Archive for the ‘New Images’ Category

Oceans of Fog: Part Two

Monday, January 26th, 2015

Sunrise above a fog layer, Sierra Nevada foothills, Mariposa County, CA, USA

Sunrise above a fog layer, Sierra Nevada foothills, Thursday morning; focal length was 75mm

As I mentioned in my last post, the fog display on Thursday morning might have been even better than Wednesday morning. It didn’t look very promising at first. There was no fog at our house, and none in Mariposa either, so I knew Mt. Bullion wouldn’t work. Claudia was with me this time, and we decided to take a back road out into the lower foothills. At one point we crested a ridge, and there, below us, was the sea of fog.

Again I was fortunate to find a good viewpoint looking toward the southeast. This time there was a layer of high clouds above the fog, already starting to turn color with the sunrise. Best of all, a double-peaked hill was poking up out of the fog in that direction. The image at the top of this post is an early one from that morning, with a brilliant sunrise above the fog and hills.

After the sun rose, the fog lifted into some nearby ridges, getting high enough to almost – but not quite – obscure that double-peaked hill. Soft backlight filtered through the high clouds, bringing out beautiful textures in the fog (see the two images below).

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Oceans of Fog: Part One

Sunday, January 25th, 2015

Fog and southern Sierra peaks from Mt. Bullion at sunrise, Mariposa County, CA, USA

Fog and southern Sierra peaks from Mt. Bullion at sunrise, Mariposa County, Wednesday morning

After the episode of dense fog in the Central Valley that I mentioned in my last post, the fog lifted into what meteorologists call a stratus deck last week – essentially a layer of fog that’s slightly above ground level. From the Central Valley the stratus deck would look like a low overcast. If you were to drive out of the valley into the Sierra, you’d climb into the clouds, and into a layer of fog, and then eventually get above the fog and into sunshine. And if you could find a hill or ridge that rose above the stratus deck, you’d be able to look out over a sea of fog.

That sight should be familiar to people who live in the San Francisco Bay Area, or anywhere along the California Coast. When I lived in the Bay Area in the early ’80s, I remember driving along Skyline Drive on the Peninsula and looking out to the west over a sea of fog covering the ocean. At that time my interest in photography was in its infancy, but it was a beautiful sight. I’ve had that mental image in my mind ever since, and have long wanted to make photographs from above a sea of fog.

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Oaks in the Mist

Thursday, January 22nd, 2015

Oak, sun, and fog, Sierra Nevada foothills, Mariposa County, CA, USA

Oak, sun, and fog, Sierra Nevada foothills

As regular readers know, I love fog. It’s a little like snow in the way it can transform an ordinary landscape into something dreamlike.

We’ve had a lot of interesting fog around here lately. Last week the fog was very dense in the Central Valley, sometimes persisting all day rather than burning off in the afternoon. One morning we made an early trip into the lower foothills of Mariposa County, an area with rolling, grassy hills and scattered oaks (I’ve posted images from there before). I was hoping that the fog would be thick enough to push up from the Central Valley into these foothills, and it was – just barely. We were right on the edge of the fog, which was actually perfect – foggy enough to create a misty, ethereal mood, but not so foggy that it completely obscured the landscape.

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“Ordinary” Landscapes

Thursday, January 8th, 2015

Sunrise in a San Joaquin Valley marsh, CA, USA

Sunrise in a San Joaquin Valley marsh, California, December 18th

I’m grateful to live near Yosemite Valley, one of the world’s most spectacular landscapes. But in photography, light is more important than subject. My most popular image of 2014 featured an orchard in the Sacramento Valley – with exceptional light. I’d rather photograph an “ordinary” scene in great light than an extraordinary scene in dull light.

Last month Claudia and made an early-morning drive to one of the wildlife refuges in the flat-as-a-table-top expanse of the San Joaquin Valley. I was hoping for fog, which is common on winter mornings in the Central Valley. Instead, I found the beautiful clouds and reflections shown in the photograph above. In this case, the flat landscape helped, making it possible to catch the orange ball of the sun just as it crested the horizon. The light, clouds, colors, and reflections helped to convey a nice early-day mood.

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Picking My Best Images of 2014

Thursday, January 1st, 2015

Happy New Year! I hope you’ve recovered from your New Year’s Eve celebrations. Claudia and I are in surprisingly-cold Pasadena, California, visiting friends, and watching the Rose Parade a few blocks from our friends’ house.

