October 24th, 2014

East Side and West Side Color

Quaking aspens, autumn, Inyo NF, CA, USA

Aspens near Lee Vining, Sunday afternoon

Claudia and I got home last night after our two Eastern Sierra Fall Color workshops. We had a great time, as always. Both groups were really nice, the color was great, and some clouds added interest to sunrises and sunsets.

The color on the east side was a little early this year. When we left yesterday the lower-elevation areas like June Lake Loop, Lee Vining Canyon, and lower Lundy Canyon were at about peak. Mid- and high-elevation aspens were past peak, but you could still find colorful patches mixed with the bare trees (a photogenic combination, in my opinion). I’m sure there will still be good color in those lower-elevation spots this weekend, but probably not far beyond that.

On the drive home I made a short detour through Yosemite Valley to check on the color, and things are progressing slowly there. The bigleaf maples on the south side of the valley are starting to turn. There’s a nice patch of yellow along Southside Drive, underneath Middle Cathedral Rock (across from El Capitan). The maples in this area are perhaps 60 percent yellow and 40 percent green. Some maples near Pohono Bridge and the old dam are turning as well, but those areas are still predominantly green.

Elsewhere in the valley there’s little color so far. The oaks, cottonwoods, and dogwoods are showing just tinges of yellow and gold here and there. The maples will probably reach their peak in about a week or so, but it looks like the oaks, cottonwoods, and dogwoods won’t turn until the first or second week of November. Maybe we’ll get a dusting of snow during the peak color, like we did two years ago

— Michael Frye

Related Posts: Back in the Sierra; Early November Magic in Yosemite

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Michael Frye is a professional photographer specializing in landscapes and nature. He is the author or principal photographer of The Photographer’s Guide to YosemiteYosemite Meditations, Yosemite Meditations for Women, and Digital Landscape Photography: In the Footsteps of Ansel Adams and the Great Masters. He has also written three eBooks: Light & Land: Landscapes in the Digital Darkroom, Exposure for Outdoor Photography, and Landscapes in Lightroom 5: The Essential Step-by-Step Guide. Michael written numerous magazine articles on the art and technique of photography, and his images have been published in over thirty countries around the world. Michael has lived either in or near Yosemite National Park since 1983, currently residing just outside the park in Mariposa, California.

October 14th, 2014

Back in the Sierra

Aspen-covered hillside, autumn, Toiyable NF, CA, USA

Aspen-covered hillside, yesterday afternoon, near Bridgeport, California

I’m back on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada, my home mountains, getting ready for our upcoming workshops. There’s some great color over here. I made this photograph yesterday afternoon up near Bridgeport, and especially liked the mix of colors on this hillside, with yellow, gold, orange, and green.

Overall, the color looks pretty typical for mid-October. The higher elevation aspens are mostly bare, but the lower-elevation trees are a mix of green, yellow, and orange. The color progression might be a little earlier than average, but not much. If there’s anything unusual, it’s that some typically early-changing groves are still mostly green, while other groves that usually turn later have progressed further.

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October 7th, 2014

Aspen Pilgrimage

Autumn colors, Gunnison NF, CO, USA

Autumn colors, Gunnison NF, CO, USA

I love photographing aspens. Their autumn color is wonderful, but it’s also those tall, straight, white trunks that make them so compelling.

It’s been a long-time dream of mine to photograph aspens in Colorado in the fall, but various obligations and commitments kept me from going. This year, however, Claudia and I found a brief time slot and decided to go. And we’re so glad we did, as it’s just beautiful here. Some high-elevation areas, like Crested Butte, are past peak, and others seem to be turning late, but we’ve found some wonderful color in several places, and an endless supply of great photo subjects. Here are a few images from the past few days, and I’ll post more when I get a chance.

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Lunar Eclipse Sequence, 1:23 a.m. to 4:49 a.m., August 28, 2007, Yosemite National Park, California

Lunar Eclipse Sequence, 1:23 a.m. to 4:49 a.m., August 28, 2007, Yosemite National Park, California

Lunar eclipses are spectacular events to see and photograph. I’ve been lucky enough to capture several lunar eclipse sequences over the years, including this one from Yosemite in August 2007.

We’re all going to get another chance at photographing an eclipse soon: a total lunar eclipse will be visible throughout North America early Wednesday morning, October 8th.

In the western half of the U.S. the entire eclipse sequence will be visible, from full moon, to partial eclipse, to total eclipse, and back to full again. In California the moon will be high in the sky to the west-southwest at the beginning of the sequence, then sink near the horizon to the west by the end of the sequence. The moon’s path will actually be somewhat of similar to path in this photograph, except that the eclipse will be higher in the sky and a bit further to the right, and the angle of the moon’s path will be steeper.

