Early Fall Color

Yellow and green aspens in Lee Vining Canyon (from a few years ago)

Yellow and green aspens in Lee Vining Canyon (from a few years ago)

Last weekend Claudia and I made our annual pilgrimage to Bishop, on the eastern side of the Sierra, for the Millpond Music Festival—or, as Joe Craven likes to say, “Music festival and consciousness-raising event.”

We’ve actually lost track of how many years in a row we’ve gone to Millpond; it’s either twelve or thirteen. But we look forward to it every year—it’s relaxing and fun, and a great way to refresh and renew our spirits. I think I see more smiling faces per hour at Millpond than anywhere else. In fact this past Sunday evening, dancing in front of the stage to Masanga Marimba and Los Lobos (an interesting mix!), I think I saw more big, wide, joyous smiles than I’ve seen all year.

By now you’re probably wondering, “What’s this got to do with photography?” Well first of all, I think we all need to recharge ourselves once in awhile. For me, since I tend to eat, sleep, and breathe photography on most days, it’s good to do something completely different. And Millpond is not only different, but I get to be outside and enjoy something creative and life-affirming like music.

For many people—including, I bet, most of you—a weekend of photography is a wonderful way to renew your energy. It’s something completely different from most Monday-through-Friday jobs, because you get to go outside and do something creative. Anything that makes us go outside and be creative has to be great. No wonder we love it.

On a more practical level, since Millpond usually takes place on the third weekend of September, we always check out the aspens on the east side. Many years some high-elevation aspens are already changing color by this time; in fact last year I photographed yellow leaves in Rock Creek Canyon after the festival.

But this year we saw very few signs of autumn. Some trees here and there showed hints of color, but that’s it. It seems that fall is arriving a bit late. And we’re experiencing some warm, Indian-summer weather this week, which won’t encourage the aspens to turn. So it looks like the early-fall hotspots on the eastern side of the Sierra, like North Lake and Lake Sabrina outside of Bishop, might turn later than usual—perhaps waiting until the second week of October, rather than changing color at the end of September or beginning of October, which is more typical.

Of course these things are hard to predict—a sudden cold snap could change everything. And I couldn’t even begin to guess what might happen later in the season, as so much depends on the weather.

Naturally I’ll post periodic reports here about what I see and hear. Another good resource for fall color information is the Calphoto group on Yahoo. In the meantime, here’s a link to a previous post outlining the typical fall progression in and around Yosemite.

And if you see any leaves changing color, post a comment and let us know. I’d also love to hear about ways that you recharge your energy, whether it’s photography or something else!

—Michael Frye

Related Posts: Music and Aspens; Autumn in Yosemite

Michael Frye is a professional photographer specializing in landscapes and nature. He is the author and photographer of The Photographer’s Guide to YosemiteYosemite Meditations, and Digital Landscape Photography: In the Footsteps of Ansel Adams and the Great Masters, plus the eBook Light & Land: Landscapes in the Digital Darkroom. He has 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.

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21 Responses to “Early Fall Color”

  1. Great post, and It was fun to smile with you at Millpond!

  2. Eric Frommer says:

    Suprised to see a mention of Joe Craven on a photo site. Love Joe’s music and Joe is a an amazingly great speaker. I am always inspired by him. And he is a great musician to take pictures of! Hope to get to Millpond someday. I am on the staff with Joe at the Wintergrass Music Festival in Bellevue, WA.

    Thanks for your Blog and love Light and Land!!
    Eric in Everett, WA

  3. Andreas Köck says:

    Hello Michael,
    I wish you a great Fall Color Season!
    Always good light for you!
    Andreas (Bavaria,Germany)

  4. Michael Frye says:

    Thanks Steve – it was great to see you and smile with you at Millpond too! Hope to see you there next year.

    Eric, well, Joe Craven and photography – why not? :) Actually I might have more to say about Joe in the future, because he said some interesting things at his workshop that I think are relevant to photography. I’m always inspired by him too. Hope you do make it to Millpond, and I’d like to get up to your Wintergrass Festival too.

    Andreas, thanks very much! I hope you get some nice fall color in Bavaria too, and great light to go with it.

  5. Claire says:

    Well that is the closest to Fall I am going to get and i am so so envious! beautiful colours even though not in their full glory yet.

    We have just damp winters and hot sticky summers and that is it – no Spring, no Fall and i miss the Fall – so enjoy

    Hope you feel refreshed from your break and we can see lots more wonderful Photos of the colours!!


  6. Vivian says:

    I was in the Tioga Pass last Friday – no hint of fall color at all!

    I love the yellows and greens in the photo above.

    The way I recharge my creative energy is to get out of the city (LA) and to spend a few days in an entirely different environment – like Yosemite!

