August 14th, 2014

Stars Over Three Brothers

Stars and clouds over Three Brothers, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Stars and clouds over Three Brothers, Tuesday evening; 20 seconds, f/2.8, 6400 ISO

Tuesday evening Claudia and I drove to Yosemite Valley. The moon was due to rise about 90 minutes after sunset, so I hoped to photograph the northern end of the Milky Way over Three Brothers, with the rising moon adding a bit of light to the peaks.

We got to the Valley well before sunset, but there were some interesting clouds, so we decided to head to Tunnel View, where we found the usual August assortment of tour buses and people taking selfies in front of the panorama. I photographed some interesting patterns of dappled sunlight and clouds, then, just at sunset, after the crowds had thinned, the sky turned pink and a beautiful array of tufted clouds drifted overhead (below).

We had a little picnic along the Merced River as we waited for the sky to get dark, then I started taking photos of Three Brothers. At first the clouds blocked most of the stars. But the sky gradually cleared, revealing more stars, and then, looking at the photos on my camera’s LCD screen, I could see the clouds taking on a pink hue, and a hint of light on Yosemite Point in the distance. This was the lunar equivalent of a predawn glow, with the moon still below the horizon, but already adding some light and color to the scene. My eyes couldn’t see the color, but the camera could (right).

Later, as the moon rose for real, the clouds and peaks turned gold, just as they would at sunrise. Again, it was too dark for the cones in my retinas to pick up the color, but the camera recorded it perfectly. And some of the cloud formations were spectacular, fanning out in big V shapes above Three Brothers (below).

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Wildflowers island and cascade, eastern Sierra, CA, USA

Wildflower island and cascade, eastern Sierra; 100mm, 1/2 sec. at f/16, 100 ISO

It’s been an interesting summer in the Sierra. Last winter was one of the driest on record, but over the last month or so we’ve seen a steady flow of monsoonal moisture flowing up from the southeast, leading to frequent afternoon showers and thunderstorms over the higher elevations. We even heard about an epic deluge two or three weeks ago that flooded the parking lot and some of the tent cabins at the Tuolumne Meadows Lodge.

That extra moisture has kept the streams flowing and flowers blooming in the high country longer than I would have expected. On Saturday Claudia and I hiked up one of the eastern Sierra canyons and found a pretty series of cascades, with an island of late-summer flowers in the middle.

Although I make my share of black-and-white photographs, I’ve always been attracted to color. I often look for color, then try to build a composition around it. As I tell my workshop students, color isn’t enough – you need to find a design to go with that color.

In this case, that design proved to be elusive. The most obvious composition was a wide-angle view with a patch of flowers at the bottom, and the upper cascade above. But there was a distracting pile of logs at the base of the cascade that cluttered the image, with no obvious way to eliminate or minimize the logs. I have nothing against logs, but in this case I was interested in the flowers and water, and the logs broke up the visual flow between the flowers and water, diluting the photograph’s message:

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July 30th, 2014

Smoky Beauty

Sun rising through smoke from the El Portal Fire, 7/28/14, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Sun rising through smoke from Tunnel View, 7/28/14, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Early Monday morning I drove up to Yosemite Valley, hoping that smoke from the El Portal and Dark Hole fires might create some interesting atmospheric effects. Yes, I went looking for smoke, something that photographers usually avoid. But smoke can impart a wonderful, ethereal quality to photographs – like fog, but with more color.

At Tunnel View the smoke was thick enough to give the scene a misty, painterly look, but not so thick that you couldn’t see anything. Eventually the orange ball of the sun appeared through the smoke, accompanied by a patterned cloud formation (above). Later, along the Merced River, the smoke lent a similar painterly mood to scenes of El Capitan and Three Brothers (below). And much later, near sunset, the sun turned into an orange ball again as it sunk into the smoke to the west (below).

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July 27th, 2014

A Surreal Night

El Portal Fire, Yosemite NP and Stanislaus NF, CA, USA; 1:51 a.m., 7/27/14

El Portal Fire from the Glacier Point Road; 1:51 a.m., 7/27/14

We had no inkling that anything was wrong until we reached Crane Flat, where a ranger told us the road down to Yosemite Valley was closed.

Claudia had said that the wildflowers were nice in the Yosemite high country, so we decided to go for a hike up there yesterday afternoon. We drove through El Portal sometime between 3:00 and 3:30 p.m. and continued up the Big Oak Flat Road to Crane Flat. Everything seemed normal. Near Yosemite Creek we passed the Dark Hole Fire. This is a lightning-caused fire that the park service is letting burn, but it looked pretty active yesterday afternoon, with a big smoke plume.

We continued on past Tuolumne Meadows, started our hike, and found some gorgeous wildflowers (you can see a photograph below). Then we returned to the car, and started home at about 10 p.m. Near Yosemite Creek I decided to stop and photograph the Dark Hole Fire (below), then we continued west back to Crane Flat, where we saw a ranger vehicle blocking the road down to Yosemite Valley.

We were surprised that the road was closed, since we’d just driven up it a few hours earlier. The ranger let us through, since we had a park sticker, but he told us there was no stopping, and to watch out for fire crews. Fire crews? We knew these crews weren’t for the Dark Hole Fire, as that was miles away, and still pretty small. What had happened?

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Moon setting over Tenaya Lake, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Moon setting over Tenaya Lake, Saturday morning, 5:42 a.m.

“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.”

— Ansel Adams

Sooner or later, every landscape photographer has to decide whether to stay put and hope that the light gets better, or move somewhere else.

Last Saturday morning, on the last day of my Hidden Yosemite workshop with The Ansel Adams Gallery, we rose early and drove to Tenaya Lake to capture the moon setting over the water. On our way there we noticed low-lying mist in Tuolumne Meadows. We photographed a beautiful moonset over the lake, but as soon as the moon dropped below the ridge we drove back to Tuolumne.

