This stunning landscape was captured while on my 18 day Leh trip in July 2014. The dry landscape in Ladakh presents many such beautiful vistas, and the Pangong Tso lake is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been in my life.
This lake is at an altitude of 14000 feet in freezing cold weather, even though I went there in the summers. It freezes in the winters (obviously). There are no hotels in the area, just some temporary camp sites and guest houses which function only in the summer months. We stayed at one of the temporary guest houses and it was a real challenge to get up at 4 am and walk towards the lake. And do mind, at 14000 ft, walking (or hiking) a few kms of terrain can be a challenge, considering the low oxygen levels and the darkness.
However, I managed to reach the lake shore before the sunrise and set up my tripod at a place which I had scouted the last evening. Homework is certainly important in location shoots like these as the perfect moment when good light and location comes together might be gone before you know it.
Interesting piece of trivia – this lake lives in disputed territory and the LAC (Line of Actual Territory) passes through the lake, which is around 120 km in length.
How can you make a photograph like this? How did I make this shot?
- Location – Even before my trip, I began to browse online (500px, flickr) for shots other people have made at the Pangong Tso Lake to understand the landscape, weather, terrain, etc. I wanted to make sure what were the type of images I can expect to make, and I had to pack my gear and plan my itinerary according to that.
- Timing – Believe me, getting up at 4 am in the middle of nowhere, and then walking around 2 kms to the lake shore in the darkness before dawn in chilling cold conditions is not easy. But considering the result, it is certainly worth it. I wanted to make sure I reach the lakeshore before sunrise, timing was key.
- Weather – There can never be enough preparation for a shot like this. Without any real time weather information in remote places like these, luck can be a big factor. And I was lucky to get a party cloudy morning with the sun visible during sunrise, especially after we arrived in rain and overcast conditions the previous day.
- Composition – I walked around the lakeshore to get the right composition in the frame. This was one of the frame I liked, with the Buddhist prayer stones neatly stacked on top of each other making for a perfect foreground. Having a foreground, middleground and background is what I look for when composing my landscape shots.
- Gear – Next I opened up my tripod, attached my wide angle Tokina 11-16mm lens and brought out my set of ND filters. I stacked three ND filters which I had in front of the lens to cut back light and get a long exposure to smoothen out the water and capture some cloud movement.
- Exposure Settings – I put my camera to manual focus as there wasn’t enough light through the lens for auto focussing (due to the ND filters). In manual mode, I took many shots at different settings before reaching the exposure I finally liked. This shot was taken at 13 seconds, f20 and ISO 100. I took this shot in RAW.
- Once I got back to our hotel in Leh, I transferred the images on to my hard drive. After reaching Delhi, I imported them into Lightroom for processing. I did some burning and dodging, adjusted color and contrast till I got the output which I liked.
- The pinkish / warmish tint in the image is due to the 3 ND filters stacked in front of the lens. I could have removed this color cast in Lightroom but I let it remain as I kind of liked the dreamy effect it was producing.