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Lake Tahoe

Updated: May 22, 2022

Why a Wonder: Lake Tahoe straddles two states (California and Nevada) and is the largest alpine lake in North America. This clear blue freshwater lake, with a depth of over 1,600 feet, attracts around 12 million adventurers, travelers, and photographers year-round. The 72-mile drive around the cerulean lake offers breathtaking views at every angle, against a backdrop of the Sierra Nevada mountains. A little planning goes a long way!

Where: The California side of Lake Tahoe is about a 3-hour drive east of San Francisco; the Nevada side is about 45 minutes from Reno, NV. There has been an enormous influx of tourism in the area and the ecosystem is delicate, so please be respectful. A recent year-long cleanup project of the lake yielded 25k pounds of trash, making the message clear: take out what you take in!

When: Early Summer, Fall, Winter. Be aware that the area attracts around 12 million visitors per year; summer on the lake shore is high season there, the dozen or so ski resorts around the lake rock throughout winter. Locals know that before Memorial Day and after Labor Day are the “shoulder seasons," thus there is a bit more breathing room and it’s easier to get around for photography.

Photography: The east (Nevada) side of the lake from Incline Village south is less developed, thus has more photographic opportunities. Look for outcroppings of rocks for an interesting foreground and perspective. Bonsai Rock is one popular place to shoot sunset, but some careful exploring will reveal others.

You’ll need a tripod, a mid-range zoom lens for most shots, but a decent telephoto is handy for carving into scenes that reveal more intimate compositions. An ND and a GND are always a must, for smoothing the waters… and you might want to switch to or add a polarizer in the mid-morning to early afternoons to cut the glare and really make the blues in the water pop.

Sunrise on the Nevada side typically presents soft tones and colors: the California side near Emerald Bay is famous for more brilliant sunrises.

The entire west (CA) side is in shade once the sun drops below the mountains, so most photographers head to the east (NV) side for sunsets.

Nevada side sunsets are fabulous when there are clouds in the sky; and make sure to wait for that second pop of color after the sun drops below the horizon.

Be sure to explore the surrounding areas too; there’s almost no end to the photographic adventures and possibilities in the entire Tahoe Basin!

See more of Karen’s Photographic Art. Stay up to date with events, photo retreats, workshops and more.

© Karen Hutton

This post sponsored by Adorama.

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