Lake Tahoe, California

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Located along the border between California and Nevada, Lake Tahoe is the largest alpine lake in North America. Twenty-two miles wide and 12 miles long, Lake Tahoe offers diverse photo ops, from colorful aspens in the fall to icy waterfalls in winter. There are deep blue and red skies during sunset at any time of the year, and with over 60 tributaries and only one outlet, the gigantic lake never fully freezes over. The rocky east shore offers solitude from the crowds, and if you’re adventurous, you’ll find subjects like boulder formations, beautiful waterfalls and sandy beaches. The west shore, where Emerald Bay State Park is located, houses the only island on the lake, as well as the exceptionally scenic Eagle Falls. The south shore is host to the masses, offering hotels, shops and more; it’s a good place to make a comfortable base camp. Just 30 minutes west of Carson City, Lake Tahoe is a major tourist attraction in both Nevada and California, and under ideal conditions, you can reach it within two hours from Sacramento and an hour from Reno.

The majority of precipitation falls as snow between November and April, turning the lake into a winter wonderland. In late spring and early summer, annual snow runoff combines with dramatic rainstorms, which can cause heavy flooding in the area. Lake Tahoe is located along the Sierra Nevada mountain range, which acts as a natural buffer to more intense weather, with mean annual precipitation of more than 55 inches falling on the west side of the Lake Tahoe basin, while on the east side annual precipitation is a more moderate 26 inches. Lake Tahoe is known for its snow conditions and blizzards, making it a prime destination during ski season. The lake also is popular during warmer months for beach activities and water sports.

Photo Experience
When photographing on the rocky eastern shore, I follow weather patterns to dictate what I’ll be using. I like to bring wide-angle lenses so I can get a good, detailed foreground, as well as a lot of sky. I also bring a 24-70mm zoom for working with closer shots of rocks and water. For longer exposures or to soften the water of the lake or waterfalls, I’ll bring a set of Cokin grad ND “P”-series filters: 21L (one stop), 121M (two stops) and 121S (three stops). Often, it’s necessary or desirable to balance the intensity of the light in one part of a scene with another. This is especially true in situations where you don’t have total control over light, as in bright landscapes with heavy foreground contrast such as Lake Tahoe. Without the filter, the sky often will be blown out or the landscape underexposed. I use these filters because of wind, as well. Lake Tahoe can be very windy, and dust can easily scratch the lens. I also bring a solid Manfrotto tripod, in addition to an umbrella, good hiking boots (a little exploring is often necessary for the best shots) and a warm jacket.

Best Times
Lake Tahoe never will disappoint a photographer, at any time of the year. Like most places, I find that the best times to shoot are during sunrise and sunset. I personally like winter as it provides a much more dramatic sky, although during the winter months, chains or snow tires often are necessary to reach Tahoe from any direction. And when the midday skies are dark during winter, you’re in luck—you can shoot the whole day and get amazing images! Additionally, Lake Tahoe is loaded with aspen trees, so fall is an ideal time for color foliage photography, too.

Contact: U.S. Forest Service (Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit), (530) 543-2600,

Essential Gear
High-quality ND filters give you more extensive control over exposures by restricting light from entering the lens without causing dramatic shifts in color or white balance. The 77mm True-Match Vari-ND filter from Schneider Optics provides a density range of 11⁄3 to 11 stops, and it has been designed with a low profile to minimize vignetting. Step-up/down rings are available for use with smaller-diameter lenses, and a True-Match Vari-ND kit is also offered with a four-inch filter holder and two True-Match filters. Contact: Schneider Optics, (818) 766-3715,