In the Moment:
Michael Frye's Landscape Photography Blog

Eclipse Tips

Sequence showing the annular solar eclipse, May 20th, 2012, from Manzanita Lake, Lassen Volcanic NP

Sequence showing the annular solar eclipse, May 20th, 2012, from Manzanita Lake, Lassen Volcanic NP



The total solar eclipse in the United States is just over a week away (August 21st), and eclipse mania is sweeping the nation. There are many, many articles on the internet describing how to photograph the eclipse (this one by Todd Vorenkamp on the B&H website is the best I’ve found), but I’ll try to cover some topics that haven’t been discussed much elsewhere.

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The Sony Star-Eater Issue

Milky Way over sand dunes, Death Valley NP, CA, USA

Milky Way over sand dunes, Death Valley. I was puzzled by talk about the “star-eater” issue with Sony cameras, since all my nighttime photos made with my a7R II showed plenty of small stars – including this image made in April from Death Valley.

There’s been a lot internet chatter lately about the so-called “star-eater” issue with Sony cameras. If you haven’t heard of this, last August Sony issued a firmware update for the Mark II versions of all its full-frame E-mount cameras (a7 II, a7s II, and a7r II), and many people have reported that since then these Sony models have been making smaller stars disappear in nighttime photographs. It seems that the new firmware included some kind of noise-reduction algorithm (even with Raw files) that blurred or eliminated those smaller stars. And, unfortunately, there’s no way to revert these cameras to the previous firmware version. In June of this year Sony released new firmware updates for these models, but some initial reports indicated that this new firmware didn’t fix the “star-eater” issue.

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Nighttime Reflections

Clouds and Milky Way reflected in Tenaya Lake, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Clouds and Milky Way reflected in Tenaya Lake, Yosemite. A four-frame vertical panorama stitched together with Lightroom’s Panorama Merge; each frame was 20 seconds at f/2.5, ISO 6400.



On the first night of our recent Starry Skies Adventure workshop we started at Olmsted Point in the Yosemite high country. We had beautifully clear skies at first, despite our proximity to the Detwiler Fire. And the early-evening winds died down, making our group feel warmer, and also creating a chance to photograph reflections in nearby Tenaya Lake.

Before we headed to the lake some clouds started moving in from the east, but I didn’t mind. I love photographing nighttime skies with a mixture of stars and clouds. And that’s what we found when we got to the lake, with the underside of the clouds catching an orange glow from the lights of the Central Valley. Better yet, the wind was calm and the water still, creating beautiful reflections.

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Lightning at Mono Lake

Lightning at dusk, Mono Lake, CA, USA

Lightning at dusk, Mono Lake (35mm, 30 seconds at f/5.6, ISO 250)

The Detwiler Fire is now 85% contained, and emitting little smoke. As I mentioned in my last post, Claudia and I never felt that our house was in serious danger, but sadly, 63 homes were destroyed in the fire. None of our friends lost their homes, which we’re grateful for, but we feel for those who did lose their homes, even though we don’t know them. I’m sure that’s a very tough thing to go through. It is heartening, however, to see the community come together to help those who lost their homes.

The fire started a week before our Starry Skies Adventure workshop on the eastern side of the Sierra. Initially the fire was spewing out tons of smoke, and sending it over the mountains to the east, so Yosemite and the Mono Lake area were pretty socked in. But as the week wore on the smoke diminished, and by the time our workshop started the skies were remarkably clear.

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Detwiler Fire

Wildflowers and forest burned by the Rim Fire, Stanislaus NF, CA, USA

Wildflowers and forest burned by the Rim Fire, Stanislaus NF, CA, USA

Many of you have heard about the Detwiler Fire in Mariposa County, and I’ve received a number of emails asking about our safety. Claudia and I appreciate everyone’s concern very much. It’s gratifying to know that so many people care – thank you!

Please know that we are safe and our house is not in danger. We’ve been under an evacuation advisory (that means it’s not mandatory) since Tuesday, but activity on the end of the fire closest to your house (the southern end) seems to have calmed down, and we expect the advisory to be lifted soon. Of course we’re packed and ready to go just in case, and we have a place to stay if necessary, but at this point it’s highly unlikely that we’ll need to evacuate.

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Deep Freeze in the High Country

Reflections in ice sculptures, Saddlebag Lake, Inyo NF, CA, USA

Reflections in sculptured ice, Saddlebag Lake, Inyo NF. Abstracts and telephoto lenses seem to go together, so I started off using my 70-200 zoom. But just to try something different I got down near the edge of the lake and tried using a wide-angle lens, and these wide-angle abstracts turned out to be some of my favorites. (35mm, 1/20 sec. at f/16, ISO 100)

This past winter’s record-setting snowpack in the Yosemite high country has left tons of snow and ice lingering into July. Tioga Pass finally opened on June 29th, and Claudia and I headed over the pass on July 3rd to scout for our Range of Light workshop. We found little snow below 9,000 feet, but above that altitude the hiking was tough, requiring either long detours to avoid snow, or traversing tedious, slippery, sun-cupped snowfields.

