Deep Freeze at Bridgeport Reservoir, CA

I discovered YouTube. Silly me. I had, of course, spent hours browsing YouTube content, mostly checking out concert videos or while solving some home repair puzzle. But now the puzzles of Lightroom had sent me searching for tutorials and that, in turn, allowed me to stumble upon a couple channels that suddenly inspired me even further.  I found Thomas Heaton and Nick Page. These guys – Thomas from the northeast of England and Nick from the Palouse in eastern Washington – are pros with a knack for teaching and sharing their photographic inspiration and talent, along with their joys and occasional failures. It’s dangerous binge material, not to mention the rather serious gear-envy with every “what’s in my bag” video. However, to avoid the danger, it is better to follow the inspiration and get out to photograph some landscapes, just like my new mentors.

Inversion fog forms misty strata above Bridgeport Reservoir. A seven-shot panorama of the Sawtooth Range, Sierra Nevada. Focused on the structure to emphasize the softness of the frosty background. 1/500 sec, f/5, ISO 200; Canon 80D, 18-135 mm.

So, I’m up in the pre-dawn of a brutally cold Saturday morning driving happily, once again, the dark two-lane of Highway 395. Driving through here a couple weeks ago in a deep snowstorm, I thought the sunrise on the Sawtooth Range of the Sierra from the perspective of Bridgeport Reservoir would challenge me. It’s an expansive range, with a ragged high-point I climbed many years ago; and with the frozen conditions and new snow, this should be fun!

Bridgeport Deep Freeze Collection

Knowing the reservoir was frozen, I wanted to use it and the lifting fog to highlight the range in the first sunlight. That was the plan, and it worked out pretty well.  What I didn’t anticipate was just how cold it was going to be. First, I could not find a good place to park due to the plowed berms along the highway; the road crews had worked to clear the highway after the recent storm but they didn’t see the need or have time to create convenient photography pull-outs. Dropping into 4×4 Low, I made myself a parking spot where I thought the turn-out to the reservoir dam might be. Oh, and it was now -16F, so the cold smacked me hard when I jumped out of the truck. Luckily, I loved the viewpoint and thought I had several good compositions I could capture just short distance from the truck – maybe I could even climb back in with the heater running once things were set and I waited for the light. The sun was unlikely to ever reach me, so ambient warmth was not coming soon.

I had my new tripod and remote cable trigger so I was ready to be a real landscape photographer, and I was earning it! I’d even cut the finger off one my gloves so I could work the touch-screen on the camera and easily adjust the buttons. I did not, however, plan on losing the feeling in that finger!  It soon felt and looked like a dried-out, pink eraser on an old No. 2 pencil. I could not feel a thing, that finger was useless. But the light was coming, and it was awesome.

I tried several tricks that Thomas and Nick had touched on. With the highlight being a seven-image panorama that I stitched together in Lightroom. I wasn’t able to work with anything in the way of foreground interest, but the control building at the dam is a cool feature of the pano, and the scene from the frozen lake is about the space. I was very happy with this first outing with a tripod, having weathered the brutal cold common in the Bridgeport basin.

1/30 sec, f/5.6, ISO 200; Canon 80D 18-135 mm.

The pre-dawn chill at Bridgeport Reservoir. I think the panorama at sunrise a few moments later captures the expansive valley better (above at top); a multi-exposure pano provides the wide view that can, at first, feel limited in a crop-sensor camera. I should have gone for a greater depth of field here, compensating with a longer exposure given that I was using the tripod. 

1/400 sec, f/11, ISO 200; Canon 80D 18-135 mm.

Sunrise on the Sawtooth Range and Matterhorn Peak, Sierra Nevada, above Bridgeport Reservoir. Starting to think clearly about my camera settings, and emphasizing some depth. The freezing inversion keeping some softness in the distance. Climbed a couple Class 5 pitches to the Matterhorn summit (left peak) in 1994, on a much warmer day.

1/1250 sec, f/5.6, ISO 200; Canon 80D, 18-135 mm.

As the sun hit the reservoir near me, the ice reflections mirrored the freezing mist beyond the frosty tree. This drew my attention away from the distant mountains, and toward the nearby shore. It’s a simple in-camera zoom and reduction in depth of field that alters the composition from the preceding image — augmented by a slight addition crop in post-processing.  Along the with panorama, this one captures the deep freeze of the winter morning at Bridgeport Reservoir. 

Bridgeport Deep Freeze Collection

Some small steps forward with Lightroom processing, especially syncing and working with the panorama creation. I also saw the benefit of cropping and zooming. I’ve somehow since lost the RAW files from this outing, however. The Canon 80D performed flawlessly in the cold, and I remembered to let it warm slowly in it’s bag for the several hours of driving later that morning. Plopping the cold camera on the desk in the warmth of home may have allowed water vapor to condense in the lens or elsewhere. Don’t do that.

The upper layers of my fingertip actually fell off after turning black several days later. Frost-nip on the exposed portion, the result of a smart move altering cold-weather gear and stepping into the deep freeze. I never had that happen to me in the mountaineering days; I had to wait to experience that while standing on the edge of a frozen lake with a camera, on a tripod, and pointed at a mountain. Perfect.

Keep going.

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