Archive for January, 2011

Photo Critique Series: “Badwater Lake” by Grant Kaye

Friday, January 28th, 2011

“Badwater Lake” by Grant Kaye

“Badwater Lake” by Grant Kaye

This week’s photograph was made by Grant Kaye at Badwater in Death Valley National Park, California. The water in this place may be bad to drink, but it’s good for photography. It’s always interesting to see water in the desert, and this spot often has great reflections, especially with clouds at sunrise or sunset, like the ones Grant captured in this image. It’s easy to see why Badwater attracts lenses.


With reflection images, horizon placement is a key decision. It’s usually better to avoid putting the horizon across the middle of the frame, as this cuts the photograph in half, and often creates the feeling of two different photographs stuck together. (I pointed out this problem in another recent critique.)

But there are exceptions to any rule. With reflections, putting the horizon in the middle emphasizes the symmetry between the elements above the horizon and their reflections below, and can be an effective way of expressing calm and serenity, or simply creating repetition and a unified composition. Placing the horizon above or below the center can also work: pointing the camera down emphasizes the reflection; pointing the camera up emphasizes the actual objects above the water.

In this photograph Grant chose put the horizon above center and highlight the foreground and the reflection. I often like this approach, as reflections have richer color than the real objects they’re reflecting. Here this arrangement also accentuates the converging lines of the clouds—they all seem to point to a spot behind the peaks in the center of the image. Overall the composition is simple and direct, with a strong radiating design.


A Blizzard of Birds

Tuesday, January 25th, 2011
Wall of geese taking flight yesterday at Merced National Wildlife RefugeRoss’ geese taking flight yesterday at Merced National Wildlife Refuge 

I’ve seen many beautiful natural phenomena in my life: lightning storms, lunar rainbows, Horsetail Fall turning into a ribbon of orange water at sunset. But the most impressive and magical thing I’ve witnessed might be the sound and movement of large flocks of snow geese. The roar and synchronized motion of 10,000 glittering white birds taking flight is unforgettable.


Moonrise and… Moonrise Again

Wednesday, January 19th, 2011

The moon rising between El Capitan and Cathedral Rocks from Valley View

The moon rising between El Capitan and Cathedral Rocks from Valley View

Clear skies have allowed my workshop students and me to photograph the rising moon on three successive days: over Half Dome on Sunday, between El Capitan and Cathedral Rocks on Monday, and between Half Dome and El Capitan from Tunnel View yesterday. Naturally the timing for this workshop (Photoshop and Digital Printing, with The Ansel Adams Gallery) was planned to take advantage of these lunar opportunities, but you never know what kind of weather you’ll get, so we’ve been lucky.

Where November and December were exceptionally wet, January has been dry so far. Yosemite photographers often hope for precipitation and the opportunity to photograph a clearing storm, but every set of conditions creates unique opportunities. The clear, warm weather is melting the abundant snow pack and producing an exceptionally high flow in Yosemite Falls. It looks more like March than January. The light, however, is still at its winter angles, striking the falls shortly after sunrise—much better than in March, when the sun doesn’t reach the waterfall until it’s high in the sky.

With more clear, warm weather in the forecast, the water flow should stay high or even increase, and we could have great opportunities to photograph Yosemite Falls for several weeks.

If you had a chance to photograph the rising moon the last few days, or the high water in Yosemite Falls this winter, I’d love to see the images, so please post a link in the comments.

Photo Critique Series: “Ptarmigan Lake” by Chris Alexander

Friday, January 14th, 2011

"Ptarmigan Lake" by Chris Alexander

“Ptarmigan Lake” by Chris Alexander


This week’s photograph was made by Chris Alexander in Glacier National Park, Montana. That’s the second time recently that I’ve critiqued a photo from this park. Obviously—and no surprise to anyone who’s been there—a beautiful place!

This composition works very well. The bottom two-thirds of the photograph has sweeping, repeating, U-shaped curves that help tie everything together and frame the background peaks. The lake and mountains provide focal points: my eyes work in a triangle around the frame, going from the lake to the prominent peak on the right, over to the peaks on the left, then back to the lake, sometimes detouring around the lower basin to look at the snow patches and trail. The overall design is simple and strong.

If I could quibble with something, it would be the bright spots along the edges that tend to draw my eyes out of the frame, including the snow patch in the lower-left corner, another snow patch near the upper-right corner, and of course the sky.


Picking My Best Images

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011

5. Gray pines after a snowstorm

5. Gray pines after a snowstorm

Jim Goldstein posted his Best Photos of 2010 Blog Project today, with the top images of 2010 from 162 photographers, including me of course. It’s worth spending some time looking through these photographs, as there’s a lot of great work.