That meant we couldn’t get to certain locations during the workshop, but as compensation we got to photograph roaring creeks and rivers, and partially-frozen lakes. When frozen lakes melt you can often find beautiful patterns where ice and snow mix with patches of open water. On the last evening of the workshop we went to Saddlebag Lake, which had some amazing ice patterns. Better yet, the ice went into the shade around 6:30 p.m., while the rusty-colored mountainside on the opposite side of the lake stayed in the sun for another hour, casting beautiful gold and orange reflections in the water. This was kid-in-candy-store stuff to someone who likes abstracts as much as I do.

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Seizing an Opportunity

Redwoods and rhododendrons in fog, Del Norte Coast Redwoods SP, CA, USA

Redwoods and rhododendrons in fog, Del Norte Coast Redwoods SP, CA. A hike through the fog led me to some of the most vivid rhododendrons I had ever seen. (70mm, 1 second at f/16, ISO 100, polarizer.)

Continuing to look back at photographs from this past spring, here are some more images from our trip to the redwoods.

One morning prior to our workshop Claudia, Robert and I drove from Crescent City down to Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, hoping to see fog, but found that the marine layer was too high, above even the highest portions of this park, which reaches up to 1,200 feet in elevation. So we continued south, and hiked out to a favorite beach to check on conditions. Later that morning, on our way back through Del Norte, the ever-unpredictable fog had lowered. In fact, I saw fog in an area where I had rarely seen it before. I had long wanted to photograph this redwood forest in the fog, and here was my chance.

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Lupines and Fog

Sun rising over a field of lupines, Redwood NP, CA, USA

Sun rising over a field of lupines, Redwood NP. I put the sun behind a tree to reduce flare, and bracketed five frames, two stops apart, then blended the exposures using Lightroom’s HDR Merge. (16mm, f/16, various shutter speeds, ISO 100.)

Before our recent redwoods workshop Claudia and I drove inland, toward the higher elevations of Redwoods National Park, and found a beautiful, dense patch of lupines in one of the “prairies,” as they call them in that part of California – an open, grassy area amid the dense surrounding forests. We also found some photographer friends there, Terry Donnelly and Mary Liz Austin, and met two other photographers, Ed Callaert and Bruce Jackson. It’s amazing how you meet photographers in the most out-of-the-way – yet beautiful – places.

On that first afternoon the light wasn’t particularly special, but I did manage to make one image I liked (the first one below) in soft light after the sun set. Two days later, in Crescent City, we woke early and saw a high fog bank, or marine layer, and thought maybe we might see fog among the lupines. Claudia and I arrived about 15 minutes before sunrise, and the lupines were right at the top of the fog bank, which was perfect, creating an opportunity to photograph sun, fog, and lupines together.

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Sunset and Azaleas

Sunset in El Capitan Meadow with oaks, pines, azaleas, and Lower Cathedral Rock, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Sunset in El Capitan Meadow with oaks, pines, azaleas, and Lower Cathedral Rock, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Last Sunday, after the double rainbow from Tunnel View faded, Claudia and I headed down to El Capitan Meadow. We had explored this meadow earlier in the afternoon and found azaleas still blooming (though most were past peak). I hoped to photograph the azaleas again in better light, maybe with a sunset above.

By the time we got to El Cap Meadow the sky was already starting to get interesting, so I had to hurry. My previous explorations gave me a head start, but I still had trouble finding a good composition that included azaleas, the sky, and, preferably, Lower Cathedral Rock. There was also some mist along the Merced River in the distance, and ponds reflecting the sunset, so I wanted to include those elements too, if possible.

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Double Rainbow

Double rainbow from Tunnel View, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Double rainbow from Tunnel View, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

I’m always looking for interesting weather. On Sunday the forecast called for a chance of showers and thunderstorms, so that afternoon Claudia and I decided to brave the weekend traffic and head up to Yosemite Valley.

The traffic actually wasn’t too bad, and we did encounter some rain. After a small shower passed through we went to El Capitan Meadow and spent some time photographing azaleas. I kept checking the radar on my phone, and saw that another, stronger shower was headed our way. With clear skies to the west, and this new shower coming from the southeast, that meant we could see sun hitting rain – and a rainbow. Claudia was in another part of the meadow, so I texted her and said, “Maybe we should go to the Tunnel.”

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