In the Moment:
Michael Frye's Landscape Photography Blog

A "Poor" Autumn

Aspens and sagebrush, autumn, Inyo NF, CA, USA

Aspens and sagebrush, autumn, Inyo NF, CA, USA

In most people’s estimation – including mine – this year was a poor one for fall color on the eastern side of the Sierra. Some aspen groves just turned brown and dropped their leaves early, probably because they were stressed by the drought. Other more well-watered groves turned late. It was hard to find areas where most of the trees were at peak color at the same time.

And yet, despite all that, we found some wonderful color on the east side this fall. I had a great time photographing the aspens before, during, and after our workshops. I posted a couple of eastern-Sierra grand landscape scenes earlier, but here are some more intimate views of the aspens on the east side. Whether the color is early or late, good or bad, there’s always something to photograph over there in October. Nature is resilient, and ever-beautiful.

— Michael Frye


Autumn Landscapes

Sunbeams, San Juan Mountains, CO, USA

Sunbeams, San Juan Mountains, Colorado. Driving over Lizard Head Pass we came around a bend and spotted these sunbeams coming through the clouds. Claudia found a place to pull over, and I scrambled to set up my camera as quickly as possible. Wind was blowing rain right toward the camera, so it was a challenge to keep water drops off the lens. I stayed for at least 20 minutes capturing images of the sunbeams as they moved and changed, but this was the very first frame. A challenging photo to process!

With their straight, white trunks and colorful leaves, aspens are great subjects for intimate landscapes. But in both Colorado and the eastern Sierra this fall we had lots of interesting weather, with great clouds, which created many opportunities to capture images of aspens as part of a larger landscape, with mountains in the background. I’ve posted a couple of these photographs already (here and here), but I’ve included a few more in this post.

These images were sometimes challenging to process. Often the aspens were in the shade, with sunlit, sometimes snow-covered peaks above, creating a lot of contrast. Yet all of these images were processed in Lightroom, with just one Raw file – no exposure blending or HDR. I used Lightroom’s wonderful Highlights and Shadows tools, plus some dodging and burning with the Adjustment Brush.


Eastern Sierra Fall Color Update

Carson Peak and aspens during a clearing storm, June Lake Loop, Inyo NF, CA, USA

Peak and aspens during a clearing storm, June Lake Loop, Friday morning

The past week has been very warm, so there hasn’t been a big color change at the lower elevation aspen groves in the eastern Sierra during that time. But there’s definitely more color in those areas, and some great spots, although much of the June Lake Loop and Lee Vining Canyon are still green. Conway Summit, which is a little higher, has some very colorful groves, although it also has some bare trees, and green ones as well. Several spots in the greater Lee Vining area seem to have more oranges and reds than usual.

We also found some beautiful color in Bishop Creek Canyon. North Lake is past peak, though there was still some nice color along the shore. But lower down we found lots of colorful trees, especially along the road to South Lake.


Fall Color in the Eastern Sierra

Aspens and lodgepole pines, Lee Vining Canyon, Inyo NF, CA, USA

Aspens and lodgepole pines, upper Lee Vining Canyon, yesterday afternoon

After returning from Colorado, and spending a couple of days at home, Claudia and I are back in the eastern Sierra. Yesterday we scouted areas around Lee Vining, and most of the aspen groves here are at about the stage you would expect for the second week of October. That means that the lower-elevation aspens still have a lot of green, and more color can be found in the mid- and high-elevation areas. The best color we saw was in Warren Canyon (in upper Lee Vining Canyon), around Conway Summit (including the lowest part of the road to Virginia Lakes), and Dunderberg. The June Lake Loop and lower Lee Vining Canyon still show a lot of green. We didn’t visit Lundy Canyon yet, but heard there was some nice color there.

We also found some aspen groves that seem to have lost their leaves prematurely. These tend to be in drier areas, so that might a sign of the drought. But these places are a minority, and most of the aspens look healthy and are changing according to their normal schedule.


Early Fall Color Report

Quaking aspens, autumn, Lee Vining Canyon, Inyo NF, CA, USA

Quaking aspens, Lee Vining Canyon, October 24, 2003

Claudia and I just returned from our annual trip to the Millpond Music Festival and (as Joe Craven puts it) “consciousness-raising event.” We had a wonderful time, as usual. The festival may or may not have raised my consciousness, but it sure was relaxing and fun.

Since the festival takes place in Bishop, on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada, the trip gives me a chance to check on the early fall color over there. Every year, it seems, some early-changing leaves lead to online predictions that the aspens will turn early. This year I’ve also heard a lot of speculation about the effect the drought will have on the autumn color, and even seen a few actual reports of aspens turning brown and dropping their leaves early.

Driving down to Bishop last Friday, the color didn’t look early at all. There were some yellow and lime-green aspens at the mouth of Warren Canyon (along Highway 120 in upper Lee Vining Canyon), and some lime-green trees on Parker Bench, but everything else looked dark green. Warren Canyon and Parker Bench are both high-elevation, early-changing locations, so that all looked pretty typical for this time of year.