Behind The Shot: Ghost Tree

Watson Lake, Prescott, Arizona

Photo By Gerry Groeber

A rare foggy morning at Watson Lake, located in Arizona’s high country, is the backdrop of this shot. At almost a mile high in Prescott, Arizona, Watson Lake is undoubtedly one of the most unique lakes in the state. It’s one of two reservoirs in the Granite Dells that was formed in the early 1900s. Surrounded by towering granite cliffs, it has an almost otherworldly appearance.

When we get fog in Arizona, landscape photographers rush to gather our gear and head out to the field. Typically, we get these fog events in between our seasons. On this November morning, our long, hot summer was coming to an end, cooler weather had started to move into the region, and an early-morning fog had rolled in overnight. Waking early, I grabbed my already-packed gear and headed straight out to the lake. Fog events like this happen every couple of years, so I knew I needed to grab this rare opportunity as this was something I had wanted to photograph at this lake for some time.

When I arrived at Watson Lake, the visibility was about 25 yards or less. The large granite boulders appeared like islands peeking through the fog in another world. The typical scouting for light and shadows doesn’t apply when shooting in these conditions. Instead, I began searching for a composition, shooting many incredible scenes. After about half an hour, I settled in a small bay nestled between two large granite cliffs. The image composition didn’t come to me immediately. Finally, after shooting from ground level, it appeared: the “Ghost Tree.”

I set up my tripod as low as possible, almost touching the water. Using one of my favorite techniques of compression, I pulled the distant shore toward me using a telephoto focal length of 160mm and calculated the hyperfocal distance. The scene was set. I also used my camera’s mirror-up setting to reduce any camera shake.

I stayed in this location for about 45 minutes, watching the fog and wood ducks come and go. Truly an incredible morning at Watson Lake. 

Nikon D750, AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR at 160mm, Manfrotto tripod. Exposure: 1/160 sec., ƒ/16, ISO 800.

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