For me, picking out my best photos from last year was a difficult, fascinating, but ultimately rewarding process.


Horsetail Fall Season

Tuesday, January 11th, 2011

Horsetail Fall at sunset

If you’re hoping to photograph Horsetail Fall this February, here’s a post from last year that outlines some of the basics about the timing and best locations. You’ll also find an article on my web site with a detailed description of the factors that go into determining the best dates to photograph this phenomenon.

Since every astronomy program seems to disagree with every other one, it’s hard to figure out exactly what the best dates are each year, but it appears that the window of best light will be a little later this February, from about the 12th to 22nd. Good luck!

Top Ten Images of 2010

Friday, January 7th, 2011

The polls are closed, the votes are in, and here are the winners—as chosen by you, the readers.

The response went far beyond my expectations. Over 100 people chimed in with their picks, and Claudia had to create a spreadsheet to keep track of them all! My heartfelt thanks to all of you who voiced your opinions. I really appreciate your taking the time to help me make these difficult choices. (Click here to see all 46 original nominees.)

Although I reserved the right to override theses votes, in the end I decided that the collective wisdom was greater than mine, especially with so many people chiming in. Here’s a list of the ten images which received the most picks, and the number of votes they each received:

  1. Image #3, Winter sunrise from Tunnel View, 69 votes
  2. Image #11, Redbud reflection II, 64 votes
  3. Image #13, Horsetail Fall by moonlight, 64 votes
  4. Image #9, Painted Hills in the Temblor Range (vertical), 45 votes
  5. Image #18, Middle Gaylor Lake at sunset, 45 votes
  6. Image #32, First light on Three Brothers (second version), 45 votes
  7. Image #5, Gray pines after a snowstorm, 44 votes
  8. Image #19, Sunrise, North Peak and Greenstone Lake, 42 votes
  9. Image #40, Swirling mist, El Capitan Meadow, 39 votes
  10. Image #42, Ice sculptures and Wildcat Fall, 39 votes


One More Day to Vote

Thursday, January 6th, 2011

I’ll be posting my ten best photographs from 2010 tomorrow, but there’s still time to make your voice heard and help me make the selection. View the top 46 here, then just add a comment and list your favorites.

Many thanks to everyone who’s already chimed in. The response has been tremendous, and almost 100 people have voted. I really appreciate all of you taking the time to do this—you’re the best! And special thanks to those who went to the trouble of giving detailed explanations about their choices—that’s very helpful.

White Balance for Landscape Photographs – Part 3: A Special Problem

Thursday, January 6th, 2011

White Balance for Landscape Photographs – Part 3: A Special Problem from Michael Frye on Vimeo.

Here’s the third part of my video series on white balance, where I present solutions to a common problem in landscape photographs—finding the right white balance when mixing low-angle sunlight with blue sky.

If you haven’t seen them already, here are links to Part 1 and Part 2.

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.”

Hope you find this helpful; I look forward to hearing your comments! And if you like the video, please share the link.

2010: My Best Images

Tuesday, January 4th, 2011

Winter sunrise from Tunnel View, February 7th, 2010

Winter sunrise from Tunnel View, February 7th, 2010

Update, Friday, January 7th:

This afternoon I counted the votes and listed the top ten images in another post. I still welcome hearing about your picks—they just won’t count toward picking the top ten. Thanks for your participation everyone!

As I mentioned in my last entry, Dan Mitchell had a great idea: he posted about 50 of his best photographs from 2010, and asked his blog readers to help him pick out the best ones. Dan has some beautiful work, and you can see the final results here.

I liked this idea so much I thought I would, uh, borrow it—with Dan’s permission of course. So I’ve set up a page with 46 of my best images from 2010, and I’m asking for help in picking out the top ten. After you look through them you can post a comment with your favorites. Once I’ve narrowed it down I’ll post the top ten on this blog, and submit the finalists to Jim Goldstein’s blog project, where once again he’ll be showcasing the ten best images of the year from over 100 photographers.

The judging for the my final ten will be more like Dancing With the Stars than America Idol. That means that unlike Idol, where only the viewer’s votes count, the judge—me—gets a say too, so if one of my favorites gets panned by everyone else I may still include it. But as one of my photographer friends, Clinton Smith, once said, we don’t get to pick our best images—the world does. So your votes will carry a lot of weight.

So have at it! And thanks for your participation—I really appreciate your taking the time to give me your thoughts about these photographs. Here’s the link to those 46 images again.