Archive for the ‘Vision and Creativity’ Category

A Lucky Accident

Thursday, February 6th, 2014
Great egret landing, San Joaquin Valley, CA, USA

Great egret landing, San Joaquin Valley, CA, USA

This image was a lucky accident. I was standing next to my car along a tour route at one the wildlife refuges in the Central Valley, looking at a large flock of sandhill cranes and Ross’s geese, when I saw this egret flying by. I quickly turned, pressed the autofocus button on the back of the camera, followed the bird, and held the shutter button down as the egret landed.

The photograph languished in my archives for awhile before I processed it. Maybe I didn’t realize its potential right away because it was such a grab shot. But I did finally process it recently, and found several things to like about it.

First, there’s the contrast. Most of the frame is dark, but the two key elements – the bird and the road – are lighter, so they stand out. Any time you can place a light subject against a dark background, and have that subject stand out cleanly and distinctly against its surroundings, you have the potential for a strong image. There’s no sunlight in this photo, so the contrast isn’t created by sun and shade, but by the juxtaposition of a white bird against dark vegetation. But it doesn’t matter how the contrast is created, as long as it’s there. (The same idea also works for dark subjects against light backgrounds. I talk more about both kinds of contrast in this post.)

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Top Ten Posts of 2013: Creating Depth

Wednesday, December 18th, 2013

Redwoods, ferns, and rhododendrons near the northern California coast, USA

Redwoods, ferns, and rhododendrons near the northern California coast, USA

Continuing our look at back at the most popular posts of 2013, here’s one that’s been extremely popular – in fact it’s my most-read post ever. It’s from January 2013, and it’s called Creating Depth: Beyond the Wide-Angle Formula.

This post looks at some alternatives to the popular, wide-angle, near-far look that you see in so many landscape photographs – alternatives like atmospheric effects, subtle perspective clues, and size comparisons. And the article also explains why many photographs and paintings with a sense of depth have something in common that’s not immediately obvious.

To all of you who read this article, commented, or wrote me an email response, thanks very much! Your participation makes writing this blog fun, and I know your comments make reading it more enjoyable for everyone.

— Michael Frye

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.

Let It Snow

Sunday, December 1st, 2013

Half Dome and Yosemite Valley from Tunnel View, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Half Dome and Yosemite Valley from Tunnel View, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

In a recent post I talked about adapting your composition to the light, rather than hoping that the light adapts to your composition. Nowhere is this more true than at Tunnel View. Sometimes the classic view – with El Capitan on the left, and Cathedral Rocks on the right – works perfectly. But not always. When I made this photograph the most interesting part of the scene was a small area in the distance where the light was hitting Half Dome and the valley floor below, so I zoomed in with my 70-200mm lens, turned the camera to a vertical orientation, and filled the frame with just those two spots.

Looking at this photograph made me think about clearing storms, and snow, and Christmas coming. I hope we get lots of snow this winter, not just for the sake of photographers, but for everyone in California. We’ve had two straight years of meager precipitation here, and we really need a wet winter. So let it snow!

— Michael Frye

Related Posts: Courting Luck: How to Take Advantage of Special Light and Weather in Landscape Photography; Courting Luck, Part 2: Adapting Your Composition to the Conditions; A Beautiful Week in Yosemite

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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.

What’s the Least Interesting Part of This Photograph?

Tuesday, November 26th, 2013

Moon rising between El Capitan and Cathedral Rocks from Valley View, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Moon rising between El Capitan and Cathedral Rocks from Valley View. What’s the least interesting part of this image?

The best compositions are simple; they present only the essentials, and leave out extraneous clutter. The most common mistake in photography – by far – is including too much in the frame. Anything that’s not adding to the photograph’s message is detracting from it.

To help simplify your compositions, ask yourself, before you press the shutter, “What’s the least interesting part of this photograph?” Try to identify the weakest area of your composition, and find a way to get rid of it. Then, once you’ve done that, ask the same question again: “Now, what’s the least interesting part of this image?” And get rid of that. And keep doing that until there’s nothing left that you could possibly cut out without losing something vital.

To give you some practice, look at the photograph above. What’s the least interesting part of that image? And if you got rid of that, what would be next – what’s the next least interesting part of the photograph?

I’ll give you a minute to think about it. When you’re ready, take a look at this next photograph, and answer the same question: what’s the least interesting part of this image?

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Courting Luck, Part 2: Adapting Your Composition to the Conditions

Tuesday, November 19th, 2013
Half Dome and the Merced River, late afternoon, autumn, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Half Dome and the Merced River, 4:28 p.m.

Is it better to be active or static? To change your location and composition to suit the light, or hope that the light changes to suit your composition?

There’s this persistent myth that Ansel Adams would camp for days at one spot, waiting for the right light. Ironically, this myth is often repeated in relation to Clearing Winter Storm, which was made at Tunnel View, only a few miles from his warm home and comfortable bed in Yosemite Valley. In fact Ansel wrote, “I have always been mindful of Edward Weston’s remark, ‘If I wait for something here I may lose something better over there.’ I have found that keeping on the move is generally more rewarding.”

