoping, the sunset would provide the soft and purply/pink light to make the image pop. Again luck was with me and I had all the elements together.

Me standing next to my big Pentax 6x7. You can see the strap of my Canon 7D which is slung around my back. What you can't see is how aweseomley my tripod is setup.

After that first roll I waited until the light was right and shot away. With the first roll I allowed myself to switch lenses on the Pentax between the 55mm f/4 and 135mm f/4 since it was bright out and had time. For the next roll, and subsequent sunset shoot, I decided to just shoot with the 55mm f/4 to mitigate risk and maximize my time with the good light. I had my Tiffen circular polarizer on to help with the reflections and to give me 2 stops of less light to help with long exposures.

By the time I finished that roll sunset was over and I carefully packed up and boulder hopped back to the car. This shoot was perhaps the scariest, most precarious, and most exciting shoot I've had. 

After sleeping in the next day we packed up camp and made our way to Cascade Falls for a final quick hike before driving home. It was approaching late morning and the angle of light was not optimum for shooting so I left my big Pentax in the car and took just my Canon 7D, 17-40L, and 85mm f/1.8. I also took my tripod and a Vari-ND filter I recently bought. I wanted to see what daytime long exposures I could get.

In short, the filter really sucks. I mainly bought it for video work (180 degree shutter angle in daylight is hard to maintain and shallow f-stops). Because of how the filter works, two opposing polarizing filters, the more you twists the more apparent there is in X shaped pattern. I believe this is caused by having the polarized filters at right angles to each other. Anyway, this just means that I can't use it at its max density, at least not at wild angles.

A quick iPhone panorama from my perch

View from Cascade Falls over Cascade Lake and Lake Tahoe. A roughly 1/2 second exposure at f/11 with my Canon 7D, 17-40L, and Neewar Vari-ND filter.

I did manage to get a few cool longer exposure shots in daytime at Cascade Falls. The weather was perfect; deep blue sky with only fluffy cumulus clouds. I took my photos and we hiked back to the car to drive home. We timed the trip well. Little traffic at all leaving the lake while it was bumper to bumper going towards the lake. Can't imagine how crazy things are on the 4th of July up here.

I am back home now, enjoying what time I have left before I start work on Monday. Soon I will be ordering a c-41 kit to process the film I shot and will post it as soon as it's scanned! I've also decided that I will some day live in Tahoe. There is a magic quality to the lake that is very alluring.