Archive for December, 2010

Thanks for the Great Year!

Friday, December 31st, 2010
Wildflowers in the Temblor Range, April 3rd, 2010Wildflowers in the Temblor Range, April 3rd, 2010

Thanks to all of you for your participation in this blog during 2010. Your readership and comments have helped make this a great year. Your thoughts and insights about landscape photography have added great depth to whatever I’ve written here. I feel like I’ve made many new friends, and connected with lots of people who share a passion for landscape photography.

Among the regular commenters, three recently had work accepted into the Yosemite Renaissance XXVI exhibitRobin BlackBrent Gilstrap, and David Hoffman. Congratulations! The exhibit opens February 25th at the Yosemite Museum Gallery. The opening reception is always a lot of fun, so I hope to see some of you there.

Another frequent contributor is fellow blogger G Dan Mitchell. Dan just did something really interesting. Attempting to pick out his best photos from 2010, he invited his readers to help him make the selections. He just posted the final results last night, and it’s a great collection of images.

Highlights From the Past Year

I thought it might be appropriate to look back at some of the highlights of the past year. This is not a comprehensive list by any means, so if your favorite post is missing, I apologize! These are just a few things that jumped out at me as I looked back through the posts from 2010.


In January I did my first photo critique, of Tim Parkin’s photograph that he called “That Damned Loch.” The critiques have become very popular; you can find them all by clicking on the Critiques Category at the bottom of the right-hand sidebar. Meanwhile Tim has gone on to launch a new online magazine called Great British Landscapes. This looks like a great resource for any landscape photographer, British or otherwise, and I wish Tim much success with this venture.

Podcast Interview

Also in January, popular photo blogger Jim Goldstein recorded a podcast interview with me. Jim really has his pulse on the latest trends in the ever-changing world of digital photography, and I highly recommend reading his blog and following him on Twitter.

The One That Got Away

On March 1st I wrote a post about a fantastic sunset in Yosemite Valley that I missed. In April I critiqued a beautiful photograph by Sudheendra Kadri. Well it turns out that Sudhi also captured a fantastic image of that sunset from Tunnel View on that day when I decided (much to my regret) to stay home. Nice one Sudhi!

Temblor Range Wildflowers

In early April I photographed the most amazing wildflower display I’ve ever seen in southern California’s Temblor Range. I posted one photo on this blog, and more on my 25 Years in Yosemite blog.

First Video

June brought my first video tutorial, called The Power of Curves. Since then I’ve posted several more videos about the digital darkroom, and these have also become a popular feature on the blog. To see them all, scroll down to Categories at the bottom of the right-hand sidebar, and click on Video Tutorials.

Photographs That Inspire

One of the most popular and most re-tweeted posts from 2010 was called Photographs That Inspirefrom September 29th. This was a subject that I’d been thinking about for a long time, so it was great to see such a positive response—thanks!

What’s Ahead in 2011

I want to make this blog an even better resource for people who love landscape photography. I’m planning many new features in 2011, which I’ll announce… at the appropriate time. Stay tuned! And please invite your friends to join the conversation. The more ideas we share, the more we all learn.

Thanks again for helping to make 2010 a great year!


Photo Critique Series: “Juniper and Monolith” by Jeremy Long

Thursday, December 30th, 2010


This week’s photograph was made by Jeremy Long in Joshua Tree National Park, California. The image is an interesting study

"Juniper and Monolith" by Jeremy Long

of both composition and light. Of course it’s impossible to separate the two, as one always affects the other, but when analyzing a photograph it helps to consider each aspect on its own.

Warm, early-morning sunlight rakes across the scene from right to left, highlighting the rock obelisk and making it look three-dimensional. Most of the foreground juniper remains in the shade; a rock formation probably blocked the sun from hitting the tree. Initially I thought it might be better to see sunlight striking the juniper as well, but the shade sets up a nice contrast with the lighter background, focusing attention on the shape of the tree rather than it’s color and texture, and that emphasis on shape works well here.

