Mt Tom and Last Second Compromises

Mt. Tom near Bishop, California under amazing sunrise clouds

Mt. Tom and Last Second Compromises

Mt. Tom is a significant peak in the Easter Sierra Mountains just north of Bishop, California. You pass by it as you drive north on the famed Route 395 heading towards Mammoth and the Mono Lake area.

It was my second time being in the Bishop area and I had a number of images on my "to do" list that I wanted to capture during this trip, but none of them involved Mt. Tom. The reason for this was that I had photographed this mountain the first time I had visited and had gotten quite a nice image and I didn't see any reason to shoot it again. (That first image can be viewed here.)

However, I arrived in Bishop, which was going to be my base of operations for this visit, quite a bit later than I had intended; well after dark, actually. This meant that I didn't have the time I had planned on to scout a location for a sunrise image the following morning. The apps I use on my phone to try to predict the quality of the sunrise or sunset were telling me that a good sunrise was going to happen and the direction I wanted to be shooting in to get the best color. Going through the list of areas I knew well enough already to consider trying with no scouting before-hand that would put me in a position to be shooting in the direction of the sunrise color left me with only one location option: Mt. Tom.

They say no battle plan survives contact with the enemy, so I suppose I should not have been at all surprised when my plan that consisted simply of "shoot Mt. Tom at sunrise" would encounter some issues. The first issue was encountered in the darkness a few hours before sunrise: I could not find the entrance to the dirt road that would lead me to my intended shooting location! I drove back and forth, north and south on 395 several times trying to spot the turn for that dirt road and never saw it! As the sky was starting to lighten into the pre-dawn twilight, I gave up the search for that road and settled for pulling over into the overlook that EVERYONE uses to photograph Mt. Tom.

I really hate photographing a scene from the most obvious locations. If I'm shooting an iconic location I'm going to do my best to try to get as much of a unique angle as I can and shooting from a popular overlook is rarely the way to go about it. But desperation was the mother of invention this particular morning. As the clouds above were starting to turn just the slightest bit pink, I was running with my gear along the top of a steep hill on the wrong side of the safety barrier intended to keep fools like me from harming ourselves. My goal was to get in a position to make use of a tall pine tree as a foreground element. In the pre-dawn gloom I had just been able to make out that the lean of the tree was at an angle that might reflect the slope of Mt. Tom. 

Beggars and Choosers.

Not satisfied with having to rush to get in position, I was also determined to capture this image as a multi-row panorama, which meant assembling a rather convoluted tripod head adapter which allows me to move the camera in precise amounts vertically and horizontally. 

With JUST enough time, I was in position and my camera was configured and ready as the sky simply exploded with color and the sunrise light started to paint the peak of Mt. Tom in a pinkish glow.

As this post goes public, I am packing up for my third trip to the Eastern Sierra. There are still a number of images I haven't been able to get yet and I will keep going back until I get them. Mt. Tom is definitely not on that list, but I've learned to never say never.

Oh, would you like to know why I was unable to find the turn onto the dirt road that was my planned shooting location? I found out later that morning that someone had apparently parked a car at the side of 395 to intentionally block access to that road. I'm going to assume good intent and tell myself that it was because there was so much snow in the area that it was unsafe to travel that way. But who knows?

Stephen Girimont