Archive for the ‘Advanced Techniques’ Category

When a Scene Composes Itself

Friday, June 20th, 2014

Sun setting over the Pacific Ocean, Samual H. Boardman SP, OR, USA

Sun setting over the Pacific Ocean, southern Oregon

After our redwoods workshop, Claudia and I drove north and spent a couple of days along the Oregon coast. I’d never been to this area before, so on our first afternoon we scouted a number of locations north of the town of Brookings. We made several short hikes down steep trails to the coast, with correspondingly steep climbs back out. Though we found some nice spots, none made me jump up and down. Sunset was approaching, and I had to decide where to go. I could see some interesting sea stacks to the north, and decided to drive in that direction.

But we never made it to those sea stacks, because before we could get there we checked one more viewpoint, and immediately realized we didn’t need to go any further. We’d found a scene that practically composed itself, with all the elements nicely balanced and arranged: two stands of silhouetted trees on a ridgeline, with an offshore rock placed perfectly in the gap between the trees, and another rock spaced neatly out to the left. There was even a scalloped line of waves in the foreground to lead the eye toward that gap and the distant rock.


Photographing Sunbursts

Sunday, October 27th, 2013

Aspens and morning sunlight along Rush Creek, Inyo NF, CA, USA

Aspens and morning sunlight, Inyo NF, CA, USA

I’ve always felt that the best photographs capture a mood or feeling. It’s easier to convey a mood when the weather gets stormy, but how do you capture a mood on a clear, sunny day? The answer, I think, is to go with it—to emphasize the sun, the blue sky, and the brightness of the day. Find the visual elements that say “beautiful, sunny day,” and highlight them.

One way of doing this is to include the sun in the frame. Nothing says “sunny and bright” like the sun itself. But putting the sun in your photograph brings challenges. First, you’re likely to get lens flare. This is not the end of the world—in fact, many photographs use lens flare to great effect—but sometimes the flare can be distracting. The other challenge is getting the exposure right.


Creating Depth: Beyond the Wide-Angle Formula

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2013
El Capitan and the Merced River, autumn, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

El Capitan and the Merced River, autumn, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Depth can be a powerful tool in photography. Our medium is two-dimensional, but a sense of depth, an illusion of space and distance, can make the viewer feel like part of the scene, and literally and figuratively add another dimension to a photograph.

A Common Formula

This image of El Capitan follows a common formula for creating a three-dimensional effect in landscape photographs: find an interesting foreground (preferably with some leading lines), get the camera low and close to that foreground, and use a wide-angle lens.

A wide-angle lens by itself can’t create a sense of depth. Wide-angle lenses make things look smaller, and therefore more distant, but if everything looks small and distant there’s no sense of depth. The 3-D effect only happens when you put the wide-angle lens close to something in the foreground. That proximity makes the foreground look big, but things in the background still look small. The optics create an exaggerated size difference between near and far objects, and our brains interpret that as depth and distance.

This wide-angle, near-far look is common today, but it wasn’t always so. Though he wasn’t the first to use this perspective, master landscape photographer David Muench popularized this technique through his many beautiful books, and a lot of people have followed his lead.

But this look has become so popular that I think landscape photographers have stopped looking for other ways to create a sense of depth, and by doing that we’ve limited our options. We owe it to ourselves and our viewers to explore other paths, and create images with depth and meaning that go beyond this one formula.


Photographing the Milky Way

Thursday, September 27th, 2012
Sierra juniper and the Milky Way, Olmsted Point, Yosemite

Sierra juniper and the Milky Way, Olmsted Point, Yosemite

Gear Doesn’t Matter—Except When it Does

Regular readers know that I’m not much of an equipment geek. It’s not that I don’t think equipment is important—a photographer needs good tools. It’s just that I think light, composition, technique, vision, and imagination are more important. In other words, how you use the tools is more important than what tools you use.

But sometimes the right gear can make a difference. Two weeks ago I was recording video segments for some online courses I’m working on (more about that later!), and needed a digital SLR that could record video—something my trusty old Canon 1Ds Mark II can’t do—for some “through-the-lens” views. So I called up my friend Jim Goldstein. Many of you know Jim through his popular blog and social media streams. Jim also works for, and he set me up with a Canon 5D Mark III for my video shoot, and then asked, “Is there anything else you need?” Hmm… well I’ve been wanting to test the Canon 24mm f/1.4L lens for night photos, so yes, there was something else!



Wednesday, December 14th, 2011
Oak Tree and Lunar Eclipse Sequence, December 10th, 2011

Oak tree and lunar eclipse sequence, December 10th, 2011

For me the hardest part about photographing last Saturday morning’s lunar eclipse was finding a good location. The fully-eclipsed moon would be close to the horizon in the west-northwest, so I needed a clear view in that direction, ideally with an interesting object in the foreground.

No place in Yosemite seemed to fit—too many mountains in the way. But I thought a remote region of western Mariposa County, with rolling hills and scattered oaks, might work. A week before the eclipse I scouted this area and found a photogenic oak tree on top of hill that seemed to line up with the projected path of the eclipse.

Friday night my student Erik and I got a couple hours of sleep, drove out to this spot, hiked up the hill, set up our cameras, and started our interval timers to capture a sequence of moon images ten minutes apart. We had a long wait, but it wasn’t too cold, and we enjoyed our peaceful, moonlit surroundings. A pair of great-horned owls serenaded us, and groups of coyotes howled at regular intervals. At one point Erik watched four coyotes climb a nearby moonlit hill, then saw one of them stop and howl.


Lunar Eclipse This Saturday

Monday, December 5th, 2011
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 let you know that eight people have signed up for the Eastern Sierra Fall Color Workshop since I announced it last Thursday. The limit is twelve students, and I’m sure it will fill up soon, so if you’re thinking about signing up don’t procrastinate!

Okay, on to the eclipse. Before dawn this Saturday, December 10th, viewers in the Western U.S. and Canada will be able to see a total lunar eclipse. If you live in the eastern half of the U.S. unfortunately you’ll only be able to see a partial eclipse. People in most of Europe, Asia, and Australia will also be able to see a total eclipse, though in Europe it will be visible at moonrise on Saturday evening. This NASA page shows where the eclipse will be visible throughout the world, and this page shows more detail for western North America.

Moon Position

If the weather cooperates, and you want to try make your own eclipse photographs, here are some tips. (I’ve copied some of this from my post a year ago, but the information about the moon position is all new.)


Lunar Rainbow Photography Tips

Wednesday, May 11th, 2011
Lunar rainbow on Upper Yosemite Fall from Cook's Meadow, May 2009

Lunar rainbow on Upper Yosemite Fall from Cook’s Meadow, May 2009

A full moon is coming up—Tuesday, May 17th, at 4:08 a.m. There should be plenty of spray in Yosemite Falls, so once again it should be possible to photograph a lunar rainbow, and I expect that many photographers will be in Yosemite trying to do just that. If you’re one of those people, last year I wrote some lunar rainbow photography tips that you might find helpful.

To learn the best times for photographing the moonbow, visit Don Olson’s web site. Good luck!

Horsetail Fall Featured in Yosemite Nature Notes

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011

Steve Bumgardner did a great job with this latest edition of Yosemite Nature Notes about Horsetail Fall. And it features an interview with yours truly, as well as Ansel Adams’ son Michael, Tony Rowell, and a number of un-named photographers—maybe some of you!

If you haven’t seen Horsetail Fall in person, watching this video is the next best thing. And if you have seen it, this is a great way to show your friends what it’s like.

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.

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…)