On the east coast the moon will set when its fully eclipsed, so it won’t be visible as its coming out of the eclipse. But that means the moon will be near the horizon when its fully eclipsed, where you might be able to photograph it next to an interesting foreground object as the dawn lightens the sky. It should be just north of due west as it sets.

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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Stormy sunrise at North Lake, Bishop Creek Canyon, Inyo NF, CA, USA

Stormy sunrise at North Lake, Bishop Creek Canyon, Sunday morning

After photographing lightning near Bishop on Saturday night (see my previous post), I thought there might be some interesting clouds still hanging around on Sunday morning, so I woke early and drove up to North Lake, near the upper end of Bishop Creek Canyon.

And there were clouds – almost too many. Another small rain squall was moving up from the south along the Sierra crest, approaching Bishop Creek Canyon just as the sun was due to rise. There were enough clouds to the east that I thought they might block the light. And I think some clouds lingering over the White Mountains did block the very first sunlight, but just after sunrise some clouds started to turn color overhead, and soon the peaks began to light up as well.

It evolved quickly into a dramatic scene. It was a little breezy, rippling the water surface, but there were still nice reflections at first. Then the wind increased, so I climbed up the ridge along the eastern shore of the lake to get a different perspective, one that didn’t depend as much on reflections.

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September 22nd, 2014

A Stormy Night

Lightning over Bishop and the Owens Valley, CA, USA

Lightning over Bishop and the Owens Valley, CA, USA

Over the weekend Claudia and I made our annual pilgrimage to the Millpond Music Festival in Bishop, over on the eastern side of the Sierra. This is the 15th consecutive year we’ve attended this festival. Hanging out with friends, listening to music underneath the high peaks of the Sierra, made for a wonderful, relaxing, fun weekend. And as a bonus, I got to photograph some interesting weather.

The land around Bishop is semi-desert, so it doesn’t get much rain. We’ve been sprinkled on a couple of times at Millpond, but had never experienced any serious rain – until Saturday.

A weak low-pressure system pulled some remnants of Hurricane Odile up from the south. Clouds and thunderstorms developed over the mountains, but missed Bishop and the Owens Valley until Saturday evening. As the second-to-last act of the day was performing, a few raindrops fell. I looked at radar images on my phone, and saw some serious-looking storm cells moving right up the valley from the south. I estimated that we had an hour or two before we got dumped on. Figuring that the last performance would be cancelled anyway, I decided to try and get some lightning photographs.

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September 9th, 2014

Fire and Half Dome

Meadow Fire burning in Little Yosemite Valley at night, with Half Dome on the left, Yosemite; 9-7-14, 8:44 p.m.

Meadow Fire burning in Little Yosemite Valley at night, with Half Dome on the left, Yosemite; 9-7-14, 8:44 p.m.

Sunday afternoon Claudia and I saw dramatic images on the Yosemite webcams of a fire in Little Yosemite Valley. We’ve had many fires around here the last two summers, and I’ve made plenty of fire photographs. But how often can you photograph a fire next to Half Dome? We decided to head up to Washburn Point (near Glacier Point) to take a look.

The origin of this fire is officially under investigation. The park service has been letting the lightning-caused Meadow Fire burn for awhile, and it’s likely that embers from the Meadow Fire were picked up and blown into an area with heavy fuels, then were fanned by the wind. But it’s also possible that this is a new fire with an unknown cause.

In either case, the winds caused this fire to blow up suddenly Sunday at about 12:30 p.m., closing all the trails in and around Little Yosemite Valley, and forcing the park service to evacuate 50 hikers from the top of Half Dome by helicopter! A big news story, as you can imagine. As of yesterday, the fire was estimated at 2,600 acres. They’re using helicopters, air tankers, and ground crews to contain it. All the park roads and facilities are open, and fortunately no one has been injured by the fire.

There were quite a few photographers at Washburn Point Sunday night, and no wonder – the fire was a spectacular sight. Moonlit clouds kept streaming in from the south, and several times we saw lightning in the distance. Two separate rain showers just missed us, but passed directly over the fire. The first shower seemed to noticeably dim the flames. After the second, heavier shower, a large bank of fog rose up, obscuring the fire and Half Dome. The fog may actually have been steam, created by water hitting the fire. These brief showers didn’t put the fire out, but they probably slowed it down.

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September 7th, 2014

In the Heat of the Night

Moonlit sand dunes and the Milky Way, Death Valley NP, CA, USA

Moonlit sand dunes and the Milky Way, Death Valley. This is the photograph I originally envisioned from Death Valley, with dunes lit by the setting moon and the Milky Way above. (20 sec. at f/2.8, 6400 ISO)

Where do you go to escape the crowds on Labor Day weekend? How about Death Valley, where the temperature was forecast to be 112 degrees! That should keep the tourists away.

