Mono Recesses, Eastern Sierras

Alex Mortensen is a photographer, video editor, and motion graphics deisgner from San Diego, California. His submission includes photos a yearly backpacking trip to the Mono Recesses in the eastern Sierras in California. The Mono Recesses are a series of canyons that drain into Mono Creek, south of Mammoth Lakes. I don't know a lot about the Sierras, but I'm routinely awestruck by the landscape and desolation in the region. It seems like the kind of place you could spend a lifetime exploring and discovering favorite places within. Alex's photos are a small look at a vast place that feels like a world of it's own. He was chosenby featured photographer Matthew Lawless.

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Tell us about the location in the photos.

These photos were taken during a backpacking trip in the Mono Recesses, located in the Sierra Nevada’s. It’s part of a yearly trip my uncle and a few of his buddies have been doing for a handful of years, I’m the lucky young buck that gets to tag along.

This year, we started our hike actually by ferry, across Lake Thomas A. Edison (7,700ft.). The lake was extremely low this time of the year (August), because of a small snow pack and then using what was left to help put out surrounding forest fires. It felt like we hiked half the length of the lake with its lack of water. From there we hiked to what I think was the bottom of the second recess and set up camp.

We were greeted by a big brown bear during dinner. He definitely overdid his stay and it was a night of little sleep. We all woke up in one piece the next morning and had a grueling climb up to Pioneer Basin Lakes at ~10,000 ft.

We reached our home site for a couple of days, and we had the whole basin to ourselves. The deep blue sky mixed with the rock textures and lakes make it seem like another world. As a human being you become aware of how tiny we really are. That feeling is what makes these trips worth all the effort. The sun settled and we we’re greeted with a vibrant Milky Way overhead. Reality becomes irrelevant. Tomorrow is ‘rest day’.

Morning comes and we get our day packs set to peak Mount Stanford, just shy of 13,000ft. It is do-able without ropes but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a test of one’s courage. The north side of the ridgeline was a straight drop; a misstep or pour handhold could cost you. Each movement is so thought out that everything else becomes a blur. We reached the top, celebrated with a quick lunch, and then back down before sunset.

I recommend a trip like this to anyone who enjoys demanding hikes and an amazing landscape. The blisters and muscle pain will go away, but the memories and life changing experiences will last forever.

How did you get started in photography?

My father used to have a VHS camcorder that he would shoot family videos with, cheesy in-camera transitions and all. So I started to get a taste for visual storytelling through that. I would borrow the camcorder and film my friends and I reenacting movie scenes or just playing around.

This progressed further to full productions on certain trips I would take. I was always looking for an excuse to get outside and go explore with a camera as I grew up. Besides taking a few technical courses in college, I have just been self-taught.

Does anything in particular influence your photography style?

I’m definitely drawn towards mixing different textures, natural tones and filmic expressions. Instagram has been a huge source for inspiration, being able to curate my feed towards more landscape and lifestyle type photography. With a heavy dose of surf related feeds. The first few names that come to mind for inspiration are Owen Perry (Circa 1983), Chris Burkard, and Brooks Sterling.

What photography gear do you use?

I jump and forth between digital and film depending on the situation. I have a Canon 5D MII with a Zeiss 50mm, and a Canon AE1 with a 50mm and a 80-205mm telephoto. Then I also use the iPhone 5 in and out of the water, with a Watershot Pro housing for the latter.

Are there any products you swear by?

Even though it isn’t in my current quiver, GoPro cameras. They are extremely powerful if you are into both photography and video. Watershot has a very impressive underwater housing for the iPhone, as my phone is still living I swear by their product. I am also a huge fan of what the people over at VSCO Cam are doing.

What is your dream adventure photography location?

New Zealand is the first place that comes to mind, and definitely Machu Picchu. The Hawaiian Islands are up there as well, for the amount of surf there. In the mean time, it seems California has an endless supply of places to explore.



Name Alex Mortensen
Location San Diego, California
Featured In Issue Six - June 2014
Gear & Equipment Cameras: Canon 5D MII, Canon AE1, iPhone 5, Lenses: Zeiss 50mm, 80-205mm telephoto
Websites Portfolio, Instagram
Chosen By Matthew Lawless


  1. Jan Kitchen

    Beautiful photos Alex. I really like the last one. I wouldn’t choose to make the hike to get there so I appreciate your sharing the beauty of our earth with us. Keep clicking!

  2. Barbara Clark

    Alex has a keen eye for details and lighting that tell a story. I admire that. You can almost feel & smell whatever he shoots … not everyone can do that. Congratulations Alex on your issue!

  3. Judith Ewing

    I am so proud of you and your accomplishments.

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