Posts Tagged ‘landscape photography’

Photographing Sunbursts

Sunday, October 27th, 2013

Aspens and morning sunlight along Rush Creek, Inyo NF, CA, USA

Aspens and morning sunlight, Inyo NF, CA, USA

I’ve always felt that the best photographs capture a mood or feeling. It’s easier to convey a mood when the weather gets stormy, but how do you capture a mood on a clear, sunny day? The answer, I think, is to go with it—to emphasize the sun, the blue sky, and the brightness of the day. Find the visual elements that say “beautiful, sunny day,” and highlight them.

One way of doing this is to include the sun in the frame. Nothing says “sunny and bright” like the sun itself. But putting the sun in your photograph brings challenges. First, you’re likely to get lens flare. This is not the end of the world—in fact, many photographs use lens flare to great effect—but sometimes the flare can be distracting. The other challenge is getting the exposure right.

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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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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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A Harebrained Idea

Thursday, April 11th, 2013
Rainbow over Yosemite Valley from near Old Inspiration Point, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Rainbow over Yosemite Valley from near Old Inspiration Point, Yosemite

It was a harebrained idea, but sometimes harebrained ideas work.

On Easter Sunday the forecast called for showers and thunderstorms, with a 100% chance of rain. So I decided it would be a great day to hike 6 miles and climb over 2,000 feet up to Old Inspiration Point.

I could have just gone to Tunnel View. Tunnel View is a wonderfully photogenic spot, where I could have waited out any rain showers in the car, then walked 50 feet to the viewpoint if something interesting happened. And if the light didn’t cooperate, well, no big deal – it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve struck out at Tunnel View, and it wouldn’t take much effort to come back and try again.

On the other hand, I have lots of photographs from Tunnel View, and every other easily-accessible viewpoint in Yosemite Valley, but I’d never been to Old Inspiration Point. And I was in the mood for an adventure. I asked Claudia if she wanted to come with me (carefully explaining what she might be in for, I swear), and she said sure. She’s always up for a hike.

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Light and Mood With Intimate Landscapes

Thursday, March 14th, 2013
Sunlight slanting across Crane Flat Meadow, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Sunlight slanting across Crane Flat Meadow, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

A Trip to Crane Flat

Yosemite got some much-needed precipitation last week – over an inch total. I kept checking the radar and satellite images online, looking for an opportunity to photograph a clearing storm. Friday morning seemed promising, so I drove up to Yosemite Valley early, but found no snow. It looked like the snow level had been around 5,000 feet, higher than forecast. Worse, from a photographic perspective, the skies were clear and there was no mist.

Shortly after sunrise I noticed light striking a ridge near the tunnels on Highway 120, and on a whim decided to drive up to Crane Flat. I thought Crane Flat would at least have some fresh snow, since it’s at 6,000 feet.

Indeed there was fresh snow – over a foot of it. I parked at the Tuolumne Grove trailhead and walked along the plowed road. The sun had just reached parts of the main meadow, and I found some interesting small subjects to photograph, like tree-shadows on the snow.

Some shafts of sunlight slanting across the snow caught my attention, and then some mist began rising near the edge of the meadow, behind the shafts of light. I immediately recognized the potential to make an image that went beyond an abstract study of shadows – a photograph that had a mood.

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A Rare Storm Approaching Yosemite

Tuesday, March 5th, 2013

Winter sunrise from Tunnel View, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Winter sunrise from Tunnel View. With the right conditions Tunnel View can be great in the morning as well as the afternoon

January and February are the wettest months of the year in Yosemite. The average precipitation for January is 6.5 inches, while for February it’s 6.7 inches, which makes 13.2 inches for the two months combined.

But this year Yosemite received only a tenth of that: 1.33 inches total for January and February. The Sacramento Bee says it’s the driest January and February on record for the northern Sierra Nevada.

Since storms have been so rare lately, any forecast that calls for precipitation is big news, and we’ve got just such a forecast this week. Meteorologists are predicting a medium-sized storm to reach Yosemite tonight and tomorrow, with lingering showers on Thursday and Friday. The timing is hard to predict from the current forecast, but it’s likely that we’ll see clearing storm conditions either late Wednesday, Thursday or Friday. With the showery weather there may be several clearing-storm events during that time.

