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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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?
Claudia and I drove down there on Monday and arrived about an hour before sunset. And what a great spot! I wondered why it had taken me so long to visit this striking landscape. The pinnacles are actually ancient tufa towers, like those at Mono Lake, left high and dry by the evaporation and shrinking of Searles Lake.
I drove up to the park early and started at Tunnel View, then moved to several other places in the valley, and didn’t stop photographing until the sun had melted most of the snow out of the trees. It was definitely a fun morning, and I’ve included a few of my photographs here.
I’ve photographed several lunar eclipses, and they’re spectacular events to view and photograph. This one is special, however, because it’s the first time I might be able to see the whole eclipse sequence from beginning to end. In California the eclipse will seen almost due south. This is not a great alignment for Yosemite Valley, though it should be possible to see the eclipse over Cathedral Rocks or Sentinel Rock. But California is a diverse state with many other possible locations, so I’ll be thinking about other possible locations between now and the 14th.
If you’re interested in photographing the eclipse, I’ve written a guest post about it for the Borrowlenses.com blog. Although I’ve posted other articles about eclipses before, this new article is the most complete and comprehensive, with details about focusing in the dark, revised exposure times, how to align the eclipse with a foreground object (like a building, mountain, or tree), and more.
This is one night when I hope the clouds will stay away.
— Michael Frye