September 30th, 2015

From Eclipse to Aspens

Autumn afternoon in the mountains near Telluride, CO, USA

Autumn afternoon in the mountains near Telluride, Colorado, yesterday afternoon

I had planned to go to the Alabama Hills or Death Valley for last Sunday’s lunar eclipse, but high clouds streamed in from the Pacific and threatened to block the view. So at the last minute Claudia and I decided to go further south, toward clear skies that were visible on satellite photos. We ended up in Joshua Tree National Park – along with many, many other people who seemed to think this was a good place to view the eclipse.

They were right of course – it was a great place. And the skies cooperated for the most part. I captured a sequence that I think will work, but I haven’t had a chance to process it yet, because the next morning we started driving to Colorado. We loved our autumn visit last year, and just had to go back. Colorado welcomed us with some nice clouds on our first afternoon; I’ve included one image from that evening above.

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Curious deer, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Curious deer, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

I just sent my prints to the G2 Gallery in Venice, California, for their upcoming exhibit, “Off the Beaten Path: Views From Yosemite.” This looks like a wonderful show, with photographs by Alan Ross, Robin Black, Art Wolfe, Franka Gabler, Ian Shive, Clyde Butcher, Marc Muench, and many others. They chose two of my Yosemite wildlife images for the exhibit, Curious Deer, and Coyote in Snow. The show runs from September 29th to November 15th. Unfortunately I won’t be able to make it to the reception on October 3rd, but I’m sure I’ll be missing a fun event. If you’re in southern California I hope you’ll have a chance to check out the show or attend the reception. You can find more information and see some photographs from the exhibit here.

— Michael Frye

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September 22nd, 2015

This Sunday’s Lunar Eclipse

Lunar eclipse sequence, April 14th and 15th, 2014, Trona Pinnacles, CA, USA

Lunar eclipse sequence, April 14th and 15th, 2014, Trona Pinnacles, CA, USA

We’re going to get another chance to photograph a lunar eclipse this Sunday evening in North America and South America (or early Monday morning in Europe and Africa).

This eclipse also coincides with the moon’s perigee, meaning that the moon will be at its closest point to the earth during its orbit, and will look bigger than usual. The media is going to make a big deal about this “supermoon,” but the moon will only look seven percent larger than average, a difference that won’t be readily apparent to the naked eye, much less in photographs.

However, every total lunar eclipse is special – a spectacular event to view and photograph. And unlike the last one in April, this one will feature a long total eclipse phase.

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September 21st, 2015

Early Fall Color Report

Quaking aspens, autumn, Lee Vining Canyon, Inyo NF, CA, USA

Quaking aspens, Lee Vining Canyon, October 24, 2003

Claudia and I just returned from our annual trip to the Millpond Music Festival and (as Joe Craven puts it) “consciousness-raising event.” We had a wonderful time, as usual. The festival may or may not have raised my consciousness, but it sure was relaxing and fun.

Since the festival takes place in Bishop, on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada, the trip gives me a chance to check on the early fall color over there. Every year, it seems, some early-changing leaves lead to online predictions that the aspens will turn early. This year I’ve also heard a lot of speculation about the effect the drought will have on the autumn color, and even seen a few actual reports of aspens turning brown and dropping their leaves early.

Driving down to Bishop last Friday, the color didn’t look early at all. There were some yellow and lime-green aspens at the mouth of Warren Canyon (along Highway 120 in upper Lee Vining Canyon), and some lime-green trees on Parker Bench, but everything else looked dark green. Warren Canyon and Parker Bench are both high-elevation, early-changing locations, so that all looked pretty typical for this time of year.

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September 16th, 2015

Bodie at Night

Wagon wheel behind the Dechambeau Hotel, Bodie State Historic Park, CA, USA

Wagon wheel behind the Dechambeau Hotel, Bodie. I loved this wagon wheel poking out of the ground, and worked with one of our participants, Jeff, to light this scene. We started with an exposure for the sky, then lit the wagon wheel, getting close with a flashlight outfitted with a homemade snoot to try to light only the rim and spokes. Then Jeff lit the shed on the right from two different angles, and I lit the two-story buildings from both sides.


As promised, here are a few photos from the nighttime sessions during our recent Bodie, Inside and Out workshop.

The lighting for each of these photographs was rather complex, and required blending several exposures together. In each case I started with a frame for the sky (my standard pinpoint-star exposure: 15 seconds at f/2.8, 6400 ISO), then used separate frames (at lower ISOs and smaller apertures) to light different aspects of the scene. As I’ve described before, the individual exposures were blended together in Photoshop using the Lighten blending mode, and sometimes adding layer masks to hide stray light.