Like champagne, Auld Land Syne, and the Rose Parade, it’s become a New Year’s tradition on this blog to pick out my best images from the past year, and once again I’m inviting you to help make these difficult choices. I’ve posted 40 of my best photographs from 2014 below, in chronological order. After you look through these, please post a comment listing your ten favorites.

You don’t have to list your ten favorites in any order, or even name them – just numbers will do. (The numbers are in the captions underneath the photographs. Also, you can click on the images to see them larger.) Once the votes are in I’ll post the top ten on this blog, and submit the final group to Jim Goldstein’s blog project, where he’ll be showcasing the best images of the year from over 300 photographers. The voting deadline is this Saturday, January 3rd, at 6:00 p.m. Pacific time.

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Crystalline Beauty

Sunday, December 28th, 2014

Ice bubbles and reflections along the Merced River, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Ice bubbles and reflections along the Merced River, Yosemite

The holidays have kept me busy, so I haven’t been up to Yosemite Valley recently, but we’re having a cold snap, and there should be a lot of ice along the Merced River and Bridalveil Creek. I love photographing ice, because you can find so many great patterns and designs in it, as well as beautiful reflections. Here’s are a few ice images from Yosemite Valley, but if you live anywhere with a cold climate you’re bound to find interesting ice nearby.

— Michael Frye

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Cloud Sculptures

Sunday, December 14th, 2014

Cloud formations, approaching storm, Mariposa, CA, USA

Cloud formations, approaching storm, Mariposa, Thursday

It was windy last Thursday as the big storm was approaching. Walking from my office toward the house I noticed some unusual clouds to the southwest. I didn’t make it to the house; I grabbed my camera bag and tripod, climbed the small hill behind my office, and spent the next half hour photographing clouds.

The clouds overhead were dark, but I could see clear skies to the southwest. The light from that clear patch created a beautiful golden glow on the underside of the clouds, as if it were sunset, even though it was just past noon. The wind probably helped create the sculptured patterns. There was no compelling foreground to put under the clouds, and besides, the most interesting patterns were rather small and distant, so I used my 70-200 zoom to pick out sections of clouds with interesting designs. The photograph below looks a bit HDR, but it was actually the opposite – I increased the contrast, rather than decreasing it.

The storm stalled over the Bay Area that afternoon, and didn’t reach Mariposa until midnight. So while areas near the coast dealt with flooding and power outages, we got a bit less rain and snow than expected. Yosemite Valley received just under two inches of rain, which was a good soaking, but not a deluge. As this precipitation map shows, while many areas around California have received above-average precipitation for the last six months, the Sierra Nevada is still below average. And that’s just the last six months, which doesn’t include the three preceding dry winters. So this storm helped, but we have a long way to go.

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Moon Above Half Dome

Sunday, December 7th, 2014

Moon rising above Yosemite Valley, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Moon rising above Yosemite Valley from Tunnel View, Thursday evening

Last Thursday evening the moon was due to rise in an interesting spot. I checked PhotoPills and The Photographer’s Ephemeris, and it looked like you’d see the nearly-full moon rise right over Half Dome if you were standing at Tunnel View. But I wasn’t sure the moon would be visible, as there were a lot of clouds.

On Tuesday and Wednesday most of California had received a good soaking – the biggest storm the state has seen in two years. Yosemite Valley got about 1.4 inches of rain, and a foot or two of snow above 8,000 feet; a decent amount, and enough to get the waterfalls flowing again, but some areas to the north and south got much more precipitation. The drought is far from over, as we need many more storms like this just to reach average rainfall levels for the winter. But it was a good start.

The storm started to clear early Thursday morning, so I drove up to Tunnel View for sunrise. It was too cloudy at first, but then the sun broke through and hit El Cap, and some beautiful sunbeams appeared to the right of Cathedral Rocks (see the image below).

Since I had some business in the valley that afternoon, I hung around, napping in my car and working on my laptop. During my meeting later I kept checking the satellite images and webcams on my iPhone, but it looked like there were a lot of clouds. We took a break at 3:45 p.m., so I stepped outside, and the weather actually looked more promising. The clouds were broken, with shafts of light reaching the cliffs. Even if the moon didn’t appear, it could be an interesting sunset. Gotta go!

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Moonbeams Over Yosemite Valley

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2014

Moon setting on a misty night, El Capitan Meadow, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Moon setting on a misty night, El Capitan Meadow, Yosemite

Sunday night at around 11 o’clock I was, naturally, thinking about going to bed. But I decided to check the satellite images online to see if it might be worth getting up early. The skies had been overcast in the afternoon, with some light showers. Now the satellite images showed skies clearing.

