Archive for the ‘New Images’ Category

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.


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!


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.


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.

Knowing What to Look For

Thursday, November 13th, 2014
Aspens in fog near Ridgway, CO, USA

Aspens in fog near Ridgway, CO

Claudia and I have been busy since our trip to Colorado in early October, so I haven’t had a chance to post more images from our travels until now. But maybe that’s a good thing, as that time has given me a chance to reflect on the journey.

It had been a dream of mine to photograph the autumn aspen display in Colorado, and it more than lived up to my expectations. Colorado veterans said it was the best fall there in many years, and it certainly looked good to us. The sheer number of aspens covering the hillsides was astonishing.

The problem was that I didn’t know the area. At all. I’m usually writing about photographing Yosemite, or maybe the aspens on the eastern side of the Sierra, places that I know intimately. That knowledge is a big advantage, giving me a greater chance of being in the right place at the right time to take advantage of the light, weather, and conditions.


Yosemite Valley Fall Color

Tuesday, November 11th, 2014

Big-leaf maples along the Merced River, autumn, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Big-leaf maples along the Merced River, yesterday afternoon

Yesterday afternoon Claudia and I drove up to Yosemite Valley to check out the fall color. We photographed the oaks in El Cap Meadow, then walked along a stretch of the Merced River that I hadn’t explored in depth before – imagine that! But conditions were right, with maples and cottonwoods adding lots of yellow color to the riverbanks. I’ve included a few photographs from yesterday above and below.


First Storm

Sunday, November 2nd, 2014
Half Dome and clouds reflected in the Merced River, autumn, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Half Dome and clouds reflected in the Merced River, Saturday afternoon

It was good to hear the rain drumming on the roof Friday night. We’ve seen occasional showers during the summer and fall, but Friday brought the first significant storm of the winter rainy season, dropping over an inch of rain in Yosemite Valley, and over a foot of snow in the high country. Everyone in California is hoping for many more storms like this over the next six months.

The storm started to clear around midday on Saturday, so Claudia and I drove up to Yosemite Valley that afternoon. It turned out to be a really beautiful afternoon in the valley, with lots of autumn color, and some great light and clouds. We found a wonderful scene near the east end of the valley, with clouds and mist-wrapped Half Dome reflected in the Merced River. I included some cottonwood leaves in the foreground to give the image a touch of autumn (right).

Early this morning we drove up to Yosemite Valley again, hoping to see fog in the meadows. We found a little mist, but not much, so we decided to go back to El Portal, which had been very foggy when we drove through. I’m glad we did. There wasn’t as much color as in Yosemite Valley, but the fog more than made up for that. I’ve included my favorite image from the morning below, with the sun breaking through the mist and silhouetting the gray pines.


Back in the Sierra

Tuesday, October 14th, 2014

Aspen-covered hillside, autumn, Toiyable NF, CA, USA

Aspen-covered hillside, yesterday afternoon, near Bridgeport, California

I’m back on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada, my home mountains, getting ready for our upcoming workshops. There’s some great color over here. I made this photograph yesterday afternoon up near Bridgeport, and especially liked the mix of colors on this hillside, with yellow, gold, orange, and green.

Overall, the color looks pretty typical for mid-October. The higher elevation aspens are mostly bare, but the lower-elevation trees are a mix of green, yellow, and orange. The color progression might be a little earlier than average, but not much. If there’s anything unusual, it’s that some typically early-changing groves are still mostly green, while other groves that usually turn later have progressed further.


Aspen Pilgrimage

Tuesday, October 7th, 2014

Autumn colors, Gunnison NF, CO, USA

Autumn colors, Gunnison NF, CO, USA

I love photographing aspens. Their autumn color is wonderful, but it’s also those tall, straight, white trunks that make them so compelling.

It’s been a long-time dream of mine to photograph aspens in Colorado in the fall, but various obligations and commitments kept me from going. This year, however, Claudia and I found a brief time slot and decided to go. And we’re so glad we did, as it’s just beautiful here. Some high-elevation areas, like Crested Butte, are past peak, and others seem to be turning late, but we’ve found some wonderful color in several places, and an endless supply of great photo subjects. Here are some photographs from the past few days, and I’ll post more when I get a chance.


North Lake Sunrise, and an Early Fall Color Report

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014

Stormy sunrise at North Lake, Bishop Creek Canyon, Inyo NF, CA, USA

Stormy sunrise at North Lake, Bishop Creek Canyon, Sunday morning

After photographing lightning near Bishop on Saturday night (see my previous post), I thought there might be some interesting clouds still hanging around on Sunday morning, so I woke early and drove up to North Lake, near the upper end of Bishop Creek Canyon.

And there were clouds – almost too many. Another small rain squall was moving up from the south along the Sierra crest, approaching Bishop Creek Canyon just as the sun was due to rise. There were enough clouds to the east that I thought they might block the light. And I think some clouds lingering over the White Mountains did block the very first sunlight, but just after sunrise some clouds started to turn color overhead, and soon the peaks began to light up as well.

It evolved quickly into a dramatic scene. It was a little breezy, rippling the water surface, but there were still nice reflections at first. Then the wind increased, so I climbed up the ridge along the eastern shore of the lake to get a different perspective, one that didn’t depend as much on reflections.