Rainbow, Crescent Beach, Crescent City, CA, USA

Rainbow, Crescent Beach, Crescent City, CA, USA

It should be obvious that weather and light are important aspects of landscape photography. No matter where you are, it pays to keep an eye on the weather, and to learn local weather patterns.

We arrived in Crescent City about five days before our redwoods workshop was set to begin. Our first night there some showers moved through, and at sunrise it was gray and raining. But online radar and satellite images showed that the showers might end soon, so I prepared to go out. Then through our hotel room window I saw a rainbow! We made a dash for the car, drove out to Crescent Beach, and luckily the rainbow was still there (right).

The weather then settled into a more typical pattern for the season, with frequent coastal fog and low clouds in the mornings, giving way to clear skies in the afternoons. This pattern should be familiar to anyone who has spent time along the California coast in summer.

This fog is the perfect complement to redwood forests. The rhododendrons were also putting on a great display this year, so for the first part of our workshop, and while scouting beforehand, we had beautiful conditions in the redwoods, with fog, rhododendrons, and even sunbeams.

But on the last day of the workshop the wind shifted and pushed the coastal fog offshore. This also happens frequently along the northern California coast, even in summer, as any disturbance in the weather pattern can change the winds and move the fog out to sea. But the offshore wind produced a different kind of fog – valley fog along the Klamath River. I didn’t think we would see valley fog during this visit, because valley fog usually requires damp ground from recent rains, and there hadn’t been much rain in the area. But apparently the river itself provided enough moisture to create fog.

This time the fog flowed along the river toward the sea, and it was local enough, and low enough, for us to get above it near the mouth of the Klamath River. It was a special treat to look out over the fog bank, and then to watch and photograph the sun breaking through the fog and lighting the surf.

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Fog at the mouth of the Klamath River, Redwood NP, CA, USA

Fog at the mouth of the Klamath River, Redwood NP, CA; 30 seconds

The far northern coast of California has many wonderful, wild coastal areas, providing great opportunities to make moody photographs of ocean scenes. It can be challenging to photograph these scenes, however, because things are constantly changing. In addition to that usual variable – the weather – you have to think about the tides and movement of the waves. Timing can be critical for catching a wave, or pattern of waves, in just the right position, and sometimes you need a lot of patience to wait for the right moment.

Any moving subject – including waves – can lend itself to using slow shutter speeds. With ocean scenes, the blurred motion created by slow shutter speeds can convey a sense of motion more strongly than a frozen image would, or give the water an ethereal quality that adds to the mood of the image. Here’s a small portfolio of my slow-shutter-speed ocean photographs from before, during, and after our workshop, with the shutter speeds included in the captions for each image.

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June 8th, 2014

In the Redwoods

Sunbeams and corona in a redwood forest, northern California, USA

Sunbeams and corona in a redwood forest, northern California, USA

Claudia and I have been up in the redwood country, in far northern California, for the past two weeks. We had such a great time during my Mystic Forest workshop. Like last year, we stayed at the Requa Inn, with its great food, relaxing atmosphere, and beautiful views. We had a wonderful group of people, and I already miss the energy of the group learning and photographing together. And we had great weather, with lots of fog! Here’s one image from our first morning, with the sun breaking through the fog and creating a spectacular triple corona. I’ll post more photographs soon as I get time to process them.

— Michael Frye

Related Posts: In Redwood Country; Back From the Redwoods, and the Lightroom 5 Release

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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.

Setting sun, Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Setting sun, Tuolumne Meadows, 7:39 p.m. Thursday (as the sun sank behind the ridge)

Last week some unseasonal showers reached Yosemite. The showers didn’t bring heavy amounts of precipitation, but enough snow fell at higher elevations to temporarily close Tioga Pass and the Glacier Point Road.

On Thursday the Tioga Road reopened. Since Claudia and I are heading up to the northern coast of California soon for my redwoods workshop, we thought this might be our last chance to go up to the Yosemite high country for awhile, so we decided to drive up to Tuolumne Meadows for the afternoon. There were still some clouds and showers in the area, so the prospect of some interesting weather made the idea even more enticing.

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May 18th, 2014

Appalachian Waterfalls

Minnehaha Falls, GA, USA

Minnehaha Falls, GA; 1 sec., f/16, ISO 100

Waterfalls are abundant in the southern Appalachians. It seems like you can hardly throw a stick without hitting one.

Of course I’ve spent the last 30 years in Yosemite, which might have the most spectacular collection of waterfalls in the world. But they’re different. Yosemite’s waterfalls are big and dramatic, and often leap hundreds of feet in a single drop. The waterfalls in the southern Appalachians are smaller, more intimate, and more complex, often containing multiple tiers and channels. This complexity can make them both more challenging and more rewarding to photograph – challenging because there’s rarely an immediately-obvious composition, but rewarding because once you start looking you might find a dozen or more good compositions in a single cascade.

During our last trip, one of the first places we visited was Minnehaha Falls in northern Georgia. Since this fall is on the cover of two different waterfall guidebooks it seemed worth checking out. And we weren’t disappointed. Minnehaha is graceful enough to lend itself to overall views, and intricate enough to offer many smaller-scale compositions. The day was overcast, which is often ideal for these kind of waterfalls. I spent an hour and a half there working just one side of the cascade before we had to move on.

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Rainbow and Looking Glass Rock from the Blue Ridge Parkway, NC, USA

Rainbow and Looking Glass Rock from the Blue Ridge Parkway, NC, USA

On our recent trip to the Carolinas Claudia and I visited the southern section of the Blue Ridge Parkway, and what a treat that was.

