June 14th, 2015

Planning for Flexibility

Redwoods and rhododendrons, Del Norte Redwoods SP, CA, USA

Redwoods and rhododendrons along the northern California coast

As promised, here are some more images from our time up in the redwoods. I just love this area, with all its damp, primeval moodiness. Claudia and I were there for almost two weeks, and experienced a great variety of weather, including fog, overcast, sun, clouds, and some colorful sunsets. And on the last day of the workshop we went to a beach near Trinidad during a minus tide, where we found some beautiful pools and reflections, and easy access to starfish and other tide-pool creatures.

The variable weather required flexibility. Anyone who’s taken a workshop with me knows that I rarely tell the group very far in advance where we’ll be going. I’d rather wait until the last minute to assess the weather, then go where conditions seem most promising.

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June 12th, 2015

Tuolumne Clouds

Cloud formation reflected in a pond, Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Cloud formation reflected in a pond, Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Claudia and I did head up to the high country yesterday afternoon, and found some great clouds. We drove through a nice downpour near Crane Flat, then continued up to Tuolumne Meadows, where I photographed a beautifully-shaped cloud reflected in one of the ponds (above). Later a storm cell formed over the peaks to the east, creating another dramatic cloud formation (below). That cell gradually dissipated, but some clouds still lingered until sunset (the last photo below). It was a really fun afternoon – I’m glad I finally made it up there!

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June 11th, 2015

Into the High Country

Sunset clouds over Tenaya Lake, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Sunset clouds over Tenaya Lake, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

I haven’t had many opportunities to get into the Yosemite high country since Tioga Pass opened, but I hope to head up there soon – maybe even this afternoon, since it looks like some clouds are building. Clouds and thunderstorms always make the summer days in the high country interesting, and potentially photogenic.

This photograph, from July of 2003, shows one of the most spectacular cloud formations I’ve ever seen. Claudia and I were in Tuolumne Meadows, and watched and photographed a thunderstorm move through from east to west. I hoped that after the storm passed we’d see some interesting light, but no such luck – it was just overcast. So I decided to follow the storm, and drove west toward Tenaya Lake.

We stopped near the eastern end of the lake. I got out of the car and looked out to the west, but the scene didn’t look very interesting in that direction. Then I looked over my shoulder. Holy crap! I saw this turbulent line of clouds, lit by the setting sun, and knew immediately that I was in the wrong spot – I needed to be on the other side of the lake.

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June 7th, 2015

Back From the Redwoods

Sea stacks at sunset , Redwood NP, CA, USA

Sea stacks at sunset , Redwood NP, CA, USA

We had a wonderful time last week during our redwoods workshop. It was a really nice, fun group, with great camaraderie and lots of laughter, aided and abetted by the relaxed atmosphere at the fabulous Requa Inn. We got some fog, which is always a great complement to the forest scenes, and were also treated to a couple of beautiful sunsets along the coast.

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Oaks and redbud in the fog, Mariposa County, Stanislaus NF, CA, USA

Oaks and redbuds in the fog, Mariposa County. A sharp lens, good technique, and the 36-megapixel sensor on my Sony A7r captured an incredible amount of detail in this photograph; I’ve printed it up to 40×60 inches with great results.

I’ve been getting a lot of questions lately about Canon’s new 50-megapixel cameras, the 5DS and 5DS R. These models haven’t been released yet, but many Canon users are wondering whether they should upgrade.

Since these cameras aren’t available for testing yet, it’s hard to say anything definitive about them. But since I bought my 36-megapixel Sony A7r over a year ago I’ve learned a lot about working with high-resolution cameras, and some of those lessons might be relevant to people who are considering buying one of those new Canon models, or a 36-megapixel camera like the A7r, Nikon D800, or Nikon D810.

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Sea stacks at sunset along the northern California coast, Redwood NP, CA, USA

Sea stacks at sunset along the northern California coast, Redwood National Park

Claudia and I are back in the redwoods, scouting and preparing for our workshop next week. I feel such a deep connection to this damp, lush, wild, primeval landscape. It feels like coming home.

While it’s common to find fog or low stratus here, over the past couple of days the stratus deck has been unusually persistent, staying all day instead of burning off in the afternoon. This is great for photographing redwoods, where fog often adds the perfect complement to the forest scenes. It doesn’t work so well for coastal landscapes, where sunlight usually helps. But we did see the sun poke underneath the stratus at the last moment one evening, as you can see from the photograph above. And I’ve included a few forest photographs below. I’m really looking forward to the workshop!

