Fall Color in the Eastern Sierra

Update 9/28/2009: see my report and latest photos from Bishop Creek and Rock Creek (cool slideshow).

Update 9/24/2009: some reports are showing up. The most informative are from Inge Fernau, Greg Boyer, Cory Freeman and Parcher’s Resort. If you are a weekend warrior and trying to assess which weekend will be “peak”, keep in mind that the color change is a continuum that generally moves down from the higher altitudes as the days go by from late September to mid October. All one really needs to shoot good aspen photos is to find one good grove that can be worked from hours. Chances are good you can find something worthwhile to shoot during the next 2-3 weeks, provided a front or big blow does not come through and clean out all the leaves across the eastern Sierra. You can read between the lines in these reports and guess which dates many are focusing on.

A few years ago I made one of my banzai photo outings** to catch some of the fall colors in the Eastern Sierra. I managed to pull off two mornings’ shooting in the Bishop Creek Canyon basins, and one sunset run up to the Bristlecone Pines in the White Mountains, on a jam-packed weekend. The key was paying close attention to the reports coming in from other photographers, making an educated guess as to what area along Highway 395 would be most productive, and going for it. The fact that 2006 was a super year for fall color in the Eastern Sierra, and that my weekend was just about at peak for Bishop Creek Canyon, certainly helped. I’m hoping to make another run up there sometime in late September or early October. And, as I did before, I’ll be paying close attention to advice and reports from several sources, foremost among them the list below. Note that two photographers, Greg Boyer and Cory Freeman, currently live in Bishop and are basically eyes-on-spot for those of us outside the area; I give their reports more credence than others, especially their comments about timing. Thanks Greg and Cory.

  • Inge Fernau / MagicalGlow.com. I first noticed Inge Fernau’s photography as a result of her incredibly rich fall color reports on Calphoto. How does she do it? She gets out there to so many places, then fills us all in with exactly what the conditions are. Inge’s blog is loaded with huge, beautiful images of the Eastern Sierra, and I’m hoping she publishes more of her fall color reports this year. Here is a two-part summary of her 2008 efforts, some spectacular images shown: 2008 Fall Color Summary Part 1 and 2008 Fall Color Summary Part 2.
  • Greg Boyer / Greg Boyer, a photographer in Bishop, has some great posts about the Sierra Nevada near Bishop, including several recent color reports.
  • Eastern Sierra Fall Color Reports, a thread at NaturePhotographers.net started by Bishop photographer Cory Freeman / Sierra Impressions.
  • Carol Leigh’s Calphoto.com. This is where many California photographers exchange information, especially timely, detailed reports concerning spring wildflowers and autumn foliage.
  • Steven Bourelle / SierraVisionsStock.com. Steven Bourelle gave me advice prior to my last visit to Bishop for fall colors, and he was spot on with his recommendations. He now has an e-book guide about photography in the Eastern Sierra and Bishop Creek Canyon packed with good information. Furthermore, his blog features the recent post “Eastern Sierra Nevada Fall Colors” about planning for a fall foliage shoot in the Eastern Sierra. Update: I purchased Steven’s e-book on Bishop Creek Canyon. If you are planning a first visit there this fall, and you want to make the most of your time, this e-book lays out the key places to stop for photos. A real time saver.
  • Dave Henry’s reports and tips at the Sacramento Bee are really good.
  • G. Dan Mitchell. G. Dan Mitchell’s Sierra Nevada photography is superb (especially his Yosemite images), and his blog is informative and well-written. Dan has made a number of recent posts advising on E. Sierra fall color, including “Sierra Nevada fall color season – coming sooner than you think!” loaded with good information about what to expect and how to plan for autumn in the Sierra Nevada.
  • John Wall’s California Nature Photographers. With John Wall at the helm, this blog features periodic posts from a wide variety of talented California nature photographers. I am sure there will be some fall color content appearing soon.
  • A Flickr group was created by Kahlee Brighton to discuss Eastern Sierra color, with a meet-up being considered.
  • Michael Frye, one of the best photographers around who focuses on Yosemite and surrounding areas, has a nice blog post about Autumn in Yosemite. (Michael Frye has THE BOOK on photographing in Yosemite, I own a copy and have referred to it often.)
  • Parcher’s Resort, near South Lake in Bishop Creek Canyon, maintains a fall color report in season.
  • Bishop weather forecast. (NWS)
  • Pictures of Fall Color in Bishop Creek Canyon on Google Earth. If you have Google Earth installed, this provides a map with 18 of my favorite aspen images appearing superimposed where they were taken in Bishop Creek Canyon. You can zoom around and click any of the tiny thumbnails in Google Earth to see the image large along with captions. In a perfect world I would offer to actually walk around with your camera and shoot the photos for you, but in lieu of that this is the best I can do.

Shameless plug: I’ve got a nice collection of fall color photos. Check them out, they really are pretty good if I do say so myself. (Heck, when the colors are peaking its hard to take a bad photo of turning aspens.)

If the peak color does not conflict with my daughter’s volleyball tryouts and I can get away from Southern California for a day or two, perhaps I will see you in the Eastern Sierra under some aspen trees this fall.

**banzai photographer (n): a photographer with a working spouse and multiple kids each of whom have lots of activities that require driving them all over the place during the week, help with homework in the evenings, and then driving them all over the place on the weekends; a photographer who crams five days of photography into a single weekend; a photographer with a banzai attitude about life; a photographer with a niche business of photographing banzai trees.

Keywords: eastern sierra fall color, aspen, report, foliage, photography, picture, bishop, photo, autumn, image, information, description.