In the Moment:
Michael Frye's Landscape Photography Blog

Photo Critique Series: “Badwater Lake” by Grant Kaye

“Badwater Lake” by Grant Kaye

“Badwater Lake” by Grant Kaye

This week’s photograph was made by Grant Kaye at Badwater in Death Valley National Park, California. The water in this place may be bad to drink, but it’s good for photography. It’s always interesting to see water in the desert, and this spot often has great reflections, especially with clouds at sunrise or sunset, like the ones Grant captured in this image. It’s easy to see why Badwater attracts lenses.


With reflection images, horizon placement is a key decision. It’s usually better to avoid putting the horizon across the middle of the frame, as this cuts the photograph in half, and often creates the feeling of two different photographs stuck together. (I pointed out this problem in another recent critique.)

But there are exceptions to any rule. With reflections, putting the horizon in the middle emphasizes the symmetry between the elements above the horizon and their reflections below, and can be an effective way of expressing calm and serenity, or simply creating repetition and a unified composition. Placing the horizon above or below the center can also work: pointing the camera down emphasizes the reflection; pointing the camera up emphasizes the actual objects above the water.

In this photograph Grant chose put the horizon above center and highlight the foreground and the reflection. I often like this approach, as reflections have richer color than the real objects they’re reflecting. Here this arrangement also accentuates the converging lines of the clouds—they all seem to point to a spot behind the peaks in the center of the image. Overall the composition is simple and direct, with a strong radiating design.


A Blizzard of Birds

Wall of geese taking flight yesterday at Merced National Wildlife Refuge

Ross’ geese taking flight yesterday at Merced National Wildlife Refuge

I’ve seen many beautiful natural phenomena in my life: lightning storms, lunar rainbows, Horsetail Fall turning into a ribbon of orange water at sunset. But the most impressive and magical thing I’ve witnessed might be the sound and movement of large flocks of snow geese. The roar and synchronized motion of 10,000 glittering white birds taking flight is unforgettable.


Moonrise and… Moonrise Again

The moon rising between El Capitan and Cathedral Rocks from Valley View

The moon rising between El Capitan and Cathedral Rocks from Valley View

Clear skies have allowed my workshop students and me to photograph the rising moon on three successive days: over Half Dome on Sunday, between El Capitan and Cathedral Rocks on Monday, and between Half Dome and El Capitan from Tunnel View yesterday. Naturally the timing for this workshop (Photoshop and Digital Printing, with The Ansel Adams Gallery) was planned to take advantage of these lunar opportunities, but you never know what kind of weather you’ll get, so we’ve been lucky.

Where November and December were exceptionally wet, January has been dry so far. Yosemite photographers often hope for precipitation and the opportunity to photograph a clearing storm, but every set of conditions creates unique opportunities. The clear, warm weather is melting the abundant snow pack and producing an exceptionally high flow in Yosemite Falls. It looks more like March than January. The light, however, is still at its winter angles, striking the falls shortly after sunrise—much better than in March, when the sun doesn’t reach the waterfall until it’s high in the sky.

With more clear, warm weather in the forecast, the water flow should stay high or even increase, and we could have great opportunities to photograph Yosemite Falls for several weeks.

If you had a chance to photograph the rising moon the last few days, or the high water in Yosemite Falls this winter, I’d love to see the images, so please post a link in the comments.

Photo Critique Series: “Ptarmigan Lake” by Chris Alexander

"Ptarmigan Lake" by Chris Alexander

“Ptarmigan Lake” by Chris Alexander


This week’s photograph was made by Chris Alexander in Glacier National Park, Montana. That’s the second time recently that I’ve critiqued a photo from this park. Obviously—and no surprise to anyone who’s been there—a beautiful place!

This composition works very well. The bottom two-thirds of the photograph has sweeping, repeating, U-shaped curves that help tie everything together and frame the background peaks. The lake and mountains provide focal points: my eyes work in a triangle around the frame, going from the lake to the prominent peak on the right, over to the peaks on the left, then back to the lake, sometimes detouring around the lower basin to look at the snow patches and trail. The overall design is simple and strong.

If I could quibble with something, it would be the bright spots along the edges that tend to draw my eyes out of the frame, including the snow patch in the lower-left corner, another snow patch near the upper-right corner, and of course the sky.