In the Moment:
Michael Frye's Landscape Photography Blog

Starry Skies

Milky Way, mountains, and reflections, Inyo NF, CA, USA

Milky Way, mountains, and reflections, Inyo National Forest. 20 frames blended together with Starry Landscape Stacker to reduce noise. Each frame was 10 seconds at f/2.5, ISO 12,800.



As most of you know, California has endured a rash of wildfires in recent weeks. One of those fires, the Ferguson Fire, has been burning along the western edge of Yosemite for the last month. The park service eventually closed Yosemite Valley due to smoke and the threat of fire cutting off the roads that access the valley.

Our recent Starry Skies Adventure workshop was based far away from the fire in Lee Vining, near Mono Lake, but the Ferguson Fire kept sending lots of smoke over the mountains, making it questionable whether we would be able to find clear skies. In the end, however, we were able to find surprisingly clear skies all three nights of the workshop.

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Monsoon Sunsets

Cathedral Range and reflections at sunset, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Cathedral Range and reflections at sunset, Yosemite. We huddled under trees for about an hour, waiting out a rainstorm, and were rewarded with this beautiful sunset.

Every summer we get periods of monsoonal moisture pushing up into California from the south, producing afternoon showers and thunderstorms. One of those periods coincided with our recent workshop in the Yosemite high country, and we got to photograph some beautiful sunrises and sunsets.

On the second afternoon of our workshop we hiked over a ridge to an alpine lake basin. There were some thunderstorms in the area, but none were very close when we started our hike, so I thought we might stay dry – and we had rain gear just in case.

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Smoky Landscapes

Osprey bringing a fish back to its nest at sunrise, Mono Lake, CA, USA

Osprey bringing a fish back to its nest at sunrise, Mono Lake. A thin band of smoke hung on the horizon to the east, turning the sun into a nice orange ball as it crested the horizon. We had watched an osprey bring a fish back to its nest on the tufa towers on a previous morning, so this time I was anticipating it. As the sun rose I heard the adult at the nest calling, so I got ready, setting my shutter speed to 1/350th of a second to freeze motion (at f/8 and ISO 100). The other adult flew in low and fast from the right, then rose up to the nest as I held down the shutter button. The bird is just a small accent at this size, but would be clearly visible in a big print.

Unusual conditions can provide interesting opportunities for photographs. Any unusual conditions – even things we don’t normally think of as photogenic. Photographers typically avoid smoke, for example, but smoke can create some wonderful atmospheric effects.

The Ferguson Fire started on the second day of our recent workshop in the Yosemite high country, but we didn’t see any smoke at first. Then on our fourth afternoon (Sunday the 15th) smoke started pouring over the mountains from the west. Instead of bemoaning our luck, we just went with it, sought out subjects that might work with the conditions, and ended up finding some interesting stuff, especially around sunrise and sunset.

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Summer Wildflowers

Shooting stars, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Shooting stars, Yosemite. Handheld (a rarity for me) at 1/200th sec., f/4, ISO 400. I’m almost always using medium to small apertures to get everything in focus, but once in awhile it’s fun to use a wide aperture to throw the foreground and background out of focus.

I just finished teaching a workshop, so I’m catching up on posting images from earlier this summer. As I mentioned in a recent post, Claudia and I made several trips in June to the higher elevations of Yosemite to look for wildflowers. We found many shooting stars, which are one of the early bloomers in the high country. They’re beautiful flowers, but they always grow in marshy areas, full of mosquitos. So over the years my brain has made an association between shooting stars and their accompanying insect pests, and just seeing these flowers triggers a psychological reaction that literally makes me itch.

But aside from that initial visceral reaction to the sight of shooting stars, mosquitos don’t generally faze me much. I’ve actually developed a partial immunity to the mosquitos in Yosemite, so bites don’t create welts or make me itch anymore. Mosquitos are still annoying, but a little insect repellent keeps them at bay and lets me concentrate on photographing flowers.

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Image-Adaptive Behavior in Lightroom’s Tone Controls


(If you’re viewing this post as an email and can’t see the video, click here.)

There’s a lot going on under the hood in Lightroom – things that aren’t obvious, and aren’t talked about much, not even by Adobe. For example, all the Tone sliders in the Basic Panel are image-adaptive – that is, their behavior changes based on the image content. The two most important image-adaptive behaviors are the automatic highlight recovery, and the automatic black-point adjustment, which kick in when a raw file has overexposed highlights or underexposed shadows.

The seven-minute video above explains how the automatic highlight recovery and automatic black point adjustment work. The full 44-minute video about the Basic Panel Tone Controls has much more, including an in-depth look at all the Tone sliders, an explanation of why Adobe’s default settings might not be the best starting place for many images, and demonstrations of how I approach processing both high-contrast and low-contrast images in Lightroom.

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