April 16th, 2015

Knowing Where to Stand

Blue oaks in fog 2, Sierra Nevada foothills

Blue oaks in fog 2, Sierra Nevada foothills

Ansel Adams was quoted as saying, “A good photograph is knowing where to stand.” I’m sure he said this with tongue slightly in cheek – he knew full well that the art of photography was more complex than that. But he was trying to emphasize the importance of putting the camera in the right spot. Not just in the general vicinity, like “F/8 and be there,” but in exactly the right spot, and not an inch to the left, right, forward, back, up, or down.

Compare the two photographs shown here. In the photograph below, I moved left and right to place the three most prominent oaks between the trees behind them. But try as I might, I couldn’t completely separate the foreground and background trees, so I climbed further up the hillside behind me and made the image above. This higher camera position created better spacing and separation between the foreground and background oaks, and a composition I’m much happier with.

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April 9th, 2015


Clouds and mist from Tunnel View, sunrise, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Clouds and mist from Tunnel View, sunrise, 7:02 a.m. yesterday

Some strange white stuff fell in Yosemite Valley Tuesday night.

Skies started to clear late Tuesday evening, and it looked like there was a decent chance of seeing an interesting sunrise Wednesday morning, so I set my alarm for 4:15 a.m. (it hurts to even write that number), and made the drive up from Mariposa to the valley.

Before leaving home I checked the Yosemite road-and-weather phone line. It said that Highway 140 and Yosemite Valley were R2 – chains or four-wheel drive required. That usually means a substantial snowfall, so I brought my high-top snow boots in case I had to wade through six inches or more. But when I got to the valley I found only and inch or two of snow on the ground. I’m not complaining though, because that’s more than we’ve had all winter, and that’s the perfect amount to add a delicate coating to the tree branches.

But the trees would have to wait. There was mist on the valley floor, and clouds above, so the sunrise held some promise. I went to a spot near Tunnel View to wait, and shortly after sunrise the clouds started to light up. It turned into a beautiful sunrise, with, at times, three layers of fluff: high, broken clouds, ground-hugging fog, and mid-level mist wrapped around the cliffs.

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April 8th, 2015

Early Dogwoods

Dogwood along the Merced River, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Dogwood along the Merced River, Yosemite, yesterday afternoon

I’ve been helping my mom recover from eye surgery and move into assisted living, so life has been hectic, and I haven’t had much time for photography. But yesterday a rare and much-needed storm came through, and there were signs of clearing in the afternoon, so I took the time to go up to Yosemite Valley.

It didn’t clear after all. In fact it rained most of the time I was there, with the rain turning to snow in heavier showers. But rumors of dogwoods blooming turned out to be true. I found one particularly full dogwood along the Merced River, and was able to photograph it during a break between rain squalls (above).

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Oak tree and lunar eclipse sequence, Mariposa County, Sierra foothills, CA, USA

Oak tree and lunar eclipse sequence, Mariposa County, Sierra foothills, December 2011

Another total lunar eclipse will be visible in western North America this Saturday morning, April 4th. This is the third lunar eclipse in a sequence of four: we had two last year, and there will be another one on September 27th this year. But after that you won’t be able to see another total lunar eclipse in North America until 2018.

This upcoming eclipse will be brief; the total eclipse will last only five minutes! But for photography that’s enough. Here in California the eclipse will be visible in the west-southwest, about 18 degrees above the horizon, just before dawn. Since the moon will be low in the sky, you might be able to photograph it next to an interesting foreground object. You can find more details about this eclipse here.

For precise guidance about the moon’s position in relation to the landscape, I recommend consulting PhotoPills or The Photographer’s Ephemeris. Here’s the timing for the eclipse:

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Backcountry road in autumn with the San Miguel Range in the distance, Uncompahgre NF, CO, USA

Backcountry road in autumn with the San Miguel Range in the distance, Uncompahgre NF, CO, USA

Varying the focal length of your lens allows you change a composition easily without moving your feet. This is certainly convenient, and sometimes it’s essential: there may be only one suitable camera position, which means changing lenses or zooming is the only way to alter how much of the scene will be visible in your photograph.