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Hoping for Snow

Friday, February 22nd, 2013

Half Dome and clouds, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Half Dome and clouds, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Many people, including me, had high hopes for the snowstorm that came through Yosemite on Tuesday. The forecast called for six to twelve inches of snow, so it sounded like we would see some beautiful snow scenes, and maybe even get to photograph a clearing storm. And some moisture might help revive Horsetail Fall.

Around sunset on Tuesday it started snowing at my house in Mariposa — first lightly, then heavily. In no time we had three or four inches of snow, and eventually got six inches, which is a lot for our 2700-foot elevation.

But the storm looked very compact on radar, and the precipitation didn’t seem to be reaching Yosemite. I called my friend Kirk Keeler, who lives in Yosemite Valley, and he told me that they had received only half an inch of snow.

Wednesday morning Claudia and I cleared the snow off our car and drove up to Yosemite Valley. We found an inch or two of snow — not a lot, but enough to highlight every tree branch. I saw many beautiful scenes with trees etched in snow, including the pattern of cottonwood branches below.

The morning was clear, but later some evaporation clouds started to appear, and they kept building. By the end of the day all the cliffs were hidden by clouds. But between 4:00 to 4:30 in the afternoon Half Dome and the clouds put on a great show. Half Dome would vanish completely, then reappear, wrapped in clouds and speckled with sunlight. I made the photograph above just before Half Dome disappeared for good.

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Latest Horsetail Conditions

Wednesday, February 13th, 2013
Horsetail Fall and clouds on a March afternoon, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Horsetail Fall and clouds on a March afternoon, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

I’m happy to be up and running after dealing with some computer issues, and can give you a quick report on Horsetail Fall. During a private workshop on Monday I had a chance to check out the water flow. I’d say it’s a little below average for mid-February, but definitely better than last year. Despite six weeks of mostly dry weather there’s still some snow on top of El Capitan to feed the waterfall, and temperatures are supposed to rise a bit this week, which should help melt that snow and increase the water volume.

The window of best light for Horsetail Fall starts this weekend and lasts about a week to ten days. If our dry spell continues we should see some clear skies at sunset during that time — an essential requirement for the Horsetail light show. But the long-range forecast calls for precipitation next Tuesday and Wednesday, so we’ll see.

As a reminder, I’ll be at the reception for my exhibit at The Ansel Adams Gallery this Saturday from noon to 2:00 p.m., and also at the Yosemite Renaissance opening reception the following Friday, February 22nd, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Yosemite Museum. I hope to see you at one of those events if you’re in the area!

— Michael Frye

Related Posts: Horsetail Fall Questions; The Best Time to Photograph Horsetail Fall, Revised

Michael Frye is a professional photographer specializing in landscapes and nature. He is the author and photographer of The Photographer’s Guide to YosemiteYosemite Meditations, and Digital Landscape Photography: In the Footsteps of Ansel Adams and the Great Masters, plus the eBooks Light & Land: Landscapes in the Digital Darkroom, and Exposure for Outdoor Photography. He has 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.

Horsetail Fall Questions

Thursday, January 31st, 2013
Horsetail Fall at sunset, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Low water, but ideal light on Horsetail Fall, February 20th, 2012

It’s almost February, so naturally I’ve been getting a lot of questions about Horsetail Fall. My thoughts about the best time to photograph Horsetail haven’t changed since I wrote this post last year: basically it’s February 16th to 23rd, or maybe a little beyond that.

This window was confirmed by my observations in 2012. There wasn’t much water in the fall last year, but we had a string of clear days, which allowed me to closely watch the light, and I think that February 16th to 23rd window is about right. You can, of course, take good photographs before or after that window; I’m talking about ideal light.

That ideal light requires clear skies to the west at sunset, something no one can predict at this point. And for good photographs the waterfall has to be flowing. Overall we’ve had a lot more rain and snow than last year, and Horsetail is flowing now. January, however, has been pretty dry, and there’s no precipitation in the forecast until at least next Wednesday. I think Horsetail will have more water this year than last, regardless of what happens over the next couple of weeks, but it would be nice to get some more snow on top of El Capitan soon to help feed Horsetail.

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