  7. Kim says:

    Since I live on the Eastern side, I have to tell you, I’ve been to Millpond Music Festival almost every one of the 20 years it’s been going on. And for me it’s always a musical vacation and not a photo op. I usually leave the camera at home, except for a very small pocket camera to capture moments with my friends.
    I did post a couple of shots on my FB site, but they are just to share with friends. I got a few shots of Los Lobos before it got real dark. Who knows, you might be in it dancing away! I’m glad to hear you had fun! One of these times we will have to meet up instead of these near misses! LOL ;-P
    Looking forward to Fall colors any day!!!!!

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  9. Michael Frye says:

    Thanks Claire – I do enjoy living in a place with four seasons.

    Vivian, I so no color along Tioga Pass either. Glad you like the photo – and Yosemite is certainly a great place to recharge.

    Kim, I probably am in one of your photos – and you might be in the videos I took with my iPhone! Glad to hear you enjoy Millpond so much; I certainly do too – it’s a great event. We’ll have to try and meet next year. If you remember, send me an email beforehand.

  10. Kirk Keeler says:

    Thanks for the update everyone! So…not even color on the slopes above Grant Lake? Cooks Meadow in Yosemite is showing both early signs of fall color along with still being green with some flowers. Is that normal? The elm in Cooks is the only tree showing signs of color change, with minor yellow beginning in the maples…

    I hope to make Millpond next year.

  11. Michael Frye says:

    Kirk, we didn’t go through the June Lake loop, but didn’t see any color up there from 395 – nor anywhere else for that matter. I think what you describe for Cook’s Meadow sounds pretty normal.

    It would be great to see you at Millpond next year – hope you make it!

  12. Kim says:

    I’m putting it in my calendar, now! Thought you might like this, I think it’s you in this pic posted by Inyo Arts Council, bottom left corner, am I right?


  13. Michael Frye says:

    Kim, that is me! And our friend Dana in the sunglasses sitting on the picnic table. Nice find.

  14. Brad Strong says:


    Photography is definitely a recharge for me. I’ve been away from my home in Virginia working 12 hours a day, 7 days a week for a while now. I had last weekend off, so my wife came to visit me. Mississippi isn’t the most photogenic place, and it was an overcast day, so we took a drive to Alabama and visited Dismals Canyon where I spent some time photographing the waterfall there.

    Thanks for your blog and videos. I’ve learned a lot about developing my Raw pictures. I bought Lightroom the very last minute it was on sale recently and have been implementing the methods you teach in Light and Land plus your videos. It has really transformed my thinking. I have numerous pictures of Yosemite that I have developed in black and white lately. Since I can’t always get out and shoot right now, developing a few pictures in the evening is a nice recharge as well. I wasn’t into black and whites before I saw how you develop and I still have some of my previous, flat, lifeless black and white pictures to see why I didn’t like them. I find myself burning, dodging, cropping edge distractions, using the histogram while adjusting blacks and whites, using contrast curves, and trying color profiles on every picture now.

    I had some Yosemite shots that were overexposed. One was a shot of Half Dome with reflection in the Merced River. I could never bring myself to delete it because it was the only picture of that memory I have. It has completely new life as a black and white now. It’s dreamy, if I do say so myself.

    In fairness to Mississippi, It has posed for some really nice sunset, lake reflection shots.

  15. Michael Frye says:

    Brad, thanks for your thoughtful comments. I’m glad that photography helps you recharge, even if you don’t get to photograph that often. I’m very happy that Light & Land and the videos have helped you with Lightroom, and made processing images more enjoyable for you. I enjoy that aspect of photography too, at least when I’m not rushing to develop 50 images at once, and can take my time and really try to make one image look its best. Anyway, I hope you get more opportunities to get behind the camera soon!

  16. Hey Michael! Looks like I will be spending my yearly two day fall photo outing in Yosemite. November is the soonest I can get away, so probably the first weekend in November, unless things are late there as well. I will be following your blog for updates when the time gets closer. Live music is my recharge for sure. My six year old daughter, Kennis, and I have season passes to the Bakersfield Concert series, held at the Rabobank Theatre. They hold eight concerts each season for a cost of $80 for both of us, netting out at $5 each per show. Unbeatable entertainment at an unbeatable price. Excellent variety and the performers are extraordinary. I use this as an excuse to help inspire Kennis because she takes piano and singing lessons, but I am the one who probably gets the most from it. I look forward to every show and have never been disappointed in the talent. Getting out to shoot is also a boost to my batteries, especially if I can squeeze in an overnighter. Camping has always been an important activity for me when the day to day stuff becomes mundane. Thanks for your blog!

  17. Michael Frye says:

    Mark, thanks very much for chiming in here. The first weekend of November can be great for fall color in Yosemite Valley – or it can all be over by then. Things are off to a late start this year, so maybe you’ll be in luck.

    Thanks for sharing your experience with the Bakersfield Concert Series. Sounds like a wonderful series!

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