Okay, escaping the crowds wasn’t really the motivation for going to Death Valley in August. I had an idea for making a photograph with low-angle moonlight illuminating the sand dunes, and the Milky Way above. The moon had to be in the right phase: too much moonlight and the sky would become washed out, obscuring the Milky Way and most of the stars; too little and you wouldn’t see the effect of the moonlight on the dunes.

The moon also had to be far enough from the Milky Way to keep the moon itself out of the photograph, as it would be impossible to properly expose both the moon and the landscape in the same frame. The moon also needed to be close to the horizon, and off to the side (with the camera pointed at the Milky Way), as that low-angle sidelight would emphasize the form and texture of the dunes.

Not long ago I wrote about two apps for forecasting the position of the Milky Way and moon, PhotoPills and Star Walk. Consulting both of these apps I had figured out that the moon and Milky Way would be in the right position for the photograph I had in mind on the Friday and Saturday before Labor Day. And the next time the moon and Milky Way would be in a good position for this would be… next April, or even May. I decided to brave the heat rather than wait.

I had initially planned to go to Death Valley on Friday, but a thick bank of high clouds moved in – the remnants of Tropical Storm Marie. Since the skies looked clearer further south, Claudia and I kept driving and headed for the Trona Pinnacles.

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Yosemite Meditations Tenth Anniversary EditionIn the early 2000s, my wife Claudia – then manager of The Ansel Adams Gallery – saw the need for small, inspirational books for the Yosemite visitor. She worked with Steve Medley, the president, publisher, and editor for the Yosemite Association (now Yosemite Conservancy), to find meaningful quotes about nature, conservation, and Yosemite, and pair those quotes with my photographs to create the original Yosemite Meditations book. Since then, Yosemite Meditations has gone through several reprints, and spawned two companion volumes: Yosemite Meditations for Women, and Yosemite Meditations for Adventurers.

Now the Yosemite Conservancy has released the Tenth Anniversary Edition of Yosemite Meditations. Again, Claudia did a great job of finding and pairing new quotes and photographs, mixing them with favorites from the first edition, and keeping the spirit and flavor of the original book.

If you order the Tenth Anniversary Edition of Yosemite Meditations directly from us through the “Add to Cart” button below, Claudia and I will both sign the book. You can also order directly from the publisher, the non-profit Yosemite Conservancy. In addition, the Conservancy has a 10% discount on Yosemite Meditations for Adventurers as their Retail Item of the Month (enter the code ADVENTURE on checkout).

There’s a nice review of the new edition of Yosemite Meditations on VividLife. Also, if you’re on Goodreads, we’re giving away (through the generosity of the Yosemite Conservancy) ten copies of this tenth anniversary edition.

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September 2nd, 2014

Photographing Bodie

"Swayback" building at night, Bodie SHP, CA, USA

“Swayback” building at night with the Milky Way, Bodie. While helping some members of our group photograph this building I set up my own camera as well. I put tissue paper over a flashlight to act as a diffuser, then stuck my hand through a gap in one of the walls to light the interior of the building during the 20-second exposure for the stars.

As promised, here are some of my recent photographs from Bodie. Bodie, if you’re not familiar with it, is just north of Mono Lake, and is billed as the best-preserved ghost town in the United States. Bodie is now a state park, and a very interesting place to photograph, but it’s usually only open from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., which means you can’t photograph it during the best light of the day, much less at night.

A few years ago I was able to photograph Bodie on a moonlit night with Lance Keimig and Scott Martin during one of their workshops. Then, earlier this summer, Claudia and I went to Bodie on one of occasional evenings when the park stays open until 10:00 p.m. This was a moonless night, but since it didn’t get completely dark until about 9:00 p.m. that left only an hour for true night photography. It was still fun, but much too short.

Luckily I would have another chance soon. We had managed to secure a hard-to-get permit to take a workshop group there at night, and added that evening to my Starry Skies Adventure workshop. We had so much fun there with the group. This time we were able to stay until 1:00 a.m., but it wasn’t long enough!

Here’s a selection of both daytime and nighttime images from those recent trips to Bodie. I tried many different ideas, but had to leave other ideas still percolating in the back of my mind, as I just didn’t have time to execute them all. I think there’s so much potential there for creative lighting of both interiors and exteriors, and working with reflections in the old windows. I certainly look forward to going back. If you haven’t been to Bodie, I highly recommend it, even during the middle of the day. And if you get a chance to go in the late afternoon or at night, take it!

— Michael Frye

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