In the Moment:
Michael Frye's Landscape Photography Blog
Dogwood above the Merced River, Yosemite. To find this composition I used my iPhone to “sketch” different possibilities. The composition I liked best required holding the phone high over my head, but luckily my tripod went high enough to put my Sony camera up there. 50mm, 1/3 sec. at f/16, ISO 100, focus stacked.
Despite the dry winter – or maybe because of it – it’s been a good year for dogwoods. These things always vary, of course, because that’s the way nature works. The relationships between plants and their environment is incredibly complex. Weather is a big factor, including moisture, temperature, and sunlight. But every plant is affected by soil, by microorganisms in the soil, by animals (especially insects) that want to feed on it, by animals that feed on the animals that want to feed on it, by animals that might pollinate its flowers, and by neighboring plants it competes with, or, sometimes, cooperates with. And the way each plant responds to all those factors is influenced by its own genetics.
Which is to say that not every dogwood lives under the same conditions, and even if they did, they wouldn’t all respond to those conditions in the same way. So when I say that it’s been a good year for dogwoods, it would be more accurate to say that it’s been a good year for many dogwoods, though not all. Some have produced average or below-average blooms. But this year many dogwoods have produced above-average blooms. Some are incredibly full, to the point where it’s hard to imagine where another blossom would fit.
Clearing spring storm, Tunnel View, Yosemite, Monday morning
Last Sunday, for the first time in over a month, we got some significant rain. Well somewhat significant anyway – half an inch.
It looked like the storm would clear around sunrise on Monday morning, which could be good timing. I drove up to Yosemite Valley early, and, as I often do, went to Tunnel View to get an overview of the valley and assess the conditions.
And the conditions looked promising, with lots of mist, and some higher clouds that could light up at sunrise.
Poppies and foothill pines, Sierra Nevada, California. 91mm, 1/60 sec. at f/11, ISO 100.
We didn’t get any storms here in the Sierra between mid March and late April, and therefore no chance to photograph interesting weather. So what else could I photograph? What was happening that might provide opportunities to make a compelling photograph? Well it’s spring, so… flowers? That would seem logical.
But by California standards, it hasn’t been the greatest year for wildflowers. We had a dry winter, so the desert and semi-desert areas that sometimes display vast carpets of flowers have stayed brown. No “superbloom” (a word that seems to get applied to any above-average wildflower season these days).
Yet Claudia and I managed to find some beautiful patches flowers in the Sierra foothills. Around here, sometimes drier years produce good blooms, while in wet years the grasses can quickly grow tall enough to crowd out the flowers.
Aspens in fog, White River NF, Colorado. I used a bit of negative Dehaze to slightly soften this image.
In preparing my recent presentation for the Out of Chicago Live conference, I was digging through my archives for examples to use, and found some interesting images I had overlooked. In some cases I had put them aside, too busy to process them at the time, and then just forgot about them. In other cases I think my perceptions had changed. And sometimes I could see the potential to process an image differently, using new tools and new skills.
One of those tools is the Dehaze slider in Lightroom. It’s not that new (2015), but didn’t exist when I initially processed some images, and can sometimes make a big difference – especially with fog. I’m a big fan of fog for forest scenes, and these days I’m often using Dehaze selectively with the Adjustment Brush to cut through fog in one part of an image, or thicken fog in another area to hide or deemphasize something. (Just to be clear, you can’t create fog where none existed; there has to be some fog to begin with. But you can make some tenuous fog look a little more substantial. I show how to do all this in my latest Lightroom course, Landscapes in Lightroom: Advanced Techniques.)
I hope you can join me at the upcoming Out of Chicago Live online photo conference!
I really enjoyed both of the Out of Chicago online conferences last year. It was a lot of fun interacting with everyone, and I loved watching all the presentations from the other instructors.
The next edition of Out of Chicago Live is coming up soon: April 9-11. They’ve gathered an amazing lineup of instructors in all genres of photography. In the landscape-photography world that includes Alister Benn, Brooks Jensen, Charlotte Gibb, Chuck Kimmerle, Cole Thompson, Colleen Miniuk, Daniel Kordan, Francesco Gola, David Cobb, David Johnston, David Kingham, Eric Bennett, Erin Babnik, Franka Gabler, Ian Plant, Jennifer Renwick, John Barclay, Joshua Cripps, Mark Denney, Martin Bailey, TJ Thorne, Nick Page, Sarah Marino, Sean Bagshaw, and William Neill. It’s a quite a lineup, and it’s an honor to be part of this group.
Oak in a snowstorm, Yosemite. 253mm, 1/15 sec. at f/11, ISO 400.
In my last post I described how the most recent snowstorm led to some beautiful light and clouds – especially late in the day.
But when I arrived in the valley that morning it was still snowing. So I did what I always do: I asked myself, “What’s happening now?” In other words, what was interesting or unusual about that moment? What was unique and special in this place I’ve photographed so many times before?
El Capitan emerging from clouds, Yosemite. 78mm, three bracketed frames, each at f/11, ISO 100, blended with Lightroom’s HDR Merge.
You can make a photograph without a camera, or lens, but you can’t make a photograph without light. The word “photograph” literally means “drawing with light.” Light is the essence of photography.
If light is our medium, it stands to reason that exceptional light has the potential to lead to exceptional photographs. It’s not a guarantee, of course; you still need to find a composition that works with that light, and execute the photograph technically. But the potential is there.
Raven, trees, and crags, Yosemite
One of the most difficult tasks in landscape photography is deciding where to go. It seems simple, but it’s anything but, especially when the weather is changing quickly. Would I be better off staying put, or trying someplace else? Where (and when) will the light be most interesting?
It helps to know an area well, so you have a better idea about which spots might give you the best opportunities under different conditions. It also helps to know local weather patterns. And when cell service allows, I’ll use satellite, radar, and webcam images to see beyond my immediate field of view, and make a short-term weather prediction.
Sandhill cranes at sunrise, San Joaquin Valley, California
During this past winter Claudia and I spent a lot of time in California’s Central Valley. This area isn’t known for its scenic beauty, but we found a lot of beauty there.
This was once a vast region of seasonal wetlands and flower-filled prairies, teeming with waterfowl, elk, pronghorn antelope, wolves, grizzly bears, and endless acres of springtime flowers. It’s estimated that 500,000 tule elk once roamed this region, and early visitors described flocks of wintering geese so large and dense they darkened the midday sky. This “American Serengeti” existed less than 200 years ago, in an area now occupied by farmlands, towns, and cities.
I’m excited to be teaching at the Out of Chicago Live 2021 online photo conference! The first edition last spring was a lot of fun for both instructors and participants. I had a great time, so I’m looking forward to doing it again.
To kick things off, the Out of Chicago team will be conducting a series of pre-conference photo challenges, and I’ll be leading one of them next Tuesday, March 2nd, at 2:00 p.m. Central Time (noon Pacific Time) called Planning and Serendipity in Photography.