But using a wider or longer lens also changes the perspective. Understanding how this works allows you to control the sense of depth in your images.

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March 22nd, 2015

Happy Spring!

Paintbrush and lupine near Tioga Pass, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Paintbrush and lupine near Tioga Pass, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Although spring officially began two days ago, here in California we’ve had springlike conditions since February, while in the northeast spring is just a rumor. But flowers will bloom everywhere, eventually, and it’s a great season for photography.

Though I usually prefer to photograph flowers as part of a landscape, sometimes I enjoy doing closeups as well. This image was made in the Yosemite high country a few years ago, with part of a paintbrush in focus, and out-of-focus lupines in the foreground. This technique of using out-of-focus flowers to create a wash of color, and an impressionistic look, is fun to try, but tricky. It requires a densely-packed group of flowers, and a lot of experimentation. Here are some tips:

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Moon rising above Yosemite Valley, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Moon rising above the Valley, Yosemite National Park

Just a reminder that the special Ansel Adams Gallery print sale ends tomorrow, at 6:00 p.m. Pacific Time. So until then you can get a 16×20 or 20×24 print of this image, Moon Rising Above Yosemite Valley, or Orchard and Sunbeams With Fog, for 25% off. Click here to see all the details, and read the stories behind the photographs.

— Michael Frye

Orchard with sunbeams and fog, Sacramento Valley, California

Orchard with sunbeams and fog, Sacramento Valley, California

I’m pleased to announce that once again The Ansel Adams Gallery is sponsoring a special print sale of two of my photographs, at 25% off the normal price. The two images we selected for this offer are Orchard With Sunbeams and Fog, Sacramento Valley, California, and Moon Rising Above the Valley, Yosemite National Park. These two photographs have never been exhibited at a gallery or sold before, although, as many of you know, both of these images were voted by my readers to be included in my best images of 2014, and the Orchard With Sunbeams and Fog photograph was the top vote-getter.

My signed, limited-edition 16×20 prints usually sell for $325, but during this sale you can get one for only $244. Or you can purchase a 20×24 print, normally $475, for only $356. This is a rare chance to purchase one of my photographs at a reduced price, but the sale lasts for just six days, until Sunday, March 22nd, at 6:00 PM Pacific time. Visit the Ansel Adams Gallery website to purchase a print or get more details.

Here are the stories behind the photographs:

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March 14th, 2015

A Good Year for Redbuds

Redbud, rocks, and the Merced River, Stanislaus NF, CA, USA

Redbud, rocks, and the Merced River (April 2002)

I had a chance to drive up the Merced River Canyon (west of Yosemite along Highway 140) yesterday to check on the flowers. It’s not turning into a good year for poppies in this area. There are scattered patches of poppies in shadier spots, but all the south-facing slopes look very dry. There are very few poppies near the beginning of the Hite’s Cove Trail, on Grandy’s Hill, or any of the other prime poppy locations.

But the redbuds are looking great. Overall, they’re close to their peak now, or maybe just before peak. The redbuds in the western half of the canyon are a little further along, and in prime condition, with most in full bloom, less than 5% leafing out, and maybe 10-20% not quite in full bloom yet. The redbuds in the eastern half of the canyon are not quite at peak yet. I saw one or two leafing out, but maybe 60% were in full bloom, while 40% were still on their way. But there are many vibrant, beautiful specimens throughout the canyon, and it looks like one of the better years for redbuds I’ve seen lately.

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Clouds and reflections, Tenaya Lake, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Clouds and reflections, Tenaya Lake, Yosemite

Does every landscape photograph need a foreground? Not always. Some of the world’s most memorable landscape photographs lack any foreground – like Moon and Half Dome by Ansel Adams, or Galen Rowell’s Last Light on Horsetail Fall (go to page 2).

On the other hand, many classic landscape images do have foregrounds – prominent ones – like another Ansel Adams photograph, Mount Williamson from Manzanar, or many images by landscape master David Muench.

So how do you know when to include a foreground in your own landscapes? Ask yourself these questions:

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