Chandratal Lake Spiti Valley by Saurabh Chatterjee

Chandratal Lake was the last destination during our Photo Tour to Spiti Valley.

After crossing Kunzum La in a very bad weather, we are a little sceptical if we would be able to go to Chandratal. It was windy, cold and snowing as well.

After taking a turn from Batal, the road ran parallel to the Chandra river. It was very narrow, scary and bad. We finally reached Chandratal at 4pm. It was quite cold (around 4 degrees) and windy.

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We had enough tea and then we left for the lake. It was a short drive to the last point after which there is a short walk (takes about 20 mins). It started snowing and I was a bit worried for the team.

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Finally, we could see the first glimpse of the lake. The beauty was more than any word can describe.

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I looked back to see the others. We all were excited to have the first glimpse. Some of us were not feeling well and so they were taking their own time to come.

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Low and behold, from no-where the sun rays appeared like magic! People who trek can possible understand how it feels to see the sun in that condition.

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It was still snowing for sometime and then it stopped.

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The others followed.

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It was the time for a well deserved group shot. We all opened our caps a little to show our faces and jumped high. It was like MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!

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We spent sometime walking around there before walking back to our vehicle. I was feeling very relived that everything went on as planned.

By this time, the sky was mysteriously clear. That opened possibilities of shooting the night sky at night. The Universe was helping us for sure. I quietly said – Thank You!

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As we descended, our we could see our tiny tents.

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We had an early dinner. It was one of the most memorable moments of the trip. We sang songs and were talking about the best experience during the trip. As the sun descended for the day, we got more excited. It was a do or die situation – our last night to see the magical skies and capture them.

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HOW I TOOK THIS SHOT-
For the benefit of all, especially who are thinking that the image is created in Photoshop, I am writing the details of the picture, so that you can also try this when you go to a place like this.

EXIF – 30s. f/2.8, ISO 4500 on my Nikon D610 with 20mm 2.8 Nikkor prime lens.
The most challenging thing is to shoot in such low temperatures (-10 deg in this case) Not many dare to go out of the warm tents. This is one single reason why people don’t get this picture.
The first thing of critical importance is the composition. I generally shoot at extremely high ISO and a shutter speed of 1s to get the right composition (shooting at 30s will waste a lot of time, as we run out of patience and we can’t stay out for long). Then after finalising the composition, I chose these settings.

30s is good enough to get a good exposure and still not get the star trails (to keep the shape of the Milky Way intact). F2.8 was used to allow maximum light to come in. And then varying the ISO to get the correct exposure (in this case its ISO 4500).
My friend Sudhakar lit up the smoke with a torch, hence its standing out. 30s exposure makes it smooth and creates a long trail.
Focussing – Manual Focus only
Some lenses have marking of Infinity symbol. It is recommended to put it to a little less than infinity. For lenses where infinity is not marked (like the 18-55 kit lens), for a Canon, you can rotate the focusing ring to a little less than the left most extreme. For a Nikon, its a little less than the rightmost extreme. Sometimes you need to do a a little bit trial and error.

Processing done in Adobe Lightroom –
Increased the contrast, clarity and saturation.
The snow was glowing, increased the exposure locally by a bit.

Thats it. Please try this shot next time you go to a place like this. All the best. You can get in touch with me if you need any help.

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I got up several times at night to see how the sky was. After sometime, the moon was up and the Milky Way was less visible. The moonlight did shine on the snow peaks though.

Our camps and our vehicle.

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Most of us could not sleep well due to cold and less oxygen. Some of us including me felt very hungry at 4am. We got up and had a lot of the biscuits and chocolates which we had and tried resting for sometime. Finally, at 5am we got up excited to see the lake again, hopefully with the reflection. Our driver was not ready to get up. After constant bantering, he said, the cannot be started so early. He tried a couple of times but in vain. It was disappointing.

Generally, there is no wind early morning and hence the best time to shoot the lake with the refection. After 7am, the winds starts blowing and the water is not calm.

We finally started at about 830am. I had no hopes.

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Some of us were not ready to go to the lake as they had already seen yesterday. I almost forced them to go again. Everyone agreed.

As I was expecting, it was windy again and the water was not calm. I could not capture the lake the way I wanted to, with the reflection.

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As we were about to leave the place, I noticed the the wind had stopped. It was a WOW moment for me!

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The Universe helped us again! We excitedly  took as many pictures as possible.

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The winds were back to action, but we were happy. It was time to go back.

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We had a long day today, all the way to Manali over the Rohtang pass.

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We reached in the evening after taking a few pitstops.

It was the end of an awesome, one of my best so far!


This post is written by Saurabh Chatterjee. He is a travel photographer and a photography trainer. He strives to ‘make every camera-owner a great photographer through his Photography workshops and Photo Tours and Photowalks.

Chandratal Lake was the last destination during our Photo Tour to Spiti Valley. Join me!