In the Moment:
Michael Frye's Landscape Photography Blog
Late-afternoon light, Oregon badlands
Claudia and I are in the middle of a long camping trip. We started in Oregon, then moved to Idaho, and for the last ten nights we’ve been in Yellowstone.
One of our stops was in the badlands of eastern Oregon. These badlands encompass a small area, but they’re colorful, and full of beautiful patterns. I love patterns, as you probably know, so I was like a kid in a candy store, finding new compositions everywhere I looked. I used telephoto lenses almost exclusively, picking designs out of the sculpted earth.
Milky Way and meteor reflected in an alpine lake, Yosemite NP, California. The meteor’s reflection is squiggly because the water was slightly rippled. I blended 20 exposures (each 16mm, 30 seconds at f/4, ISO 6400) with Starry Landscape Stacker to reduce noise. That kind of blending wipes out short-lived light sources, like car headlights or jet trails, which is usually a great thing. But in this case it also wiped out the meteor and its reflection, so I took that one meteor frame into Photoshop, and blended it with the TIFF output from Starry Landscape Stacker to create the final image.
On Thursday evening Claudia and I decided to head up to Yosemite to watch the Perseid meteor shower. Although you can see more Perseid meteors during the early-morning hours, we knew from previous experience that those early-morning meteors rain down from directly overhead, so although numerous, their paths are short. But during the evening you’re much more likely to see an “earth-grazer” – a meteor that glances across the atmosphere at an angle, making a long, bright streak through the sky. So although evening meteors are less abundant, the ones you do see are often more spectacular.
We made our way to a high-country lake. I set up my camera, then we laid out our stadium chairs to watch the show. Only it wasn’t much of a show at first. For a long time we saw no meteors whatsoever, earth-grazers or otherwise. Finally we saw some small ones. And then, eventually, I saw a big, bright, beautiful earth-grazer streak across half the sky. But Claudia missed it. Eventually we saw a few more earth-grazers, though none as bright as that first one.
Misty sunrise from Tunnel View, Yosemite
If you haven’t heard yet, there’s a new photography competition called the Natural Landscape Photography Awards. It is, in their words, a competition “celebrating the artistic achievements of landscape photographers who dedicate themselves to capturing the beauty of the landscape in a realistic manner.”
Now let me say up front that I don’t think art should have any limits, and people should be free to create anything they want, in any manner they want (as long as they’re not deliberately deceiving people about how an image was made).
But in my own work I try to celebrate the beauty and variety of nature. I think the natural world is wonderful and amazing, and I try to show that without enhancing my images in an unrealistic way. Plus, for me, part of the fun of landscape photography is trying to put myself in the right place at the right time to see some of the most beautiful places in the world at their most beautiful moments. It changes the game – and for me, decreases the enjoyment – if I can just add in a different sky later.
Sun setting over Mono Lake, California. Anticipating that sunbeams might appear to the west, I moved to line up the sun with some tufa formations, and captured this scene as the sun broke through a bank of clouds. Five frames, two stops apart, each at 50mm, f/11, and ISO 100, blended with Lightroom’s HDR Merge.
If you’re used to lakes in other parts of the world, Mono Lake might seem like a strange place. The water is salty – two to three times saltier than the ocean. It’s surrounded by sagebrush desert, and instead of trees along the shore you find those otherworldly tufa formations.
You won’t see many people swimming in Mono Lake. You won’t find lifeguards and buoys, windsurfers, or kids splashing in the water playing Marco Polo. Although the very-salty water allows people to float easily, it also leaves a salty and somewhat-soapy alkaline residue on the skin, with no convenient beachside showers available to rinse off in.
Rainbow and sunset clouds, Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite NP, California. 35mm, 1/2 sec. at f/16, ISO 100.
If I were to make a list of my favorite places on earth, the Yosemite high country would have to be near the top. There’s something about the thin, pine-scented air, intense light, vast expanses of polished granite, and lakes sparkling in the sun…
I’ve spent a lot of time in this area over the last 40 years. I feel like this land is part of me, and me part of it. Some spots are as familiar to me as Yosemite Valley, and yet I’m still finding new places to explore.