It occurred to me to check the moon. I knew the moon was waxing (getting closer to full every day), but wasn’t sure exactly what stage it was in. Looking at PhotoPills told me the moon was at 71% (about three-quarters full), and due to set at 1:42 a.m. The angle of the moonset – 273 degrees – was interesting, as it was similar to the angle of the setting sun in late March, which is a good time of year for late-afternoon photographs from Tunnel View.

Hmm… A quick look outside revealed some interesting, low-hanging clouds. If I moved quickly I could reach the valley before the moon went down. And if there were clouds, and some mist from the rain, I could perhaps make a nighttime version of this late-March photograph, using the setting moon, instead of the setting sun, to illuminate Cathedral Rocks and Bridalveil Fall. There wouldn’t be much water in the fall, but still, it might be interesting, and worth a try.

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Too Much Fun

Tuesday, November 25th, 2014

Half Dome, North Dome, and the Merced River at night, with illumination by car headlights, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Half Dome, North Dome, and the Merced River at night, with illumination by car headlights, Yosemite

It rained here on Friday night and Saturday morning. The storm cleared Saturday afternoon, so once again I drove up to Yosemite Valley. Unfortunately clouds closed in and muted the light at sunset, but I decided to wait. I remembered a dusk photograph I made from Tunnel View a couple of years ago (the top image in this post), and thought the same light might occur again.

Well lightning didn’t strike twice, and the dusk light wasn’t that interesting. But again I decided to wait. I knew there wouldn’t be any moonlight, but interesting mist was floating around the valley, and I thought starlight might be enough to illuminate some scenes, with perhaps some additional help from car headlights.

I ended up photographing around Yosemite Valley until 9:30, almost five hours after sunset. It was just too much fun. I would think about heading home, then think, “Well maybe I’ll just check out this one spot,” and end up staying there for an hour or two.

Sometimes I looked for locations where car lights might illuminate the fog, like the scene with Half Dome above. A steady stream of traffic on Northside Drive made the mist on the left side of the frame glow. Then during one exposure a car pulled into the parking lot behind me, lighting the riverbank and trees on the right side of the frame. I can’t explain why the light beams seem to radiate upward off the sandbar. Something about the way the light reflected off the water? I don’t know, but it was cool.

The photograph of Three Brothers below also benefits from car lights. It’s subtle, but the mist underneath Three Brothers is faintly illuminated by headlights, which I think adds to this image. The photograph of El Capitan, on the other hand, was lit exclusively by the sky – stars, and perhaps a little light pollution or airglow.

As I said, this was a really fun night. I’ve been to all these spots many times, and occasionally have been fortunate enough to photograph them with great light and weather conditions, but I’d never photographed these scenes during a clearing storm lit only by stars and headlights. It was a reminder of why I love photography so much. What other activity would encourage you to go out and witness a clearing storm by starlight – and also engage your imagination and make you push yourself creatively?

— Michael Frye

P.S. I’m sure some of you would like to know the technical details for these images, so here goes:

With my 24mm lens I usually expose starry skies for 20 seconds at f/2.8, 6400 ISO. These settings are compromises. I’d like to use a longer exposure to add more light and show more stars, but then the stars would move and become streaks. I’d like to use a lower ISO, and could do that if I opened up the aperture to f/1.4 or f/2, but my Rokinon 24mm lens is sharper in the corners at f/2.8. (And this is a great lens; most lenses are even worse at wide-open apertures.)

But with these photographs I knew the water reflections would be too dark at my standard exposure, and lightening the water in software would bring out a lot of noise. So for every scene I made two exposures, each for 20 seconds at 6400 ISO, but one at f/2.8, and one at f/1.4. I then blended the two exposures together in Photoshop, using layer masks. In each of these photographs, most of the final image is from the f/2.8 exposure, so it’s nice and sharp, but I blended in the water from the f/1.4 exposure. Since it’s only water, sharpness is less important, and since I didn’t need to lighten it there’s less noise.

This might all sound really complicated, but I’d done things like this before, and didn’t have to think about it too much. It was actually easy to relax and enjoy the beautiful evening during each 20-second exposure.

Three Brothers and the Merced River at night, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Three Brothers and the Merced River at night, Yosemite


El Capitan and the Merced River at night, with Vega (bright star) and the Lyra constellation, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

El Capitan and the Merced River at night, with Vega (bright star) and the Lyra constellation, Yosemite


Related Posts: Storms at Last! Six Images From Tunnel View; Stars Over Three Brothers

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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, Yosemite Meditations for Adventurers, 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 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.