I have also found that keeping on the move is more rewarding. I’ve sometimes regretted moving, but more often regretted staying when I ignored the inner voice that told me the light would be better elsewhere. And when I do find myself in the right place at the right time, I’ve found that it pays to stay active with my camera and my compositions, and not get lazy about changing lenses or camera positions. If I decide in advance what my composition should be, and stick with that no matter what, I’ll probably miss some great opportunities.

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Light Against Dark, Dark Against Light

Tuesday, August 6th, 2013
Dogwood blossoms, Yosemite. These backlit flowers stand out cleanly against a dark, shaded background.

Dogwood blossoms, Yosemite. These backlit flowers stand out cleanly against a dark, shaded background.


Light Against Dark

Many of the most effective photographs share a simple lighting concept: they either place a light subject against a dark background, or a dark subject against a light background.

This first photograph of two dogwood blossoms is a perfect example of a light subject against a dark background. In fact the background isn’t just dark; it’s completely black, so there’s nothing to compete visually with the flowers. The contrast creates a simple and dramatic image.

This light-against-dark situation is what makes photographs of Horsetail Fall so striking when conditions are right. The waterfall stands out because it’s brighter than the surrounding cliffs – and, of course, because of the color.

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Photographing Reflections: Beyond the Mirror

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2013

Creek descending through a granite basin. The sun was hitting the rocks just above the top of the frame, reflecting the gold color into the water, and even some of the polished rocks on the right.

Creek descending through a granite basin. The sun was hitting the rocks just beyond the top of the frame, reflecting the gold color into the water, and even onto some of the polished rocks on the right.

When people think of photographing a reflection, they usually think of a mirror reflection, like a mountain reflected in a tranquil lake. I’ve done my share of those, but I think it’s often more interesting to just look at the colors, textures, and patterns on the water’s surface.

During my just-completed Hidden Yosemite workshop we had many opportunities to photograph reflections of all kinds. The accompanying photographs represent a mini-gallery of reflection photographs that I made during and just prior to the workshop, with extended captions to explain the thought process behind each image. Most of these are not mirror reflections; instead, they’re focused on the water’s colors and textures.

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When Separation is a Good Thing

Wednesday, July 10th, 2013

Rocks and sea stacks, late afternoon, Redwood NP, CA, USA

Rocks and sea stacks, late afternoon, Redwood NP, CA, USA

Spacing and separation are always important elements of composition, but during my recent workshops in and around Redwood National Park we encountered many situations where spacing and separation were particularly vital.

The photograph above is a good example. I positioned the camera carefully to avoid, as much as possible, visual mergers between the foreground rocks. I wanted the shape of each rock to stand out clearly, as those shapes are the point of this composition: they set up a repeating pattern, and lead your eye from foreground to background.

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Redwoods, Fog, and Serendipity

Tuesday, July 2nd, 2013

Sunbeams through the redwood canopy, Del Norte Coast Redwoods SP, CA, USA

Sunbeams through the redwood canopy, Del Norte Coast Redwoods SP, CA, USA

Weather always plays a big role in landscape photography. I study the weather so that I can put myself – and my workshop students – in the right place at the right time. But a little luck always helps.

During my recent workshops up in the redwood country we found some wonderful juxtapositions of fog and sunlight. One morning, during the second week, we pulled up to a trailhead and everyone immediately got out their cameras because we saw beautiful godbeams right from the parking area. But, as it turns out, we didn’t need to rush. Usually these sun-breaking-through fog moments are fleeting, but it turns out that we were right at the top of a relatively stable fog bank, so the mixture of sun and fog lasted for hours along parts of the trail. The photograph above is just one of many sunbeam photographs I made that morning, and everyone in the group came away with some great images from that day.

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In Redwood Country

Friday, May 24th, 2013

Redwoods and rhododendron, late afternoon, Del Norte Redwoods SP, CA, USA

Redwoods and rhododendron, late afternoon

I’m up along the far northern California coast, scouting for my upcoming redwood workshops. I just love this area, and I’m having fun exploring some new locations, as well as reacquainting myself with old favorites.

We’ve had off-and-on showers, with periods of soft light broken up by sunshine and interesting clouds. On Tuesday afternoon a rain squall passed through, and then skies cleared late in the afternoon – perfect conditions for photographing some of the sea stacks that are so abundant along the coast here. I’ve included three images from that afternoon below.

I found a redwood grove that gets sunlight very late in the afternoon, and watched beautiful amber light streaming through the forest as I walked along the trail. Photographing a forest with patches of sun and shade is a lot like photographing a landscape with dappled light from broken clouds. The light has to highlight the most interesting parts of the scene for it to work, but when that happens the modulated, chiaroscuro lighting can add depth, dimension, and mood to the photograph. I found a couple of compositions where the light hit just the right places: the image of redwoods and rhododendrons at the top, and the one with faint sunbeams below.

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