In the Moment:
Michael Frye's Landscape Photography Blog

Photographing Sunbursts

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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Eastern Sierra Sunrise

Sunrise on a peak in the eastern Sierra, Inyo NF, CA, USA

Sunrise on a peak in the eastern Sierra, Inyo NF, CA, USA

I made this photograph yesterday morning during my first Eastern Sierra Fall Color workshop. It’s just so beautiful over here! We had a great time, and I’m looking forward to the second one.

With sidelight like this, a polarizing filter can actually lighten a reflection if it’s adjusted correctly. By lightening the refection and darkening the sky the polarizer helped to balance the contrast of this scene, and from there it was relatively easy to process this image in Lightroom using Highlights, Shadows, and the Graduated Filter tool.

— Michael Frye

Related Posts: A Landscape Transformed; Autumn Snow

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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.

Proposed Changes to Yosemite’s El Capitan Meadow

El Capitan after an autumn snowstorm from El Capitan Meadow, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

El Capitan after an autumn snowstorm from El Capitan Meadow, Yosemite NP, CA, USA



I know many of my readers have a close connection with Yosemite, so I thought you would want to know about some proposed changes to El Capitan Meadow. In most of the proposed alternatives for the park service’s Merced River Draft Management plan, fencing and signs would be installed to keep visitors from trampling the meadow.

John Sexton wrote a thoughtful post on Facebook about this issue, which I recommend reading. El Capitan Meadow has long been a favorite spot for photographers in Yosemite. Ansel Adams made his Oak Tree, Snowstorm photograph from there. Galen Rowell captured one of his most famous images, Clearing Storm Over El Capitan, from this meadow. John posted one of his wonderful photographs on his Facebook post. El Capitan Meadow is certainly a favorite place of mine too, and I’ve made many images there, including all the ones included here.

I know that the park service has a difficult job. They have to balance preservation with public use and enjoyment of the parks. Meadows are fragile, and are easily damaged by too much foot traffic, and the easiest way to prevent that damage is to fence off the meadow.

On the other hand, what makes Yosemite Valley so wonderful, so extraordinary, is the juxtaposition of soaring cliffs with the serenity of the meadows and meandering river on the valley floor. There are other places with magnificent cliffs. There is no other place with an idyllic valley surrounded by such high walls. The quintessential Yosemite experience is to wander out into a meadow, stare up at the cliffs and waterfalls, and soak up the tranquility. I would hate to see that experience taken away. There has to be a better solution than fencing and “Keep Out” signs for the valley’s meadows.

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A Harebrained Idea

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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In Praise of Soft Light

Redbud along the Merced River, Merced River Canyon, near Briceberg, CA, USA

Redbud along the Merced River, Merced River Canyon, near Briceberg, CA, USA


Last weekend I visited the Merced River Canyon, looking for flowers. As I wrote last week, there are more blooms than expected, given our dry winter, but it’s still a below-average year for poppies. The redbuds, however, were in great shape last weekend. Some were starting to leaf out, while others weren’t in full bloom yet, so I’d say it was just about peak for redbuds. More will start to leaf out every day, but there should still be many beautiful redbuds this weekend and beyond.

Sunday afternoon it was very windy in the canyon. I found the scene above, with a redbud against the flowing river, and waited for half an hour for the wind to die down before giving up and walking upriver. On my way back to the car it seemed that the wind had calmed a bit, so I set up my tripod again, only to realize that it was almost as windy as before. I waited another half hour, and finally it became perfectly, completely still for about a minute, and I was able to make this photograph.

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