In the Moment:
Michael Frye's Landscape Photography Blog

Guess the Focal Length

Morning light and clouds, Mono Lake, CA, USA

A: Morning light and clouds, Mono Lake. Can you guess what kind of lens I used for this photograph?

When I post a photograph, people often ask me which lens I used. I’m happy to tell them, but I don’t think you learn much when someone hands you an answer. I think it’s more instructive to try to guess yourself. Estimating what focal length a photographer used can help train your eye to see the world the way the camera sees, and learn how lenses control the sense of depth and perspective in a photograph. And those things will help you find compositions more readily, and make it easier to choose which lens to use in the field.

Wide-angle lenses often create a sense of depth, and immerse you into the landscape, while telephoto lenses flatten the perspective and isolate small parts of a scene. Telephotos are also great for creating patterns. Those traits aren’t always apparent, however, nor are they exclusive. You can show patterns with wide-angle lenses, and you can convey a sense of depth with telephoto lenses. And you can photograph intimate landscapes with wide-angle lenses, and show a vast, sweeping landscape with a telephoto.

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QT Luong’s Treasured Lands

I don’t often post reviews here, but QT Luong’s Treasured Lands is a book I thought you should know about, and QT is currently having a sale on signed copies.

Treasured Lands is a big, beautiful, coffee-table book with photographs of all 59 U.S. national parks. Just visiting all 59 parks would be quite an achievement, but to make artistic photographs of all these places in different seasons and varying weather conditions is an amazing feat. It’s not surprising that it took QT twenty years to accomplish this.

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Happy Thanksgiving!

Ross's geese at sunrise, San Joaquin Valley, CA, USA

Ross’s geese at sunrise, San Joaquin Valley, CA, USA

The Thanksgiving holiday is always a good time to pause from our daily routines and think about all the things we have to be grateful for.

For me, first and foremost, I’m thankful for my family and friends. I’m happy that my son has flown the nest and is doing so well, and I’m especially fortunate to have been married to the same wonderful, beautiful woman for over 30 years.

And I’m extremely grateful for all the support I receive from you, my readers. Your comments and emails help make writing this blog fun, and keep me motivated and inspired. Thank you!

Whether or not you celebrate Thanksgiving, I hope you all have a lot to be thankful for!

— Michael Frye

Chasing the Weather and Color in Colorado

Aspens and ferns near Kebler Pass, Grand Mesa-Uncompahgre-Gunnison NF, CO, USA

Aspens and ferns near Kebler Pass, Grand Mesa-Uncompahgre-Gunnison NF, CO, USA

Claudia and I had wonderful conditions on our autumn trip to Colorado. As I said before, it wasn’t the best year for fall color there, but the weather more than made up for that, with rain, snow, fog, and lots of interesting clouds.

We chased the weather and color all over Colorado – or so it seemed. We reached the San Juan Mountains in the southwest corner of the state on September 27th, but found little color at that time. So we headed east and ended up near Twin Lakes, where I photographed aspens with snow and fog. Then we drove over Independence Pass and spent a couple of days around Aspen and Carbondale, braving the crowds to capture a misty view of the Maroon Bells.

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Why F/16?

Late-October aspens near Silver Lake, June Lake Loop, Inyo NF, CA, USA

Late-October aspens near Silver Lake, June Lake Loop, Inyo NF, CA, USA. I used f/16 to get everything in focus in this 2008 photograph from the eastern Sierra. (The shutter speed was 1/6th second, the ISO 400.)

I sometimes post my camera settings here on the blog, and I’ve had many people ask me why I often use f/16. Is that the sharpest aperture on my lens? (No.) Don’t you get diffraction at f/16? (A little bit.) Is it for depth of field? (Bingo!)

As many of you know, most lenses are sharpest at middle apertures – generally around f/5.6 to f/11, depending on the lens.

Better lenses will perform decently at wide apertures like f/2.8 or f/4, but usually the corners are softer compared to the middle apertures. On the other end of the spectrum, at smaller apertures diffraction causes all lenses to get softer over the entire image (not just the corners).

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