Posts Tagged ‘Yosemite Valley’

Stars Over Three Brothers

Thursday, August 14th, 2014

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).


Smoky Beauty

Wednesday, July 30th, 2014

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).


Spring in Yosemite

Sunday, April 27th, 2014
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


Dogwoods Have Arrived

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2014

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


Divided No More

Sunday, March 30th, 2014

Half Dome and Yosemite Valley with fog, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Half Dome and Yosemite Valley with fog, Thursday morning

Not long ago, photographers were divided into two camps: color photographers, and black-and-white photographers. Sure, there were some people who did both, and even some who did both well, but they were rare. Most photographers specialized in one medium or the other – and I use that word deliberately, because it almost seemed like they were different mediums, not just different palettes.

Part of this was the materials. You had to decide, before you put in a roll of film, whether you wanted to photograph in color or black and white, and then you were committed to that choice for the next 36 frames. This encouraged you to stick with what you liked and knew best.

Also, color and black and white required different skill sets. Apart from the ability to “see” in color or black and white, processing and printing color film was (and is) difficult, and most color photographers, even serious ones, avoided it by using transparency film and outsourcing the processing and printing to labs. You could do that with black and white too, but getting the most out of black-and-white film required (and still requires) doing it yourself, with access to a darkroom, and possession of considerable printing skills.


Approaching Storms

Wednesday, February 26th, 2014

Clearing storm at sunrise, Tunnel View, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Clearing storm at sunrise, Tunnel View, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

In our extreme California drought, any potential precipitation is big news. This week two storms are forecast to reach the Sierra Nevada: one tonight, and another, stronger system on Friday, continuing into Saturday. While these are colder storms than the last ones, it doesn’t look like Yosemite Valley will get any snow. The snow level is expected to drop to 4,500 feet on Saturday night, just above the valley floor (at 4,000 feet), so it’s possible the valley could get an end-of-storm dusting if the snow-level predictions are a little off. But lower elevations should get a couple of inches of much-needed rain, and the high country could get over two feet of snow – a very welcome addition to the snowpack.

While the window of best light on Horsetail Fall has passed, any precipitation brings the potential for a photogenic clearing storm. Based on the forecast, it looks like we’ll see some clearing tomorrow, and again on Saturday or Sunday (or maybe both). We’re approaching the best time of year to photograph Tunnel View and Valley View (a.k.a. Gates of the Valley), because the late-afternoon light is balanced between El Capitan on the left and Cathedral Rocks on the right. If a storm clears late in the day that will create ideal conditions at both of those classic views. Of course I describe both of these spots, and many others, in The Photographer’s Guide to Yosemite, available as both a softcover book and iOS app.


A Perfectly-Timed Storm

Tuesday, February 4th, 2014

El Capitan and the Merced River during a clearing storm, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

El Capitan and the Merced River during a clearing storm, Friday morning, Yosemite

A clearing storm in Yosemite Valley can be a memorable event, but not all clearing storms are equally photogenic. Some clear gradually, while others finish abruptly and spectacularly. Some storms clear at night, some in the middle of the day, but for photography you’d like the storm to clear just before sunrise or sunset.

Last Thursday, Yosemite Valley got two inches of rain, the first real precipitation in almost two months. Higher elevations got snow, and the temperature dropped enough to give the Valley a slight dusting at the tail end of the storm. The main part of the storm cleared around midday on Thursday – not the best time for photography, though still beautiful. But then showers resumed Thursday night, with the last of them moving through just before sunrise. Perfect timing.

My two brothers were visiting from Washington State, and the three of us rose early, drove up to Yosemite Valley, and headed for one of my favorite spots along the Merced River. The sun broke through the clouds and illuminated El Capitan briefly before the fog thickened and all the cliffs disappeared. But after about ten minutes El Cap re-emerged, the sun broke through, and we were treated to a classic Yosemite clearing storm. The first photograph here is probably my favorite from the morning, but I’ve posted a couple more images below, including a later image from Tunnel View – still a photogenic spot at 10:00 a.m.


Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 31st, 2013

Sunbeams from Tunnel View, spring, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Sunbeams from Tunnel View, spring, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Happy New Year everyone! To all my readers, thank you so much for your support during the past year. Your participation makes writing this blog fun. I have lots of exciting plans for this blog, and look forward to another great year in 2014!

And don’t forget, tomorrow I’ll be posting the nominees for my best photos of 2013, and you’ll get a chance to vote for your favorites and help me pick the top ten. The image above was the top vote-getter from two years ago.

— Michael Frye


Top Posts of 2013: My Top Ten Images From Last Year

Sunday, December 15th, 2013

Three Brothers reflected in the Merced River on a moonlit night, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Three Brothers reflected in the Merced River on a moonlit night, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

As we count down to the new year, I thought this might be a good time to look back at my most popular blog posts of 2013. We’ll start with a post from early January of this year showcasing my best images from 2012, as chosen by you, my readers. The top vote-getter, by a wide margin, was this photograph of Three Brothers by moonlight, but you can see all of the top ten for 2012 here, and see all the original nominees here.

I’ll be doing this again – letting my readers pick my best images from 2013. But the year isn’t over yet, and there’s still time for me to make a few more photographs, so look for the post with the nominees after the first of the year. And in the meantime I look forward to highlighting more of my top articles from this year, including the most popular ever next time.

Thanks to all of you for helping to make this a great year, and Happy Holidays!

— Michael Frye

Related Posts: 2012: My Top Ten Images; 2012: Picking My Best Images

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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.


Friday, December 13th, 2013

Half Dome and moon at sunset, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Half Dome and moon at sunset, February 18th, 2008

There’s something magical about the moon. Putting the moon in a photograph adds a sense of mystery and timelessness, and can elevate an otherwise ordinary scene into something special. Ansel Adams confessed to being “moonstruck,” and I suppose I am too.

The moon will be full next Tuesday (at 1:28 a.m. here on the west coast), and I’m sure many photographers will be trying to capture a rising or setting moon during the coming days, so I thought I would share some ideas about photographing the full moon, and clear up some misconceptions.

Misconception #1

One misconception is that moonrise or moonset photos are taken at night. They’re not: they’re almost invariably made near sunrise or sunset. After dark the contrast between the moon and the landscape is too great, and a good exposure for the moon will make the landscape completely black, while a good exposure for the landscape will wash out the moon. Around sunrise and sunset it’s possible to balance the light between the moon and the landscape and get detail in both, yet have a dark enough sky for the moon to stand out clearly.

Misconception #2

Another misconception is that moonrise or moonset photos are made on the date when your calendar says “full moon.” This can work if the terrain is flat, or you’re at a high vantage point. But if there are mountains or ridges blocking your view of the horizon, you’re better off photographing a moonrise one to three days before the full moon, and a moonset one to three days after the full moon. While the moon won’t technically be full, it will look full enough, and be in a better position than on the actual full moon night. Here’s why: