A Landscape Transformed

Autumn aspens, Conway Summit, Inyo NF, CA, USA

Autumn aspens, Conway Summit, Inyo NF, CA, USA

Here are two photographs I made last week near Conway Summit on the eastern side of the Sierra. The first one, above, is from Tuesday afternoon, with soft backlight filtering through thin clouds and making the leaves glow. The second image, below, was made Wednesday morning under overcast skies as the snow started to fall. I used a fast shutter speed (1/90th sec.) to freeze the motion of the snowflakes, which created a faint white dot pattern across the frame.

Aspens and willows during an autumn snowstorm, Toiyabe NF, CA, USA

Aspens and willows during an autumn snowstorm, Toiyabe NF, CA, USA

I didn’t set out to show the same composition (well almost the same) with different light and weather. On each visit I tried a variety of different compositions, but this framing just seemed to work well, and I ended up liking both the Tuesday-afternoon and Wednesday-morning versions.

Then, looking at these images later, I was struck by how different the mood is in each photograph. It’s hard to put these things into words, but the first one is brighter and more vibrant, while the second image is softer and more impressionistic.

I’m not sure I can pick between these two. I might have a slight preference for the second image, but only because it’s more unusual. If you have a preference let me know.

But the main reason I wanted to post these is to show how light and weather can completely transform a landscape. This is not a new revelation, just a striking example. We can’t control the weather, but we can adapt to it, and try to find subjects and compositions that work with the conditions we get.

— Michael Frye

Related Posts: Autumn Snow; Signs of Autumn

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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.

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32 Responses to “A Landscape Transformed”

  1. Robin Kent says:

    Hi, Michael:
    Great images! I don’t have a preference for one over the other. Instead, at least for me, the pair demonstrate the endless variety we are given by this planet whether we bring our cameras to the same location day after day or choose to move from place to place without ever returning to any for a second time.

  2. Andrys says:

    Definitely a good example of the effect of the elements on the same scene!

    Predictably, probably, I’m more drawn (for a longer time) to the warmth of the first picture – you know how they say, “it’s golden.” :-) But I love the tree limbs.

    The 2nd is one I’d want for ‘memories’ of a special sight, and it’s definitely intriguing because it’s different from what you normally see. Seeing something in “a new light” and through snow flakes is something I enjoy. But the first one is more something I’d like to see often – an on-the-wall type enjoyment to take me back somewhere. I think I can feel the chill of the place where you were there under snowfall. Still, there’s something magical about it too.

    • Michael Frye says:

      Thanks for your comments Andrys, and for letting me know about your preference, and reasons behind it. That’s always interesting to hear.

      • Andrys says:

        I just realized, while reading other comments, that I meant the tree trunks, not limbs. They just stand out for me (as something I love seeing with these trees) vs what is definitely an interesting alternate vision done with something like impressionistic drops almost painted on with larger dabs but also strangely fluffy. :-) What keeps me from preferring it, since sometimes something different and unexpected will catch the mind more, is the tint of the lower bushes.

  3. Saso says:

    Well since you’re asking, as far as I’m concearned I prefer the second image. It has more of something more, great mood, impresionistic quallities, nice muted color… The first image is very nice and beautifull (nothing wrong with that), but from my perspective nothing special, yes it is beautifull, it has great light and colours but then again, haven’t we seen plenty of images like this?
    As for the moral of the story, I agree; when life gives you oilspills, make Molotovs.


    • Michael Frye says:

      Thanks Saso, I appreciate hearing your perspective on this. And nice variation on that “When life gives you lemons” cliché. :)

    • Aram Langhans says:

      I agree with Saso’s comments. The second has that something different, special, that sets it apart from the vast majority of very nice fall photos. It took special timing (luck) to be there when the weather was something it is usually not. Well done.


      • Michael Frye says:

        Thanks for chiming in Aram. There was certainly some luck involved, along with the ability to go when a snowstorm was forecast, and the willingness to go out in the driving snow and cold to photograph. :)

  4. Bruce Depue says:

    My eyes move through each image differently. I enjoy both images but prefer the slower journey my eyes take through the second. In both images my eyes are first drawn to the center by the intensity of color; in the first my eyes then move to the lighter tree trunks in the upper left and follow lighter tree trunks around the center color down to the lower right then across the bushes at the bottom, in the second my eyes again start at the center color then move down and across the bottom bushes and are held in this area for a while by the bright tree blocking at the lower right, after this I want to explore around the side and top borders looking for what might be hidden by the falling snow.

    • Michael Frye says:

      Thanks very much Bruce. You guys are all really making me appreciate my smart, thoughtful readers today! :) I hadn’t thought about the difference in eye movement, but you’re absolutely right.

  5. Jack Johnson says:

    I’m enjoying them both, Michael – I might have a slight preference for the snowy scene, but they both tell lovely stories with different moods… And the second is a good reminder that there’s no such thing as bad weather for nature photography! :)

    - Jack

  6. Alma says:

    How I wish that I could be up going across Tioga right now to the eastern side for seeing the aspens in person, but our plans are delayed until Veteran’s Day weekend to go that way. Based upon what you just saw up there, do you think there is any possibility that there will still be any color on the eastern side to enjoy – that is if Tioga is still open to cross?

