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Eastern Sierra Portfolio

North Lake Fisheye (10/5/18) Elliot McGucken

Elliot McGucken has captured some of the most compelling images we’ve seen of Bishop Creek Canyon.

He was there on Friday and returned by way of Sonora Pass on Saturday, sending this selection of his favorites from that trip.

The intense color seen in these shots is no longer seen at the same locations. Though, there are still many great images to be captured in the canyon for another week to two weeks, at descending elevations. 

  • Bishop Creek Canyon – Past Peak (9,000’+) YOU MISSED IT.
  • Bishop Creek Canyon – Peak (8,500 – 9,000′) GO NOW!
  • Bishop Creek Canyon – Near Peak (below 8,500′) GO NOW!
  • Sonora Pass – Past Peak (above 9,000′) YOU MISSED IT!
  • Sonora Pass – Peak (below 9,000′) GO NOW!

North Lake Rd, Bishop Creek Canyon (10/5/18) Elliot McGucken

Twin aspen, Lundy Canyon, Mono County (10/6/18) Elliot McGucken

North Lake, Bishop Creek Canyon (10/5/18) Elliot McGucken

Sonora Pass (10/6/18) Elliot McGucken

Sonora Pass (10/6/18) Elliot McGucken


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Catching Attention

North Lake, Bishop Creek Canyon (10/2/18) Phillip Reedy

Bishop Creek (10/2/18) Phillip Reedy

There’s one sure way to catch attention in Bishop Creek Canyon. Cast a fly rod at the east end of North Lake. That’s where photographers stand to get the classic shot of North Lake at peak.

Earlier this week, Phillip Reedy stood “shoulder to shoulder” with about 30 other photographers there, waiting for the right shot.

Then, because he photographs a lot of cover shots for fly fishing magazines and is always looking for good backgrounds, he put on waders, picked up a fly rod and began fishing. Soon, the other photographers there wanted to take pictures of him posing in his fly gear as he fished.

Phil joked to them that he could pay for his trip if they would each pay him a $5 modeling fee. All joking aside, Phil got his compensation another way. He found, “that North Lake is packed with eager brook trout so I caught a number of those during the day while waiting for the light to get better.”

Also, one of the fishing shots he took might eventually be purchased for use on the cover of an outdoor magazine.

North Lake (10/2/18) Phillip Reedy

Phil’s humorous story leads me to suggest that fall color photography can be revenue producing, in addition to being an entertaining avocation.

If you have professional equipment and solid skills at photography, consider combining a fall photo outing with taking photographs for possible magazine covers (RV, fishing, hunting, cycling, off-roading, backpacking, hiking, etc.). Here are some tips to successful magazine cover photography:

  • Before shooting, consider which magazines you intend to “pitch” your photos;
  • Know how the magazine (for whom you’re shooting) lays out its cover. Research past covers online and shoot to fit their style;
  • Consider how much space should be reserved for the magazine’s masthead (name/logo);
  • Know whether the magazine allows images to bleed behind its masthead or whether that space should be kept uncluttered;
  • Leave space in the photo to announce articles inside the magazine (often to the left and/or right of the image);
  • Shoot images that fit a specific magazine’s focus or that illustrate a potential topic;
  • All gear seen in the image should appear to be new or not easily recognized (magazines want to appear trendsetting);
  • Outdoor models should be attractive and real (they need not be professional models, but they should appeal and be believable to readers);
  • Magazine covers are vertical, so shoot with that in mind. Shoot both vertical images for covers and horizontal images for inside the magazine. Compose horizontal shots for possible additional use as cover photos;
  • Photograph with seasons in mind. Whatever appears in the photo should be natural to that season;
  • Shoot RAW or high resolution fine images. Magazines only use images of the highest quality for their cover;
  • Models should be outfitted in contemporary clothing, shoes or gear (you’ll never sell the photo if the backpack looks like it was a hand-me-down); and
  • Be prepared for rejection. Magazine editors choose images to illustrate a story that’s already been written (the cover story), to relate to the month of issue or season and to reflect events, trends and topics of interest to readers. Even the best photographs get turned down, when they lack relevance to the magazine and its readers. 

