In the Moment:
Michael Frye's Landscape Photography Blog

Oceans of Fog: Part Two

Sunrise above a fog layer, Sierra Nevada foothills, Mariposa County, CA, USA

Sunrise above a fog layer, Sierra Nevada foothills, Thursday morning; focal length was 75mm

As I mentioned in my last post, the fog display on Thursday morning might have been even better than Wednesday morning. It didn’t look very promising at first. There was no fog at our house, and none in Mariposa either, so I knew I had to go lower. Claudia was with me this time, and we decided to take a back road that headed west into the lower foothills. At one point we crested a ridge, and there, below us, was the sea of fog.

Again I was fortunate to find a good viewpoint looking toward the southeast. This time there was a layer of high clouds above the fog, already starting to turn color with the sunrise. Best of all, a double-peaked hill was poking up out of the fog in that direction. The image at the top of this post is an early one from that morning, with a brilliant sunrise above the fog and hills.

After the sun rose, the fog lifted into some nearby ridges, getting high enough to almost – but not quite – obscure that double-peaked hill. Soft backlight filtered through the high clouds, bringing out beautiful textures in the fog (see the two images below).

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Oceans of Fog: Part One

Fog and southern Sierra peaks from Mt. Bullion at sunrise, Mariposa County, CA, USA

Fog and southern Sierra peaks from Mt. Bullion at sunrise, Mariposa County, Wednesday morning

After the episode of dense fog in the Central Valley that I mentioned in my last post, the fog lifted into what meteorologists call a stratus deck last week – essentially a layer of fog that’s slightly above ground level. From the Central Valley the stratus deck would look like a low overcast. If you were to drive out of the valley into the Sierra, you’d climb into the clouds, and into a layer of fog, and then eventually get above the fog and into sunshine. And if you could find a hill or ridge that rose above the stratus deck, you’d be able to look out over a sea of fog.

That sight should be familiar to people who live in the San Francisco Bay Area, or anywhere along the California Coast. When I lived in the Bay Area in the early ’80s, I remember driving along Skyline Drive on the Peninsula and looking out to the west over a sea of fog covering the ocean. At that time my interest in photography was in its infancy, but it was a beautiful sight. I’ve had that mental image in my mind ever since, and have long wanted to make photographs from above a sea of fog.

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Above the Fog

Oak tree above a fog layer, Mariposa County, CA, USA

Oak tree above a fog layer, Mariposa County, California. 150mm, 20 seconds at f/16, ISO 50.

Fog in California’s Central Valley will occasionally lift into what meteorologists call a stratus deck, where fog rises above the valley floor and settles into a low layer of clouds. From the floor of the Central Valley it looks like a low overcast, but if you drive into the Sierra foothills you’ll climb into the fog, and then above it.

If you’ve been reading this blog for awhile you know that I love fog. It’s highly photogenic stuff. Fog here in the foothills is much less common than in the Central Valley, so it always piques my interest, giving me a rare opportunity to photograph some of the numerous, beautiful, foothill oaks in the fog, and even better, a chance to get above the fog. If conditions are right, I can sometimes climb a peak or ridge where I can look out over a sea of fog, with the peaks of the Sierra to the east, and nothing visible in any other direction except the cloud tops.

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Another Beautiful Moonrise

Moon rising above Half Dome from Tunnel View, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Moon rising above Half Dome from Tunnel View, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

During my workshop in Yosemite last week we photographed a spectacular moonrise on Monday evening from Tunnel View. A band of lenticular clouds hung in the sky in the distance, and just before the moon rose the sun broke through the clouds behind us and lit up El Capitan and Half Dome with vivid shades of orange.

In a recent interview I did for David Johnston and his Photography Roundtable podcast, we talked about using telephoto lenses for landscapes, and how using a longer lens is one way to simplify a composition. I use whatever lens seems appropriate for the situation – the lens that allows me to include all the essentials, but only the essentials. In the photograph above, that meant using my 70-200mm zoom at 183mm in order to fill the frame with the moon, Half Dome, that lenticular cloud, and the v-shaped notch below and to the left of Half Dome.

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How to Shade Your Lens

Ponderosa pines in mist, El Capitan Meadow, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Ponderosa pines in mist, El Capitan Meadow, Yosemite

Natural light comes in an infinite variety of beautiful flavors. I love them all, but if I had to pick a favorite, it would probably be backlight, because it consistently delivers some of the most interesting images. All of the photographs from my last two posts, the ones from above the fog layer, were made with the camera pointing toward the sun. The photograph above, one I haven’t posted here before, captures a moment when backlit mist rose into the pines in Yosemite’s El Capitan Meadow. This next image, voted my top photograph of 2014, was also lit from behind, with the sun just above the frame:

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