    Now, on to which photo I like best of the two you posted, I am more drawn to the first image – not so much because of the color, although it is spectacular, but because of the tufts of the stand of trees behind the larger on in the foreground. Seeing the evolving stand behind is very rhythmical to me.

    Thanks for showing such an interesting display within an 18 hour period!

    • Michael Frye says:

      Alma, thanks for sharing your thoughts about these photos, and why you like the first one. It’s always interesting to hear different people’s perspectives about things like this, and I appreciate how my readers are so smart and thoughtful. :)

      It’s unlikely that there will be any color in the aspens on the eastern side of the Sierra during Veteran’s Day weekend. They usually lose their leaves by the end of October. I’ve heard that the cottonwood trees in the Owens Valley near Bishop are nice in November. Veteran’s Day weekend can often be a good time for fall color in Yosemite Valley, assuming the park is open by then. Tioga Road closes with the first “significant” snowstorm in November, so there’s a good chance it will be closed by Veteran’s Day.

      • Alma says:

        Hi Michael,

        Thank you for the information about Owens Valley being a place that if Tioga is still open we can visit to see some fall color possibly. Last year was very unusual in that Tioga was open in January – a very dry year for snow fall.

        Kind regards,

  7. Michael,

    Excellent images as always! You are so correct in returning to the same spot to photograph a landscape under different conditions. I have always thought that a photograph catches a fleeting moment in time that can never exactly be duplicated again. Anyone who is familiar with Pikes Peak here in Colorado Springs knows that this iconic landmark changes constantly presenting photographers with endless possibilities. You have shown this to be true with your many images of Yosemite, but it occurs everywhere.

    • Michael Frye says:

      Thank you James! I’m sure that any photographer who’s paying attention will notice changes in any landscape from day to day, week to week, month to month, and year to year. That’s what makes this game interesting!

  8. Peter Hewitt says:

    These images are so nice. Thanks for sharing and keeping us posted on what’s happening in your neck of the woods.

  9. Preference goes towards the second image. The reason being the “normal scene” would traditionally be a scene filled with green trees.

    The first image is altering that “scene” in one dimension with the fall color. The second image is altering that “scene” in two dimensions with the fall color and with the weather.

    The two alterations come together to give the picture a more defined timeframe of when it was captured. The fall color places it during autumn. The snow places it towards late autumn. Narrowing that timeframe allows me to connect with the image that much more.

    The lack of technology or anything recognized as iconic, that could change over time (ie a Sequoia that could burn down), allows the image to remain timeless while still having a timeframe attached too it.

    Just a thought.

  10. Vivienne says:

    Hi Michael,

    Both are lovely scenes in their own right. I really like the one with snow, because it’s not something one usually expects to see – trees still in foliage with snow dusting them. Still, I like them together, because it emphasizes the contrast between the two even more.

  11. Kevin Reilly says:

    Just a personal preference, but I always enjoy looking at the trunks of these trees, maybe even more than the colorful leaves. For that reason, and for the great clarity in the details, I’d choose the first. But seeing the two together is a great way to compare how you view a photograph. In the first, my eyes go first to that bright spot of orange just left of center, and then to the tree trucks above it. In the second, I’m drawn to the foreground first, and then I end up looking for details in the background. It’s a fun experiment, made more so by the quality of both images.

    • Michael Frye says:

      Thanks Kevin – nice point about the trunks, as they don’t stand out against the snow. Dark trunks might, but not white ones. It’s partly the prominence of those trunks in the first photo that made me compose it the way I did; that first image is pointed up and to the left slightly more than the second one, to make sure that those trunks didn’t reach the edge of the frame. And I included a little more foreground in the second image because the willows seemed interesting covered with snow. Not that I put that much detailed thought into either photo — the process was more instinctive than that, but at some level I was taking those factors into account.

  12. wayne seltzer says:

    I agree with Kevin and also prefer the first one although the second one is a more rare event captured. I get a slight sad resction to the snowy scene as I know the snow, cold temps,, and wind will strip the leaves off the trees and or turn them black and fal off. Basically marking the end of one of my favorite seasons. I like the strong color and nice contrast of thewhite trunks too.I prefer the atmosphere rendered by fog over that of a snow storm. What a difference from the sunny blue sky weather I experienced there a few days before your trip. I was bummed then that the trees had already been stripped some and turned others black already up there in my favorite meadow due to a previous snow storm.I know you and Claudia know which I am talking about. :) Every year the fall color season has a different character due to the weather.
    Look forward to more fall color images.

  13. hershey park says:

    Beautiful images of the fall.

  14. [...] dream: to photograph autumn aspens in the snow. I posted one photograph from that snowy day here, and two more from the following morning here. But I made a lot of other images during that storm, [...]

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