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September 14th, 2015

Inside Bodie

Green light, Wheaton and Hollis Hotel, Bodie State Historic Park, CA, USA

Green light, Wheaton and Hollis Hotel, Bodie State Historic Park, CA, USA

As I said in my last post, we had a great time in Bodie last week. On Tuesday morning we had a permit to photograph inside some of the buildings – a rare opportunity. These interiors are in a lovely state of decay, and it seemed there were wonderful compositions everywhere you looked. We had six hours, but could easily have doubled that without running out of subjects.

You have to be very careful inside the buildings. Everything is coated with a thick layer of dust, accumulated over decades, and even accidentally brushing up against a table with a jacket could mar that dust. These interiors are a museum – a dusty, decaying museum – and being inside the buildings is like being inside the exhibits.

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September 11th, 2015

Tufa and Milky Way

Tufa and Milky Way, Mono Lake, CA, USA

Tufa and Milky Way, Mono Lake, CA, USA

The last few weeks have been very busy. We just finished our Bodie workshop, which was tremendous fun. I’ll post some images from the workshop when I get a chance to process them, but in the meantime here’s a photograph from last Saturday, just before the workshop started.

I wanted to photograph at South Tufa at Mono Lake, but was worried that it would be too crowded, since it was Saturday on Labor Day weekend. And when Claudia and I pulled into the South Tufa parking lot at sunset we were astonished at the number of cars: the entire, large parking lot looked full.

We managed to find a place to park, and headed out to the lake, figuring that since it was getting dark most of the people would leave soon. And indeed, the place emptied out quickly, except for a few photographers intent on night photography. By ten o’clock, when I made this image, there were only three other people around – all photographers of course.

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August 28th, 2015

Under the Stars

Tufa and stars (with Perseus and the Pleiades), Mono Lake, CA, USA

Tufa and stars (with Perseus and the Pleiades), Mono Lake. I lit the tufa formations with a flashlight during the 15-second exposure; it only took a brief pass with the light to provide sufficient illumination at 6400 ISO and f/2.8.

As I said in my last post, we had remarkably clear skies during our recent Starry Skies Adventure workshop, despite the proximity of the Walker Fire. But 24 hours before the workshop started the situation was uncertain and changing quickly. We didn’t know what would happen with the fire, and whether we’d see any stars through the smoke. Some workshop participants decided to take a rain check (smoke check?), which was completely understandable under the circumstances. But most people chose to come anyway and take their chances. In the end we had a great time. There were moments, while standing under the stars in the clear, cool, night air, when the fire seemed like a vague, distant memory.

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August 23rd, 2015

Dodging the Walker Fire

Helicopter over the Walker Fire, Inyo NF, near Lee Vining, CA, USA, 8/16/15

Helicopter over the Walker Fire from Highway 395, last Sunday evening

Our Starry Skies Adventure workshop turned out to be a little more adventurous than we thought. Just before we left our home in Mariposa last Saturday to head for the workshop I checked the satellite photos online. The Rough Fire near King’s Canyon National Park had been sending smoke north, so I was keeping an eye on it. But my last-minute check revealed a new smoke plume just to the southwest of Mono Lake. Uh oh. Our workshop was based in Lee Vining, on the west shore of Mono Lake, only a few miles from that smoke plume.

I could see the smoke from this new fire on one of the Yosemite webcams. I found that it was called the Walker Fire, and that it had started the night before near Walker Lake, but I couldn’t find any up-to-date information about the fire’s size and location. When Claudia and I left home about 3:00 p.m. the Tioga Road (Highway 120) through the park was still open. But when we got to Tuolumne Meadows we found that the fire had closed the road between the eastern entrance of the park and Highway 395. What do we do now? We decided we had to drive around over Sonora Pass and check out the fire in person. That meant five extra hours of driving, and a long night ahead of us.

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Lightning over the San Joaquin Valley from the Sierra Nevada foothills, California, USA

Lightning over the San Joaquin Valley from the Sierra Nevada foothills, California, USA

This summer I’ve often heard my fellow Californians making comments like, “Weird weather we’re having,” or “Interesting weather, isn’t it?” Yes indeed. Typically most of the state receives no precipitation from May through September, but this summer we’ve had lots of subtropical moisture drifting northward into the state, triggering showers and thunderstorms. The rains have mostly been light and scattered, so haven’t made any real dent in the drought, but have created interesting conditions for photography.

Last Thursday forecasters predicted another subtropical surge approaching, but we didn’t see much sign of it at our house. Then Claudia and I got into our hot tub around 10:30 p.m. (our nightly ritual before going to bed) and immediately noticed distant flashes of lightning. We couldn’t figure out where they were coming from at first; maybe the west? So I got out of the tub to check radar images, and saw that the nearest storms that could possibly be creating lightning were near the coast! That seemed impossibly far, but then last summer at Mono Lake, during our Starry Skies workshop, we saw distant flashes of lightning, and they turned out to be in eastern Nevada, 200 miles away. So yes, it was indeed possible to see flashes from lightning in the coast ranges, only 80 miles from our house.

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