paul reiffer professional landscape photographer california sunset pink emerald bay lake tahoe

“Pink Emerald” – print available to buy now

As someone who’s snowboarded around Lake Tahoe since 2001, it can be really infuriating when you know there’s an awesome view of the lake that you’ve tried to capture but not quite managed to get the right combination of weather, timing and camera gear to be in the same place at the same time.  This time, with a 3 day stay booked in, I was hoping that luck would finally be on my side. Turns out, it was 🙂

Emerald Bay must be one of the most photographed scenes that lead into Lake Tahoe itself. With the historic “Tea House” perched on top of Fannette Island in the middle of the lake, tourists flock to this spot in all seasons to get a glimpse of this natural wonder. In fact, there really isn’t a bad time to visit Lake Tahoe. In winter, the snow-sport facilities are world-class. In summer, mountain bikers and hikers enjoy fresh, natural trails all over this huge mountainous play area. Not to forget the autumn and spring colours of course, which although unpredictable in season timings, add a whole new band of colour to the scenery around.

Now, there’s a trick to this image: the sunset was actually behind me, but this was the exact mix of colour I was looking for. When the sun fades behind the mountains in Lake Tahoe, every now and then you’ll get lucky and see the reflection of the rich colours in the clouds above and water below. With no visible sun, the entire sky and lake deliver fiery reds, deep pinks and rich blues over the whole area. I wasn’t the only photographer trying to get that same image either – this lookout point is full of tripods at sunrise and sunset…!

photographing emerald bay iphone pictures phase one iq280 sunset

So, this was taken on night one. Luckily, we were staying in the fantastic Holiday Inn Express, just down the road in South Lake Tahoe. I’ve stayed here quite a bit (usually with a snowboard!) but the location right at the bottom of the Heavenly Gondola makes it a perfect hub for getting around Tahoe. That said, it was still painful getting up at 5:30am the next day to try for a sunrise too. I got a few cool shots as the sun came up that following morning but in truth it was the sunset I wanted to get. Figuring I might be able to better the first night’s efforts, I headed back up the mountain to the same spot the next evening to watch the sun set again. My luck had ran out – the randomness and fickle nature of the reverse sunset was out to prove a point: I wasn’t getting another chance on this trip. 🙁 Still, my iPhone enjoyed the view, even in the freezing temperatures as the light faded:

iPhone emerald bay lake tahoe

So, things I learned on this trip?

  1. Don’t use an ND-Grad for a reverse sunset, there’s no need – just use a polarising filter.
  2. “Snack size” Doritos really are mini versions of a big one and will not fill you up.
  3. Once the sun drops behind the hill, even in September/October, it gets cold enough for ice.
  4. A quick run across the road from our hotel is a cool bar with fire pits to warm up 🙂

paul reiffer fire ice doritos snow lake tahoe learning

I’ve seen Lake Tahoe (and Emerald Bay) in all different seasons, and all manner of light – but this was the only time I’ve been lucky enough to have the right equipment with me to capture one of the most colourful sunsets I’ve seen on my travels. I guess I should start sorting through my sunrise shots now too…!

🙂