The clouds add a nice touch. While I wouldn’t call this spectacular light, it’s very good, and perfectly appropriate for the subject.


The main feature of this photograph is the juxtaposition between the arching tree and the rock obelisk. The fact that this idea comes through so clearly demonstrates how well Jeremy composed the image. The design is clean and simple, and the main elements stand out clearly, with little extraneous clutter.

There are only two small things I can nitpick about the composition. First, I’d like to see a little more breathing room between the top of the rock and the juniper. Although they don’t actually merge, they come close, and putting a bit more space between these two elements would help the main idea stand out more clearly, and make the whole photograph feel more balanced. Just lowering the camera position a few inches would have accomplished this.

Second, the two main elements are in the center and left of center, with mostly empty space to the right. Perhaps Jeremy was trying to show more of the clouds, but to me those clouds, while nice, don’t carry the same weight as the rock and tree, and the image would feel more balanced if the camera were pointed slightly more to the left.

Technical Considerations

Jeremy captured this image with a Nikon D700 and 14-24 mm lens at 24 mm. The shutter speed was 1/10 sec. at f/22 and 200 ISO.

That small aperture helped keep everything in focus, and the photograph looks quite sharp. The exposure also looks perfect, with detail in the clouds and all but the darkest shadows. The overall contrast looks about right.

This kind of situation presents a difficult white balance problem.  If you watched my first white balance video you’ll remember that I usually recommend color temperatures around 5000K to 5500K—daylight—for images with sunlight, like this one. Setting a higher color temperature makes an image more amber or yellow, which enhances warm tones in objects lit by low-angle sunlight, like the rocks in this photograph. But warming the image also adds yellow to the blue sky, and blue and yellow are opposites. Push the color temperature high enough and the sky will turn gray. Raising it even a little will make the sky muddy.

Jeremy told me that he set the color temperature to 6686K. This warm color balance made the rocks look great, but the blue sky has lost some of its vibrance. So I took this image into Photoshop and used a Selective Color adjustment layer to subtract yellow from just the blues. This helped purify the sky color and restore some of it’s natural brilliance. I also subtracted cyan from the yellows, making the rock obelisk a bit warmer. The differences are subtle, so I’ve included a side-by-side comparison.

Left: the original image; Right: modified with Photoshop's Selective Color toolLeft: the original image; Right: modified with Photoshop’s Selective Color tool 

In my next, and last, video on white balance I’ll explain exactly how to use Photoshop’s Selective Color tool to get rich, warm tones on the landscape while keeping vivid blues in the sky.


This photograph has good light, a clean, simple composition, and is technically well executed. Overall it’s very well done.

What I’d say to Jeremy, and to anyone else who can compose and execute a photograph this well, is to try and take the next step, and make photographs that capture a mood, or somehow convey the feeling of what it was like to stand in a particular place at a particular time. The juxtaposition of the rock and tree in this photograph is interesting and eye-catching, but not particularly moving. And I know Jeremy is capable of capturing a great mood—here’s one example.

Your Comments

I’d love to hear your thoughts about this photograph. Do you agree that there should be more space between the tree and rock? What do you think about the sky color?

Thanks Jeremy for sharing your image! You can see more of his work on Flickr.

If you like these critiques, share them with a friend! Email this article, or click on one of the buttons below to post it on Facebook or Twitter.

As part of being chosen for this week’s critique Jeremy will receive a free 16×20 matted print courtesy of the folks at Aspen Creek Photo. If you’d like your images considered for future critiques, just upload them to the Flickr group I created for this purpose. If you’re not a Flickr member yet, joining is free and easy. You’ll have to read and accept the rules for the group before adding images, and please, no more than five photos per person per week. I’ll be posting the next critique in two weeks. Thanks for participating!


Happy Holidays!

