The Story of Alabama Hills’ Shark’s Fin

"I never know in advance what I will photograph, ... I go out into the world and hope I will come across something that imperatively interests me. I am addicted to the found object. I have no doubt that I will continue to make photographs till my last breath." - Ansel Adams

Alabama Hills’ Shark’s Fin

Alabama Hills’ Shark’s Fin


Lone Pine California is the home of the Alabama Hills. This small town on highway 395 in the Owens Valley in the Eastern Sierra is the gateway to the Alabama Hills Recreation Area and the Mount Whitney Portal. It has a good number of hotels and motels to accommodate the visitors to the area ... along with campgrounds hosting RVs, trailers, and tents. For those who can survive without a utility hookup, camping is allowed in the Alabama Hills in many areas. The Alabama Hills is famous for film and television production: more than 400 movies have been shot there since 1920. The big attraction, and the star of the show, are the rocks and arches found in the Hills. Shark's Fin is only one of the many unique formations.

Our visits to Lone Pine and the Alabama Hills started in September 2015, and we have gone back every year since then ... generally in the spring and fall. I photographed Shark's Fin on our spring 2018 trip. This photo shoot was my first use of Shark's Fin as the main subject. The reason I selected it this time was the background offered by the low clouds and the snow-covered Sierra, with Mount Whitney gleaming in the morning sun.


Welcome to Lone Pine, California

On this visit to Lone Pine, it was our last stop on a three-week spring 2018 road trip through Southern California and Arizona. We drove in being greeted by thick clouds, wind, and rain. We took a drive into the Alabama Hills the first evening hoping to get some sunset color or dramatic shots. The clouds were interesting, but the overall lighting was dull and gray.  There were a few breaks in the clouds showing the base of the Sierra, with snow covering what we saw. I captured some images until the rain started and virtually eliminated any light that did exist. I hoped for a change in the weather on our second day.

I woke early day to get out and capture the sunrise, but the weather had other plans. It was raining, but I went ahead and got dressed for the weather and drove the hills looking for an early morning break in the clouds that would produce a spectacular sunrise. The time for sunrise came and went with only a change from dark to light gray. So back to the hotel I went, spending the rest of the day doing some scouting and work in the room. Late in the day the clouds lifted and we could see blue, but the Sierra remained shrouded in clouds. Thinking that this might be a good time for capturing some evening shots, we headed back to the hills, and after about an hour the clouds returned along with the rain.


A Turn in The Weather

Now on the morning of the third day, I woke up, looked out the door and it wasn't raining, but it was too dark to see clouds; however I did see a few stars. That was an excellent sign, which gave me a burst of encouragement for a beautiful sunrise. I got ready and went out to one of my favorite locations in the Alabama Hills for capturing the first light on the Sierra. I did photograph a beautiful shot on the third day, my second morning in Lone Pine. I returned to the room to eat breakfast.

First Light on The Sierra

First Light on The Sierra

After breakfast, Jan and I drove back to the Alabama Hills.  As we started driving on Movie Road, I noticed low clouds floating along below the peaks of the Sierra. In the foreground, there was Shark's Fin making an excellent composition along with the clouds and the Sierra covered in a fresh blanket of snow. Parking the car, I got out and started walking around looking for the right balance of Shark's Fin with the Sierra in the background. I found it with Shark's Fin and the nearby rocks framing Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the contiguous 48 United States. The boa of clouds in the middle was a lovely garnish to differentiate the composition and add some interest.


Finishing the Stay

We ended the rest of the day with good weather.  The next morning I went back for sunrise; but clouds blocked the early soft pink light, with the sun breaking out a little later to flood the Sierra and Alabama Hills with early morning light. I was able to capture a beautiful panoramic view of the Alabama Hills with the Sierra as background.

Lone Pine and the Alabama Hills remain one of our favorite locations in the Eastern Sierra, and it will stay on our list of places to visit often  ... for the quaint low-key atmosphere and the beautiful landscape compositions possible within the rugged land of the Alabama Hills.

Thank you for reading my blog on "The Story of Alabama Hills’ Shark’s Fin"!


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* Quote by Ansel Adams from A-Z Quotes