Before our trip I asked my friend Charlie Cramer about the area, as I knew he’d spent some time there, and he told me he loved the southern stretch of the Blue Ridge Parkway, and pointed me toward some good areas for dogwoods. He also put me in touch with his friend Nye Simmons, author of Best of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Nye generously gave me some photography suggestions over the phone, as well as an advance copy of the Photographer’s Edition of Best of the Blue Ridge Parkway, which was a great resource. I’m not sure when this edition will be available, but I highly recommend it to photographers visiting the Blue Ridge Parkway, both for the information and the photographic inspiration. And for further inspiration, check out Nye’s beautiful coffee-table book, Blue Ridge Parkway Celebration (see a preview here, or order from Amazon here).

During our first day along the parkway, while scouting for our workshop, it was raining off and on, and at higher elevations the road climbed into the clouds, where we encountered thick fog. It was interesting to stop at some of the viewpoints the parkway is famous for and not be able to see more than 50 feet. But I loved it, because interesting weather makes interesting photographs, and I relished the opportunity to photograph trees in the fog.

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Dogwoods, Great Smoky Mountains NP, NC, USA

Dogwoods, Great Smoky Mountains NP, NC, USA

The last two weeks have been a whirlwind, with back-to-back workshops and two cross-country flights. But Claudia and I had a great time during our visit to the mountains of North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. We got to see some beautiful country, and experience lots of that famous southern hospitality.

Now I’m back home, catching up on sleep and processing photographs. I made this dogwood image near the Oconaluftee Visitor Center in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We just caught the tail end of the dogwood bloom, and it was nice to photograph eastern dogwoods in their native habitat.

While the dogwood bloom was almost over, the sarvis were just getting started. I had never heard of these trees until just before our trip, I found them to be highly photogenic. I’ll post more images of sarvis, waterfalls, and many other things soon.

— Michael Frye

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April 27th, 2014

Spring in Yosemite

Three Brothers after a spring snowstorm, Saturday morning

Three Brothers after a spring snowstorm, Saturday morning


We had great conditions during my Yosemite workshop for The Ansel Adams Gallery this past week. The dogwoods were blooming, there were lots of fresh, green leaves everywhere, and we had some interesting weather. It rained all day Friday, but Saturday morning we found clearing skies and an inch of new snow. This photograph of Three Brothers was made as the sun hit the rock faces and generated copious quantities of mist; you’ll find a couple of other images from the week below.

The dogwoods are still in good shape, and should be photogenic for at least another week or so. And the dogwoods at higher elevations (along highways 41 and 120, and in the Tuolumne Grove of giant sequoias) are just getting started, and should last for two to three weeks.

I’m off to North and South Carolina tomorrow, and I’m looking forward to photographing eastern dogwoods, waterfalls, and whatever else we find!

— Michael Frye

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April 22nd, 2014

Dogwoods Have Arrived

Dogwoods over the Merced River at sunset, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Dogwoods over the Merced River at sunset, from last spring

The last time I was in Yosemite Valley was just over a week ago, and only a few dogwood blossoms had appeared by then. I returned to the valley yesterday, and found that the dogwoods had fully emerged already. This is one of the earliest blooms I can remember, but that’s not terribly surprising with the warm and dry spring we’ve had.

Although the flowers will last a couple of weeks, they’re most photogenic when new and fresh, so they’re near peak now. The valley is quite beautiful, with lots of fresh, bright-green leaves everywhere, the waterfalls flowing – and of course the dogwoods. The waterfalls will peak early this year, probably by early May, if not sooner, but for the moment it seems like a pretty normal spring.

Meanwhile, there are still some nice poppy displays in the eastern end of the Merced River Canyon, near El Portal, but they’re fading fast and will probably be mostly gone by next weekend. It’s been a great year for poppies though – one of the best I’ve seen. There will be a variety of other flowers blooming in the canyon for awhile, but these typically aren’t found in big patches, so they’re more suited to closeups rather than broader views.

I start a five-day workshop with The Ansel Adams Gallery today, and then will be heading to North and South Carolina right after that, but I wanted to give you a quick update first. I’ll post further updates and photos when I can! This is one of my favorite dogwood images from last spring.

— Michael Frye

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Willows and cottonwoods in late-afternoon light, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Willows and cottonwoods in late-afternoon light, Yosemite. The outstanding resolution of the Sony A7r allowed me to make a 40×60-inch print that captures all the fine detail of this image.

I don’t review or even talk about equipment very often, but I reviewed the 36-megapixel Nikon D800E last summer because I think it’s such an important, game-changing camera for landscape photography, with exceptional resolution and low noise. Like many Canon users, I’ve been waiting for Canon to offer a competitor to the D800 and D800E. Rumors keep circulating about a 40-megapixel Canon camera, but so far nothing more substantial than a rumor has appeared.

Then last fall Sony announced their new full-frame, mirrorless Alpha A7 and A7r cameras – the A7 with 24 megapixels, and the A7r with 36 megapixels. The A7r uses essentially the same sensor as the Nikon D800E (though Sony says they’ve improved it). For a Canon user like me, the A7r was intriguing because some readily-available adapters could be used to mount my Canon lenses on it. The short distance between the sensor and the A7r’s lens mount makes it possible fit an adapter between Canon or Nikon lenses and the camera, and still be able to focus at infinity. So I could potentially get the resolution and noise control of the D800E without having to make a large investment in new glass. And the A7r seemed reasonably priced at around $2300 (though adding an adapter and battery grip brings it close to $3000).

But I had some big questions. The A7r is a mirrorless camera, so would I miss a real, optical viewfinder? How well would my Canon lenses function with the adapters? And what about “shutter-shake,” and other potential problems that I’d read about online?

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