North Lake (9,225′) – Peak to Past Peak – GO NOW as YOU ALMOST MISSED IT!



Lake Sabrina (9/29/18) Surjanto Suradji

North Lake (9/29/18) Surjanto Suradji

Surjanto Suradji submitted a heavenly look at Bishop Creek Canyon, forwarding his vision of fall color at night.

He wrote that the photos were taken Saturday night, as he was “curious to see these amazing landscape and gorgeous fall colors at night time.”

His results were better than he anticipated and truly remarkable, due to “the mystical quality of nighttime, with the milky way and millions of stars … added another level of richness to an already amazing landscape.”

Surjanto began photographing an hour after sunset but before moonrise, so that the milky way could be seen. He continued to midnight, providing for the long star-trails exposure. Heavenly. 

Note: To learn more about taking star trails timelapse photographs, CLICK HERE.

Weir Pond (9/29/18) Surjanto Suradji

South Lake (9/29/18) Surjanto Suradji

South Lake Road (9/29/18) Surjanto Suradji


Mammoth Autumn Events Planned

Aspen, Rock Creek Canyon (9/13/18) Josh Wray/Mammoth Lakes Tourism

The Town of Mammoth Lakes’ plans for fall festivals is absolutely Woolly! Here’s what’s ahead:

For more about what’s happening in Mammoth Lakes, download a Mammoth Lakes Visitor Guide or view the online Eastern Sierra Fall Color Guide

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Mass Ascension

Mass ascension, Midway Rd., Durham ( 11/24/17) Robert Kermen

Redtail hawk, Midway Rd., Durham ( 11/24/17) Robert Kermen

Redtail hawk, Midway Rd., Durham ( 11/24/17) Robert Kermen

When a “mass ascension” occurs at one of the Sacramento Valley’s many wetlands, rice patties or wildlife refuges, virtually tens of thousands of birds lift off all at once.

They take to the air when predators (bald eagle, redtail hawks and falcons) approach.

Similar to the effect of the flashing silver and black flanks of fish in their schools, the swirling mass of white and dark wings in a mass ascension confuses raptors and makes it more difficult for them to snare a meal.

Mass ascensions are breathtaking sights that are often seen, in autumn, north of Sacramento.

Kermen knew to visit a wetland, south of Durham. If you open the California Fall Color map on the right side of this page and search for Durham or Colusa, anywhere you see large ponds of water are sure to be gathering places for waterfowl. For the easiest viewing, visit the Sacramento Valley National Wildlife Refuge or Colusa NWR. Roads pass through both of them and your vehicle serves as your “blind.” Bring binoculars and, if photographing, a telephoto lens and tripod or window camera mount (which turns your car into a tripod).

White-fronted Geese, Durham (11/24/17) Robert Kermen

Snowy egret, Midway Rd., Durham ( 11/24/17) Robert Kermen

Close up photographs of wildlife are best captured with digital single lens reflex (DSLR) cameras using lenses greater than 300 mm.

A 400mm lens is considered to be an ideal length when starting to shoot wildlife. However, long lenses – particularly those with larger apertures that will take sharp pictures in low light – come with a hefty price tag. For example, Nikon’s 400mm f/2.8E FL ED VR lens (admittedly, a very expensive lens) costs over $11,000 (Canon’s similar lens is $1,000 less).

Snow Geese, Durham (11/25/17) Robert Kermen

Considering the high cost of telephoto lenses with large aperture settings, starting amateur wildlife photographers might consider first purchasing a zoom lens in the range of from 100 to 500mm, but with a smaller aperture setting, such as a Nikon 200-500mm f5.6 ($1,400) or Canon 100-400mm f5.6 ($1,200).

Another way to increase focal length is to add a teleconverter to a smaller focal length lens (about $300 for a 2x teleconverter). They do not provide the sharpness of a set lens, but are not budget breakers and result in fine photographs that impress, if you’re not selling your work or making gallery-quality prints.

For clarity, a smaller f-stop means a larger aperture, while a larger f-stop means a smaller aperture.

