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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Owl Encounter

Great gray owl, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Great gray owl, Yosemite. This was what my first view looked like as the owl as craned its neck around the trunk and stared back at me.

Claudia and I have made several trips to the Yosemite high country recently to photograph flowers. We’ve mostly seen early bloomers like shooting stars, along with a few other species.

One afternoon we made a short hike to one of the high-country meadows looking for flowers. Whenever I’m near meadows in Yosemite between, say, 6,000 and 8,000 feet, I keep my eyes and ears peeled for great gray owls. These are the largest owls in North America, and typically live in boreal forests in Canada and Alaska. But some live in the Cascades and northern Sierra, all the way down to Yosemite, which hosts the southern-most population of these birds.

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The Profile Browser in Lightroom Classic


Free Video: Profile Browser Overview
This free video includes the first 9 minutes of the complete 33-minute video, and shows how to use and navigate the Profile Browser, how to add and remove profiles from your Favorites list, how use the Amount slider with Creative Profiles, and more. The complete video is included in my Landscapes in Lightroom ebook and video package. If you’re viewing this post as an email, click here to see the video.

In April Adobe added a new feature to Lightroom Classic CC: the Profile Browser. The initial release of this update (Version 7.3) had many bugs, but those problems seem to have been resolved now, so I thought it was time to delve into this new feature in detail.

Profiles are actually nothing new. Every raw file needs a profile to convert the raw data into the colors and tones you see on your screen. And ever since Lightroom 2 you’ve been able to choose different profiles (essentially different flavors of color and contrast), but those options were hidden down in the Camera Calibration panel, where most people never found them.

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Lightroom eBook Updated!

The latest update to my ebook, Landscapes in Lightroom: The Essential Step-by-Step Guide, is now available! This new edition is revised and updated for Lightroom Classic CC, and includes a brand new example where I take you step-by-step through processing a Milky Way photograph, plus six new videos about the Range Mask, the Profile Browser, fixing coma, removing color fringing around stars, and more.

I’ve also completely revamped the video about the tone controls – the most important part of processing any image – that covers their image-adaptive behavior, how each tool works, why you might consider changing your default settings, and how to approach processing both high-contrast and low-contrast images. The ebook now includes 17 videos altogether, totaling 3 hours and 45 minutes of runtime.

For a limited time this new edition is available at the old price of $26.95, but after July 9th the price goes up to $39. I know it seems like you have plenty of time, but you’ll get involved with other things, and before you know it the price will go up. So you may as well just jump on it now so you don’t forget. 🙂 Just click the Add to Cart button:

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High-Country Panorama

Milky Way over a high-country lake, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Milky Way over a high-country lake, Yosemite. A five-image stitched panorama made with my Sony a7R II and Rokinon 20mm f/1.8 lens. Each frame was 30 seconds at f/2.5, ISO 6400. Stitched with Lightroom’s Panorama Merge.

Landscape photography doesn’t often lend itself to advance planning, because the weather is just too unpredictable. You’re usually better off being flexible, making last-minute plans based on the weather and conditions, and then being prepared to change plans again on a moment’s notice.

But some things require advance planning, and hoping that the weather cooperates. About 18 months ago I photographed the moon rising over May Lake. That image required quite a bit of planning to find a location where the moon would be in the right position. Later, it occurred to me that this same spot might also be a good location to photograph a Milky-Way panorama. That would, of course, also require the right conditions, including clear skies, and – ideally – calm winds, so that stars would be reflected in the lake. And it would only work during a narrow window of time in late May or early June, after the Tioga Road opened, and before the Milky Way moved out of position. (After about the middle of June the full arc of the Milky would be too high overhead for a panorama by the time the sky got dark.)

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Lupines in the Fog

Clearing rain storm with lupines and oaks, Redwood NP, CA, USA

Clearing rain storm with lupines and oaks, Redwood NP, CA; 11:44 a.m., 32mm 1/60th at f/16, ISO 400.

On our journey to far northern California last month, Claudia and I found some nice patches of lupines up in the hills away from the coast. Naturally I thought fog would add just the right touch to the lupines, but since the elevation was over 2,000 feet it would take a high fog bank or some low clouds to envelop this area in fog.

Luckily we got that high fog bank one morning. We drove up early, in case the sun broke through, but it stayed socked in for the first hour, with a light breeze moving the flowers and making photography challenging. Then the wind picked up and it started to drizzle. I heard a rumble. Could that be thunder? There were showers in the forecast that day. I heard another rumble: definitely thunder. That was a first for me – hearing thunder while wrapped in fog. It was kind of cool, but also a sign that I should retreat to the car.

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