Friday, December 24th, 2010

Snow-covered manzanita

To all who celebrate it, I wish you a very Merry Christmas. To everyone, I hope you’re warm and safe, enjoying the beauty of the season and the company of family and friends.


White Balance for Landscape Photographs – Part 2: Shade

Wednesday, December 22nd, 2010

White Balance for Landscape Photographs – Part 2: Shade from Michael Frye on Vimeo.

Here’s the second part of my video series on white balance. Today it’s all about shade—finding the perfect color temperature that brings out all the hues when there’s no sunlight in your photograph.

If you haven’t seen it already, here’s a link to Part 1. Still to come is Part 3, where I’ll present solutions to a common problem in landscape photographs—finding the right white balance when mixing low-angle sunlight with blue sky.

To see this video clearly, be sure that “HD” is on (the letters “HD” should be white instead of gray; if not, click on them), and click the “expand” icon just to the right of “HD.”

These videos are a great way to explain concepts like white balance, but if you want to put all the bits and pieces together and really master the digital darkroom, there’s still space available in my upcoming Photoshop and Digital Printing workshop, January 16-20.

Hope you find this video helpful, and I look forward to hearing your comments!


High Water in December

Tuesday, December 21st, 2010
Rainbow, Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls, December 13th 2010
Rainbow, Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls, December 13th 2010


Clouds obscured the eclipse here last night, but I’m hoping that some of you had better luck. Let me know in the comments if you managed to capture eclipse photographs, and please post links to images!

Meanwhile, Yosemite Valley received over eight inches of rain since Friday morning, and then rain turned to snow last night. The water is exceptionally high—more like April than December. Yosemite Falls is roaring, and the meadows are full of reflecting ponds.

All this water, combined with the snowy landscape and beautiful winter light, has created some exceptional photo opportunities. I made the accompanying photograph on December 13th, before most of the rain, so the flow is even higher now. Winter is the only time Yosemite Falls gets really good light, as the sun strikes the upper fall soon after it rises. From Cook’s Meadow near Sentinel Bridge you can see a rainbow on the upper fall as soon as the sun reaches it in the morning. So if you can tear yourself away from all the holiday activities this is a great time to photograph Yosemite Valley.


Last Day For Discount on eBooks

Sunday, December 19th, 2010

Light & Land eBookToday is the last chance to get a discount on Craft & Vision eBooks, including my new one, Light & Land: Landscapes in the Digital Darkroom.

Use the code LAND4 at checkout to get my book for only $4, or buy any five Craft & Vision eBooks and get 20 percent off by using the code LAND20. The offer expires at midnight tonight Pacific time.

There are lots of great titles in the C&V collection, so even if you’ve already bought Light & Land you can still easily find five other titles to inspire you to greater creative heights. I haven’t read them all, but really like David duChemin’s two-part series The Inspired Eye, and Andrew Gibson’s three-part series on The Magic of Black and White.

Click here to see all the titles.


Monday Night’s Lunar Eclipse

Friday, December 17th, 2010
Lunar Eclipse Sequence, 1:23 a.m. to 4:49 a.m., August 28, 2007
Lunar Eclipse Sequence, 1:23 a.m. to 4:49 a.m., August 28, 2007


Before getting to the topic at hand, I want to thank all of you for your support in launching my new eBook, Light & Land. The first day’s sales were amazing, off the charts, so thanks to all of you who bought a copy. And if you haven’t purchased it yet, there’s still time to get 20 percent off. See my last post for details.

So on to the eclipse… I was honored to have this lunar eclipse photo recently selected for the Natural World Exhibit at the Center for Fine Art Photography in Fort Collins Colorado. By coincidence, there will be another full lunar eclipse Monday Night—an opportunity to try making your own eclipse photograph.

