Bonsai Rock – A Landscape Photographers Dream Subject
Bonsai Rock is so aptly named because of the trees that are growing out of a crack that is in the rock. It is likely they are not bonsai trees at all but rather pine trees, like the large majority of the tree populous is in Tahoe. However, they do resemble Bonsai. Possibly because the stunted growth of the trees. In either way the small trees are the icing on the cake for this beautiful location. The area already has so much going for it. 1. Its Tahoe 2. Crystal clear water 3. Zen-like balance 4. ITS TAHOE. Everything is pretty in Tahoe. Because of where the rock is located, on the east side of the lake in Nevada, you can capture beautifully lit clouds during sunsets, adding to the already superb photograph.
How to get to Bonsai Rock
If you would like to add this to your portfolio be sure to pack some trail worthy footwear. The rock sits south of Sand Harbor off of Highway 28. It is a short 25 minute drive from South Tahoe. The exact coordinates of the rock are 39.184693, -119.928071 you can set your GPS to 39.183841, -119.926956 for a parking pull out that is just south of Bonsai Rock. From the parking area walk north towards Sand Harbor about 200 yards, you will see a switchback trail that will lead down to the beach. The trail has many loose stones, gravel and debris and is steep so be prepared with your hands empty if at all possible. Once you get down to the beach spend the time to scout a location for a scene that you feel is optimal. The rock and surrounding areas are extremely photogenic. There is more than just one angle that will supply you with keepers. *tip* If you want to shoot a sunset get there early and stake your claim, other photographers will be there and it’s rude to jump in front of another photographers shot.
Tripod – Where would you be without a tripod for landscape photography? I ALWAYS travel with my tripod for landscape. Even when it is a complete pain in the butt. A tripod will afford you many techniques and to just name a few… Focus stacking- you can get images uber sharp by focus stacking and then combining just the sharpest parts of each image in photoshop later. Exposure stacking – Not just for HDR but hand blending images is a whole lot easier and you lose less of your frame when you mount your camera to a tripod for exposure stacking. Long exposure – This is a tripod must. Long exposure will allow movement to be captured on a photo. Think streaking clouds or silky water or star trails. A rule of thumb to know when it’s time to deploy a tripod is to take your focus distance put a 1/ in front of it and that is your minimum handheld shutter speed. So if I was shooting at 200mm my slowest handheld shutter speed should be 1/200 of a second. If you need to go slower to allow more light its time to pull out the tripod. Crazy but it works.
Wide Angle – A lens with a wide angle will allow you to capture massive amounts of sky and that can be really nice if you are trying to shoot a sunset and you have an amazing backdrop of clouds. A wide angle will also allow you to include the smooth stones in the foreground that will add a to the zen-like serenity of the final image
Telephoto – Surprised to see this on the list for a landscape and for a subject that is only a 10 yards from shore. Don’t be. Why exactly should you want to use a telephoto? There are some beautiful peaks in the background of the rock and with a telephoto you will be able to stack those directly on top of the rock using lens compression. To learn more about lens compression visit my blog on it HERE. There are not many people doing telephoto at this rock and it will give you an entirely different perspective. There is plenty of room on the beach to shoot the same angle I did with a long telephoto so don’t leave it at home for this subject.
ND Filter – Isn’t my image serene with the water silky smooth the way it is? Yup. I used an excessive 10 stop filter but really anything that gives you a 4-second shutter is going to blur most water in the same way.
Polarizer – If you plan to go out during a bright sunny day pack one of these to cut down reflection on the water and rocks. It will make your sky bluer too. I have seen some angles shooting from the south side of the rock with the tide pool crystal clear and calm. Much easier to see water crystal clear with a polarizer.
Camera pack – Since the trail is a bit rugged it is helpful to allow your hands to be empty. A camera pack will really help with your descent/ascent.
Camera – Duh.
How I shot it
The big mystery here is the smooth water. This was accomplished by using a 10 stop ND filter which dropped me to a 15 second shutter speed. This will blur anything that moves. Water, clouds, trees and even your camera so hand holding is out of the question. Since I always take my tripod on landscape shoots (you should too) I had no worries. Below is a list of all the things that went into creating the image.
Feel free to click the links to visit the Amazon store to see how much they cost (*note the below links are affiliate links and I will be paid if you buy them through that link)
Tripod – Manfrotto MT055CXPRO3 055 Carbon Fiber 3-Section Tripod with Horizontal Column (Black) (My review for this tripod HERE)
Lens – Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM Standard Zoom Lens
Body – Canon EOS 6D 20.2 MP CMOS Digital SLR Camera with 3.0-Inch LCD (Body Only) – Wi-Fi Enabled
ND Filter – ICE 82mm ND1000 Filter Neutral Density ND 1000 82 10 Stop Optical Glass
Camera Pack – Clik Elite CE800BK Pro Express 2.0, Black (I actually have the camo but it isn’t currently listing on Aamzon)
Without further ado – I give you Bonsai Rock