Bald eagle (middle right, sitting) (11/22/17) Robert Kermen

With these options, you will lose the ability to shoot action in lower light conditions, but can more affordably begin shooting wildlife and thus gain experience before making the investment on a more expensive lens.

For these shots, Kermen used a Canon 80D with 70-200mm f4L IS USM lens, which he keeps at hand on the console of his vehicle, so that he doesn’t miss a great shot when motoring along one of California’s backroads.

Click on photo to enlarge.

Contributors Get Published

Bishop Creek (10/2/16) Daniel Stas has become a go-to site for publications and designers looking for fall color photography.

Photographs contributed to this site this autumn by color spotters Dylan Ren and Daniel Stas were selected by a calendar publisher.

And, San Bernardino County color spotter Alena Nicholas had several of her images chosen to decorate the interiors of San Bernardino County government buildings, because the designer found them on


Lake Arrowhead (11/7/15) Alena Nicholas

That’s not saying we promise contributors that they’ll be published, though that does happen fairly often, because of the visibility of the site.

There seems to be no set pattern why a photograph is chosen, other than that it is colorful, nicely composed and has a subject that the medium, designer or publisher wants.

The calendar designer was looking for fresh water and an autumn scene. San Bernardino County was looking for images of their county that could be enlarged and hung inside county office buildings.

What is common is that the photos were seen here, and they were strong candidates.

How to Submit Reports and Photos

Bear Creek (11/1/15) Robert Kermen

Over 75 volunteer “color spotters” (our term for contributors) submit photographs and reports to each autumn.

To be one of them is very easy. Email photos within a few days of when they were taken* to Include the photographer’s name, date the photo was taken and the location where the photo was taken.

If you know the foliage seen in the photo (particularly if it is unusual or wouldn’t be evident to us), please describe it (e.g., bigleaf maple, black oak, silver willow, etc.).

Photos should be** high resolution, particularly if you’d like them considered as one of the best photos of the week. The week’s best photos are (with photographer’s permission) sent to major broadcast and print media and they won’t accept any photo less sized than 300 dpi. Photographers are credited and get valuable recognition/exposure.

Reports should include: % of color change (Just Starting, Patchy, Near Peak, Peak or Past Peak) at the location, the name of the location, roads (e.g., take Rock Creek Rd. east from US 395), date visited and any helpful information (e.g., “The trail is steep for the first 500′. but then levels out for the two mile hike to the lake. A grove of peaking aspen is found at the western side the lake trail.”).

Reports and photos can also be posted CaliforniaFallColor’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages. Though, emailing photos and reports is the best way to get them on this site.

Thank you and happy wandering!

* Historic photos, like Robert Kermen’s shot of Bear Creek (seen above), are published – on occasion – days or even years after they were taken, but only to illustrate an article that is not time-sensitive. Fall color reports only use photos taken during the previous week, in order to present what can be seen at that location.

** Please don’t hesitate sending a photograph just because it isn’t 300 dpi. Pictures taken with mobile devices often get included in our reports.

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Special Report: Wenzhou, China

Gingko, Lingyan Temple, Yandang Mountain Park (10/26/15) John Poimiroo

Gingko, Lingyan Temple, Yandang Mountain National Park (10/27/15) John Poimiroo

Gingko, Yandang Mountain NP (10/27/16) John Poimiroo

Gingko, Yandang Mountain NP (10/27/16) John Poimiroo

Maple, Yandang Mountain NP (10/27/16) John Poimiroo

Yandang Mountain NP (10/27/16) John Poimiroo

This past week, my attendance at the annual meeting of the Society of American Travel Writers took me to Wenzhou.

It’s an inviting, industrial city in eastern China, along the Ou River between Shanghai and Hong Kong. Near Wenzhou are several mountain parks, which provided the opportunity to see a Chinese autumn emerging.

Yandang Mountain National Park, an hour north of Wenzhou by superhighway, is a World Geological Park and one of China’s top-rated mountain areas. It is like Yosemite, but with temples.