— Michael Frye

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May 24th, 2015

Misty Morning

Pines, sunbeams, and mist, Cook's Meadow, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Pines, sunbeams, and mist, Cook’s Meadow, 6:13 a.m.

Yosemite got some rain yesterday. In fact we’ve had a lot of unsettled weather this month, with frequent showers in the afternoon, especially in the high country. Tioga Pass opened May 4th, but has since closed and reopened several times due to snow. The total precipitation hasn’t amounted to much, but every bit helps, and we’ve even had enough rain here in the foothills to keep the grass from turning brown – at least in some places.

I haven’t had much time to get up to the park and photograph the weather, but after the rain yesterday it seemed likely that there would be mist in the meadows this morning, so Claudia and I rose early and drove up to Yosemite Valley. When I say early, I mean really early. Sunrise is at 5:40 a.m. these days, which meant leaving home at 4:30!

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May 14th, 2015

The Lowly Normal Lens

Rainbow over Negit Island, Mono Lake, CA, USA

Rainbow over Negit Island, Mono Lake, California. Although I made other compositions of this scene with longer lenses, I liked the slightly wider perspective created by a normal 50mm lens, because it allowed me to include some of the blue sky.

The “normal” lens doesn’t get much love. Longer and shorter focal lengths seem more attractive, because they create unusual perspectives. As I wrote in this recent post, wide-angle lenses stretch space and make things look farther apart, sometimes creating a sense of depth, while telephoto lenses compress space and makes objects look closer together, helping to emphasize patterns and juxtapositions.

I, too, was guilty of disdain for the normal lens for many years. Although I used normal lenses (around 50mm for full-frame cameras, or about 35mm for APS-size sensors) for two decades with my film cameras, for a ten-year stretch the only lenses I used with my Canon DSLRs were 17-40mm and 70-200mm zooms. I never felt the need to fill the gap between 40mm and 70mm because I usually wanted to go either wide or long. On the rare occasions when I needed a focal length between 40mm and 70mm, I used 40mm and cropped.

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Manly Beacon at night with star trails, Death Valley NP, CA, USA

Manly Beacon at night with star trails, Death Valley NP, CA, USA

Manly Beacon is Death Valley’s most iconic feature, seen in millions of photographs from Zabriskie Point, including the image on the cover of the park map and brochure. So naturally I thought it would be fun to light it up at night.

One evening during our recent trip to Death Valley, Claudia and I, accompanied by our friend Robert Eckhardt, started down the Golden Canyon Trail from Zabriskie Point, carrying my powerful (3200 lumens), battery-powered spotlight, and radios for communication. Robert and I wanted a lower vantage point where the Beacon would poke up into the sky, and found a perfect spot. We set up our cameras and made some dusk exposures. Then after dark I hiked about half a mile further down the trail, carrying the spotlight and a radio, to a location I thought would work for the light-painting. Claudia acted as radio operator, and Robert tripped the shutters on both our cameras, while I used the spotlight to illuminate the Beacon.

We took a guess at the exposure, initially leaving the shutters open for 30 seconds at f/4, with the ISO set to 2500. According to Claudia and Robert’s radio reports, this exposure – surprisingly – turned out to be perfect. It did take several tries to get the lighting balance just right, but the problem was that the ridges underneath the Beacon weren’t getting lit from this spot. So I climbed back up the trail to a different location, closer to the cameras, which proved to be perfect for lighting those foreground ridges.

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Sand dune and the Milky Way at night, Death Valley NP, CA, USA

Sand dune and the Milky Way at night, Death Valley National Park

One night during our Death Valley workshop we went out to the sand dunes. After some searching, I found this wonderful dune with it’s rippled foreground textures. Lighting it was a group project; we all set up our cameras, and took turns lighting the dune from the left and the right, trying to find the right angles to highlight those ripples. Then we set our interval timers to record star trails – and took naps on the sand while we waited for the star-trail sequences to finish. After that the Milky Way was in the right position over the dune, so before moving our cameras we made some more exposures of pinpoint stars as well.

Recording all these exposures of the same composition gave us the option of including either star trails or pinpoint stars in the final image, and having the dune lit either from the left, the right, or both. I liked the pinpoint stars better, and chose to include lighting from both sides. The final image you see here is a composite of three exposures (assembled in Photoshop using the Lighten blending mode): one for the sky, one with the dune lit from the left (colored blue), and one with the dune lit from the right.

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