The mist was still there. First we ran out to a small pond to catch the sun lighting some small clouds above the high peaks to the east. Then we spotted a herd of deer off to the left in the mist, so we quickly changed lenses and photographed them until they moved away.

By then the sun was hitting Unicorn Peak, so we walked about a hundred feet north to get a reflection of the peak in the pond, and waited until the sun grazed across the foreground.

Then light started hitting the mist and trees behind us, so we moved again to get closer, and put the sun behind trees where we could see sunbeams and starbursts.

And then the sun rose higher, the mist disappeared, and the show was over. The whole sequence lasted about 40 minutes.

In this case, the light and fog were changing quickly, so we had to switch lenses and move our feet if we wanted to catch those fleeting moments. But three years ago, during the same workshop, a similar situation required waiting patiently for the light to change.

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Sunrise at South Tufa, Mono Lake, CA, USA

Sunrise at South Tufa, Mono Lake, Monday morning

Claudia and I have been in Lee Vining, on the eastern side of the Sierra, preparing for my Hidden Yosemite workshop. The weather over Mono Lake the last few days has been really interesting and moody, with some light showers, rainbows, and skies full of beautifully-textured clouds. In between scouting and setting up we’ve photographed a couple of sunsets and a sunrise at the lake, and I’ve included some of the images here.

The last photo might be the most unusual rainbow I’ve ever seen. Claudia, my workshop assistant Kirk Keeler, and I were walking out of the Whoa Nellie Deli after dinner last night when we spotted a rainbow. We drove quickly toward the lake, where we found a short, vivid section of the rainbow over a zigzag shoreline. The rainbow was formed by the sun poking through a small hole in the clouds and hitting a rain squall, which made it look like the rainbow was suspended in space and creating a sunbeam.

Forecasts call for similar weather over the next few days, so I’m looking forward to a great week with our group!

— Michael Frye

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Lenticular Clouds, Tioga Pass, Yosemite, by David Silva

Lenticular Clouds, Tioga Pass, Yosemite, by David Silva

It’s been awhile, but I thought it was time to post another photo critique. This time I’ll look at an image by David Silva from Yosemite’s high country.

Light and Weather

David found some amazing lenticular clouds flowing over Yosemite’s high peaks just before sunset. (Where was I that day?) David told me that he and his wife were driving over Tioga Pass to the eastern Sierra when he noticed some interesting clouds forming. He considered stopping earlier, but decided to push on to Olmsted Point, and was able to make it there in time to catch the light on the clouds and peaks before the sun set.

This was perfect timing. There’s a nice orange glow on the highest peaks, creating a warm-cool color contrast. The last light highlights Mt. Conness in the distance, creating a small-but-important focal point. The clouds fit into the gap between the peaks is perfectly. There’s a beautiful, dramatic, late-day mood to the scene.

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Storm clouds over Yosemite Valley from Tunnel View, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Storm clouds over Yosemite Valley from Tunnel View, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Within National Parks is room – glorious room – room in which to find ourselves, in which to think and hope, to dream and plan, to rest and resolve.
— Enos A. Mills

Exactly 150 years ago, on June 30th, 1864, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Yosemite Grant, giving Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove to the state of California to be preserved. This is the first instance of park land being set aside specifically for preservation and public use by action of the U.S. federal government, and set a precedent for the 1872 creation of Yellowstone as the first national park. (Yosemite National Park was created in 1890 to protect the lands surrounding Yosemite Valley, and in 1906 the valley and Mariposa Grove were returned to the federal government and incorporated into the national park.)

Photography played a vital role in the creation and passing of the Yosemite Grant legislation. The public thought that the early stories about Yosemite Valley were exaggerated, and drawings and paintings could be manipulated, so people only began to appreciate the magnificence of the valley when they saw proof in the form of photographs by Charles Weed and Carleton Watkins. Watkins’ photographs of Yosemite were displayed in the halls of Congress, and may also have been shown to president Lincoln by Senator John Conness. (You can see an exhibit of Watkins’ photographs at Stanford University in the San Francisco Bay Area through August 17th.)

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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.

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YMA_Cover350Yosemite has long attracted adventurous people who come to climb, hang glide, ski, or hike through its rugged, wild terrain. Our latest book, Yosemite Meditations for Adventurers, celebrates this spirit of adventure with 45 of my photographs, paired with inspirational quotes about adventure and wild places from people like Galen Rowell, Bill Bryson, Terry Tempest Williams, Yvon Chouinard, Edward Abbey, John Muir, Cheryl Strayed, Lynn Hill, Ron Kauk, and many others, plus a forward by Royal Robbins.

This is the third book in the Yosemite Meditations series, following the original Yosemite Meditations, and Yosemite Meditations for Women. As in the previous editions, my wife Claudia did a great job of editing the book, finding great quotes, and pairing them with the photographs. You’ll find a few sample pages below.

You can hear a bit more about the new book in an interview I did for the Valley Edition show on KVPR, Fresno’s public radio station. The show aired yesterday, but you can listen to it online at their website (my segment starts at minute 28 and lasts about ten minutes).

If you order Yosemite Meditations for Adventurers directly from us through the “Add to Cart” button below, Claudia and I will both sign the book(s). You can also order from the publisher, the non-profit Yosemite Conservancy, or from Amazon.

We hope you like the book, and really appreciate your support! We also want to give our thanks to the Yosemite Conservancy for their continuing commitment to publishing high quality books about the park, and for all the great work they do to help Yosemite.

— Michael Frye

Yosemite Meditations for Adventurers
Hardcover with jacket; approx. 6×5 inches; 96 pages

9.95

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