Yandang Mountain NP (10/27/16) John Poimiroo

Yandang Mountain NP (10/27/16) John Poimiroo

Copper-blue stream, goldfish, Yandang Mountain NP (10/27/16) John Poimiroo

Copper-blue stream, goldfish, Yandang Mountain NP (10/27/16) John Poimiroo

Within the national park are soaring rock monoliths, rock climbers, waterfalls, copper blue mountain streams, wildlife areas, caves, and ancient Buddhist temples and shrines, many of which are framed by fall color in late autumn.

Maple trees are prolific in eastern China and forested areas like Yandang Mountain National Park are full of them. Japanese maples are a common choice of horticulturists in the United States, though there are more varieties of Chinese maples, according to, a cultivar of Asian maples.

Surrounding ancient Lingyan Temple (over 1,000 years old and listed as one of the 18 oldest temples in China) are stands of golden to orange maple and towering, venerable gingko trees, whose bright yellow leaves were transitioning from green to yellow.

Gingko leaves, Lingyan Temple (10/27/16) John Poimiroo

Gingko leaves, Lingyan Temple (10/27/16) John Poimiroo

Guidebooks show bright yellow to orange stands of maple filling the forest with color. Though on our visit, even the tea was green.

Only the gingkos were near peak. Guides blamed unseasonably warm weather as keeping the forest from turning, though it’s more likely that, due to the area’s low elevations and latitude, peak does not usually arrive until mid to late November.

Wenzhou Ecological Park near the city, contains Daluo Mountain and a network of stone paths that climb to geologic features, streams, pools and pagodas at points of rest and scenic inspiration.

Green tea, Yandang Mountain NP (10/27/16) John Poimiroo

Green tea, Yandang Mountain NP (10/27/16) John Poimiroo

Daluo Mountain (10/26/16) John Poimiroo

Daluo Mountain (10/26/16) John Poimiroo

Hiking, Daluo Mountain, Wenzhou (10/26/16) John Poimiroo

Hiking, Daluo Mountain, Wenzhou (10/26/16) John Poimiroo

Daluo Mountain’s trails pass through lush bamboo corridors and past a variety of deciduous plants that were just starting to show color.

  • Yandang Mountain National Park (3,635′), Yandangshan,China – Just Starting (0-10%)
  • Daluo Mountain (2,300′), Wenzhou Ecological Park – Just Starting (0-10%)

One of the most colorful autumn scenes in Wenzhou was found on Jiangxin Islet in the middle of the Ou River where, at dusk, brides gathered in front of the decaying Victorian-era (1890) British Embassy to pose for wedding pictures.

As golden Gingko leaves fluttered past the posing brides, I saw the following image developing and moved into position to frame a shot that eventually won the Society of American Travel Writers’ Bronze Award in the 2018 Bill Muster Photo Competition Culture Category.

Wenzhou Brides, Jiangxin Islet (10/28/16) John Poimiroo

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Need We Say More?

North Lake, Bishop Creek Canyon (9/30/16) Elliot McGucken

North Lake, Bishop Creek Canyon (9/30/16) Elliot McGucken

Elliot McGucken Captures Glory


North Lake (9/30/16) Elliot McGucken

North Lake (9/30/16) Elliot McGucken

Photographer Elliot McGucken knew to GO NOW! and traveled to Bishop Creek Canyon over the past few days to capture these glorious images of the canyon at peak color.

If you’ve done similarly, email your best photos to:

We’ll post them for those to enjoy who can’t GO NOW!.

North Lake (9/30/16) Elliot McGucken

Surveyor’s Meadow 9/30/16) Elliot McGucken

Table Mountain (9/30/16) Elliot McGucken

Surveyor’s Meadow, Bishop Creek (9/30/16) Elliot McGucken

Quaking Aspen, Bishop Creek Canyon (10/1/16) Elliot McGucken

Quaking Aspen, Bishop Creek Canyon (10/1/16) Elliot McGucken

South Fork, Bishop Creek (10/1/16) Elliot McGucken

South Fork, Bishop Creek (10/1/16) Elliot McGucken

Quaking Aspen, Bishop Creek Canyon (10/1/16) Elliot McGucken

Quaking Aspen, Bishop Creek Canyon (10/1/16) Elliot McGucken

Bishop Creek Canyon (10/1/16) Elliot McGucken

Bishop Creek Canyon (10/1/16) Elliot McGucken