I’m thrilled to be joining the Out of Chicago team for another photography conference. This will be an in-person event – in Death Valley no less! – taking place next January 26-30, 2022.
The dunes and sculptured badlands of Death Valley are amazing, surreal, and beautiful locations for landscape photography. And I’ll be joining a wonderful cast of instructors, including Nick Page, David Kingham, Alex Noriega, Erin Babnik, Jennifer Renwick, John Barklay, Michael Gordon, Sarah Marino, Joshua Cripps, William Neill, Cole Thompson, Colleen Miniuk, TJ Thorne, and Eric Paré.
Clouds, tufa, and Negit Island at sunset, Mono Lake, California. This rain cloud lingered for awhile in the same location, allowing me to capture variations of this scene as the sun lowered, and the wind altered the reflections. 70mm, 1/15 sec. at f/11, ISO 100.
Mono Lake is a unique and beautiful place. It’s known for its tufa formations, but there’s so much more to it. It’s a giant pool surrounded by desert sage, and bounded by the peaks of the Sierra Nevada to the west. In summer, monsoonal moisture often arrives from the southeast and runs into that mountain wall, where the moisture gets pushed upward, forming clouds, showers, and thunderstorms. The lake becomes a vector for those storms.
While staying in Lee Vining a couple of weeks ago, we saw clouds and showers each afternoon, and had several opportunities to photograph beautiful evening light at the lake (along with a colorful sunrise). Under those conditions the lake can reflect clouds in wonderful ways, creating swaths of color and light across the sky and water.
El Capitan emerging from clouds, Yosemite
I recently did an interview with David Johnston for his podcast The Landscape Photography Show, and it just got released today. David asked a lot of great questions, and I thought it was a fun and interesting conversation. We talked about my photographic journey, photographing the same place over and over, whether originality is overvalued, internal and external motivations for your work, and much more.
You can listen to the episode on David’s website, or through all the usual podcast sources like iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, and so on.
Waves, fog, and sea stacks, northern California coast. High coastal stratus is common along the California coast, but low fog like this is more unusual. I used those conditions to create a soft-on-soft look to this photo, with a six-second shutter speed smoothing out the waves, and the fog obscuring the background. 168mm, 6 seconds at f/16, ISO 100, 7-stop ND filter.
As much as I love the redwood forests, the rugged, rocky coastline of northern California is just as beautiful, and just as essential to the character of this region. You can go from the windy, noisy, wide-open expanses of the coast to the calm, quiet, dense forests in minutes, and the transition is breathtaking. Along many trails through the redwoods you can hear the surf in the distance – while watching the fog roll in off the ocean and into the woods. To me, it’s the close proximity and interaction between the ocean and forests that creates the wonderful, wild mood of this place.
This coastline features innumerable rocks and sea stacks, as the ocean gradually erodes softer rocks, leaving harder rocks stranded offshore. Part of the challenge in photographing these scenes is figuring out where to stand in order to arrange those rocks in a compelling way within the frame.
Young and old redwoods, Northern California. Soft sunlight filtering through the fog added a beautiful and unusual mood to this scene, and I loved the juxtaposition of young and old trees. 25mm, 1/6 sec. at f/16, ISO 800.
Until last year, Claudia and I had visited the redwood forests of northern California nine years in a row. The pandemic interrupted that streak, but in late May this year we were able to return once again, and spent almost two weeks in the area.
It was great to be back, as I love this part of the world. While Yosemite has been my home, both physically and spiritually, for over 35 years, returning to the redwoods also feels like coming home. It’s a much different environment – damp, cool, foggy, lush, and overgrown – and that’s what I love about it. Many places look like they could be sets from a Jurassic Park movie (which, of course, they were). It’s not hard to imagine dinosaurs roaming this terrain.