So you want to shoot at the lake?

Whether it's Lake Tahoe, Donner, or any body of water, there are a lot of factors that go into taking photos at the lake! For instance, did you know that Lake Tahoe requires a $500/year permit to shoot on their beaches?! Yup! It's true! And that's just one of the many limiting factors that go into taking photos at the lake. Check out my tips, tricks, warnings and requirements below for why you may find it difficult to take lake pictures!

A+K (113 of 220)A+K (113 of 220)Camp Richardson

1. LIGHTING
Holy moly, I can not stress this enough! Lighting is soooooo important, THE most important thing for taking lake photos actually, and if you don't plan accordingly, your photos will not come out like you’re hoping they do. That’s why when you shoot at the lake, you want to shoot when the sun is low. The sun moves over us like an arch, and when shooting around a large reflective body of water, you want to shoot when the sun is at its lowest point on either sides of that arch—sunrise or sunset. That way it reduces the reflection off the lake and doesn’t blow out the background. That means getting up before the sun to be on location ready to rock n’ roll when that first glimmer of light hits or staying until later in the evening when the sun goes down where we get about 20 minutes of premium light because it goes quick! Those are the absolute best times to shoot at the lake. I am a natural light photographer (meaning I don’t use flash) so shooting at these times is imperative for the best results. Or pray for clouds!

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2. TIMING

I kind of covered this in lighting, but time also differs depending on the day and time of the year. Obviously the sunrise and sunset times will differ with the seasons, as well as the population density of tourists and available parking at any given location.

3. PEOPLE
Crowds suck! Especially when you want to take beautiful photos and there’s some guy in the background in a banana hammock slathering on sun tan lotion. If you want to shoot at somewhere popular like Sand Harbor, Zephyr Cove or Emerald bay, sunrise is just about the only time to shoot there, otherwise you will have Uncle Harry from Boise in your shots because he likes to stay until the evening.

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4. PERMITS + FEES
What I mentioned above is true, there is a $500/year permit to shoot at Lake Tahoe beaches and Parks. This was enacted about two years ago and park rangers strictly enforce it by asking photographers for their permits, and even kicking them and their clients out and fining them! I want to shoot at the lake just as much as you do, but I also don’t want to get into any trouble, so depending on the time and circumstances of your session, we may need to alter the plan a little bit. Also, depending on where you want to shoot, parking fees and travel fees may apply.

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5. ACCESSABILITY
I’m sure you’ve seen professional photos of other people at the lake and thought, “Oh cool! I want to take my photos at the lake too!” Well, who wouldn’t?! It’s one of the most beautiful places in the world and right in our own back yard! However, there were likely a few factors behind that photo session that you aren’t fully aware of.

  • Where was the photograph taken?
  • Was it a private property somebody had access to?
  • Was it a secluded spot that the photographer or client were privy to?
  • What time did they shoot there?
  • Did they have to hike there?
  • Were the proper permits obtained?
  • Was it for a special even where access to a particular location was available?

There are sooooo many factors to consider!

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6. So where can we shoot?!

Well, haha, as I mentioned before, Sand Harbor as early as possible, but even then there is usually a line to get in (in the Summer), they only open the gates at 8am, there’s a parking fee and we run the risk of being run out and/or fined by the park rangers. Zephyr is ok, but not really “lake pretty,” in my opinion. Emerald Bay is GORGEOUS but I change a $50 travel fee and there is a small hike down to the water and limited beach available to shoot on. Rubicon Bay and Camp Richardson also have docks with small beach space but I do charge a $50 travel fee for there as well. I highly doubt you want to shoot at Kings Beach, and if you want to shoot at Hidden Beach (or what I think is Hidden Beach) that is a $25 travel fee and requires some hiking. Monkey Rock and Cake Rock are lake overlooks that require hiking to, and I charge $25 for travel. Hyatt Lake Tahoe is beautiful, has docks and a private beach but they charge a parking fee and I charge $25 for travel. Donner Lake, is an alternative but a lot of the same factors I mentioned above apply. Boca Reservoir and Frenchman’s Lake are other alternatives that will be a little easier with accessibility. I charge a $25 travel fee for Donner, Boca and Frenchman’s as well.

Shooting at the lake isn’t completely off the table, but it won’t be as easy as you think so please consider these factors I mentioned and feel free to throw out any ideas you have or any locations you know about!

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Donner Lake
A lot of what I mentioned above also applies to Donner Lake in terms of the lighting and accessability to beach access as well as water levels, but Donner Overlook is always an option! Donner Lake is a $25 travel fee.

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