Now here in California there are lots of dire weather forecasts for the next few days, with predictions of five to ten feet of snow above 7000 feet in the Sierra Nevada, and five to ten inches of rain in the foothills and Yosemite Valley. Minor flooding is possible. So there’s a good chance that we won’t see Monday night’s eclipse at all. But you never know—all it takes is a small break in the clouds. And those of you in other parts of the world may have perfect weather for this event. To see where and when the eclipse will be visible (weather permitting), visit the NASA web site. (more…)

Light & Land eBook Available Today!

Thursday, December 16th, 2010

My first eBook, Light & Land, is available today!It’s easy to find information about Photoshop, Lightroom, or just about any other aspect of the digital darkroom. But too often this information consists of random tips and tricks.

So I asked myself how I could help people put it all together. How could I help photographers develop a simple, powerful workflow, learn to make good decisions about how their photographs should look, and convey their original inspiration?

And that’s when I had the idea for this book.

In Light & Land: Landscapes in the Digital Darkroom I’ll take you step-by-step through each decision as I process five different images in Adobe Lightroom. You’ll see my workflow in action, and I’ll explain why I use particular techniques in a particular order. But more importantly, you’ll come to understand the esthetic judgements behind each decision—how a certain amount of contrast conveyed my vision, or why too much saturation muddied the color rather than enhanced it. As you look over my shoulder you’ll gain insights about how to convey your own unique vision, and how to squeeze every ounce of beauty, emotion, and inspiration out of your photographs.

While I use Lightroom for these examples, the basic principles apply to any software. Learning how to make good decisions and find the right balance is more important than learning any particular tool or technique.

This eBook is published in conjunction with Craft & Vision, David duChemin’s great photography eBook site. Like all their eBooks, Light & Land is normally only five dollars. But for the next four days you can get it for only four dollars. Just use the code LAND4 at checkout. Or use the code LAND20 to get 20 percent off if you buy five or more Craft & Vision eBooks.

Click here to order your copy!


Photo Critique Series: “Rabbitbrush and Storm” by David Thomas

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010
"Storm and Rabbitbrush" by David Thomas“Rabbitbrush and Storm” by David Thomas 

First, my new eBook, Light & Land: Landscapes in the Digital Darkroom, will actually be released tonight at 1:00 a.m. PST, not today as I said previously. I’ll have more details in my next post tomorrow morning.

On to the critique…

This week’s photograph was made by David Thomas near Bishop, California, on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada.


David said that he and his dad were driving north on Highway 395 when he noticed a storm gathering over the Sierra crest beyond this dense field of rabbitbrush, “perfectly arranged, waiting to be composed.” The clouds, falling rain, and patch of blue sky provide a dramatic background, and the yellow flowers add an eye-catching foreground. There’s actually not much sun in the scene, but that works well here, especially on the rabbitbrush, where sunlight would have created harsh shadows and visual confusion. The soft light brings out the yellow color of the bushes and helps simplify the scene. The combination of blue sky and yellow flowers creates a nice warm-cool color contrast.


New Video: White Balance for Landscape Photographs

Friday, December 10th, 2010

White Balance for Landscape Photographs – Part 1: Sunlight from Michael Frye on Vimeo.

My recent critique of Mark Wilburn’s dogwood photograph prompted a lively discussion about white balance, so this seemed like a good topic for a more in-depth treatment. I’ve created three videos on white balance for landscape photographs, and here’s part one, which looks at images with sunlight, including sunrises and sunsets. Part two will discuss photographs captured in the shade, and part three will present solutions to a common problem in landscape photographs—finding the right white balance when mixing low-angle sunlight with blue sky.

In all of these videos I discuss what I think is the key to setting color temperature—finding a good balance between warm and cool colors, and preserving the vibrance of all the individual hues.

To see this video clearly, be sure that “HD” is on (the letters “HD” should be white instead of gray; if not, click on them), and click the “expand” icon just to the right of “HD.” Once you’ve expanded you might want to turn Scaling off if you have a big monitor.

As I mentioned yesterday, my new eBook will discuss my entire workflow in depth. I’ll post more details soon.