In the Moment:
Michael Frye's Landscape Photography Blog

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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Death Valley under the Moon and Stars

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

Milky Way over sand dunes, Death Valley. This is a six-image panorama, lit with low-level continuous lighting from two LED light panels on stands, and stitched together with Lightroom’s Panorama Merge. See the main text for more details.

It’s been a busy spring, so I have a backlog of images that I haven’t been able to post yet. Among those images are most of the nighttime photos I made during our two Death Valley workshops (as well as beforehand, while scouting). We encountered a lot of wind, which made things challenging. You just don’t want to be out in the dunes when it’s windy, because you and your gear will get sand-blasted. But the wind helped wipe footprints off the sand, and somehow, during both workshops, we managed to get out into the footprint-free dunes on calm, clear, beautiful nights.

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The Primeval Coast

Sea stacks at dusk, Redwood NP, CA, USA

Sea stacks at dusk, Redwood NP. After the sun had set we saw this little strip of orange light near the horizon through a gap in the clouds. I used a 10-stop neutral-density filter to lengthen the shutter speed to 30 seconds (at f/8, 200 ISO; focal length 111mm) in order to smooth out the water.

We recently returned from our annual trip to the northwest corner of California, land of fog, ferns, giant redwoods, and wild, rugged stretches of coastline. I always love going back to this area with its damp, primeval moodiness. And once again we had a great time during our workshop, enjoying the wonderful food and atmosphere at the Requa Inn, and spending time with a fun group of participants.

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Moon Setting over Yosemite Valley and Horsetail Fall

Moon setting over Yosemite Valley and Horsetail Fall, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Moon setting over Yosemite Valley and Horsetail Fall, spring of 2017

Every year, around the third week of February, the sun sets at just the right angle for Horsetail Fall. With clear skies and enough water, the backlit waterfall glows with a brilliant orange color, lit by the setting sun.

Some years ago it occurred to me that the setting moon could create the same effect. In the spring of 2010 I had a chance to try this, and it worked beautifully. As I wrote back then, I walked up to one of my favorite Horsetail Fall viewing locations early in the morning, and saw an amazing sight: that beautiful, low-angle backlight on the waterfall, with the cliff behind it in the shade. It looked like sunset in February, only with stars in the sky above it. And the camera captured what my eyes couldn’t see – the orange glow created by the setting moon:

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The Fate of our National Monuments

Endless flowers, Carrizo Plain NM, CA, USA

Endless flowers, Carrizo Plain NM, CA, USA

Earlier this spring, Claudia and I, along with our friend Robert, spent five days photographing flowers in Carrizo Plain National Monument. We marveled at the vast fields of flowers. As I wrote in an earlier post, we found acres and acres of tidytips, phacelia, hillside daisies, fiddlenecks, and goldfields, growing together in dense mats, uninterrupted by shrubs or even a blade of grass. We had to tiptoe carefully to avoid crushing flowers at every step.

We saw pronghorn antelope and tule elk, both reintroduced to this area. We saw three endangered San Joaquin kit foxes. It truly seemed as if we’d stepped back in time, and were seeing what California looked like 200 years ago.

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High Water in Yosemite

Half Dome and oaks in flooded Leidig Meadow, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Half Dome and oaks in flooded Leidig Meadow. My chest waders came in handy on a couple of occasions. Here I waded into Leidig Meadow to capture these flooded oaks framing Half Dome. (Focal length: 21mm; five bracketed exposures blended with Lightroom’s HDR Merge.)



This past winter brought near-record amounts of snow to the higher elevations of Yosemite, and now all that snow is melting and filling the rivers, creeks, and waterfalls. About a week-and-a-half ago, warm temperatures were predicted to create minor flooding in the Yosemite Valley, so Claudia and I drove up early and found a beautiful, water-filled park. The meadows were partially flooded, and the waterfalls roaring. We hadn’t seen such high water since June of 2011, but this time the deciduous trees still had that fresh, bright-green color, and the dogwoods were still blooming.

We spent a couple of nights in the valley, staying at a friend’s house, and had a great time photographing and just enjoying the park. Here are some images showing the high water, with extended captions.

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Spring in Yosemite

Dogwood along the Merced River, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Dogwood along the Merced River, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

I haven’t posted here in awhile because I just finished back-to-back workshops in Death Valley and Yosemite. But I wanted to give a quick update on conditions in Yosemite Valley. In short, it’s beautiful. At the start of our workshop last week most of the dogwoods were still in that greenish stage, but by the end of the week most of the blossoms had turned white, and were in great shape. It looks like an above-average year for dogwoods, as many trees have plentiful blossoms. They will continue to bloom for a couple more weeks, but they’re most photogenic early, while the blossoms are still fresh, and before the leaves get too large (which tends to hide the flowers).

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The Painted Hills

Wildflowers in the Temblor Range, with desert candles, blazing stars, tansy phacelia, and hillside daisies, Carrizo Plain NM, CA, USA

Wildflowers in the Temblor Range, with desert candles, blazing stars, tansy phacelia, and hillside daisies, Carrizo Plain National Monument. I used a wide-angle lens (20mm) to be able to look down into the stand of flowers in the foreground and show more of the orange color (the blazing stars), while also including part of the colorful hillside in the background. 1/6 second at f/16, 800 ISO.

Many years ago – perhaps around 2005 – I saw a striking photograph of flowers in the Temblor Range, bordering the Carrizo Plain. I wanted to go there, and in April of 2006 I did, finding a route up the steep ridges of these mountains to a colorful hillside. The flowers weren’t as abundant that year as they were in the photo I saw, but it was still beautiful, and I was able to make a couple of images I liked.

In 2010, after seeing reports of a great flower bloom in the Carrizo Plain, I returned to the area and hiked up into the Temblors again. It was spectacular – the most amazing flower display I had ever seen. I could only spend one afternoon and one morning there, but it was a wonderful 24 hours. The hills were enveloped in thick fog on my one morning there, and spots of sunlight breaking through the fog created some beautiful light. I could see, however, that the flowers wouldn’t last long, and I wasn’t able to go back that spring, but ever since then I’ve wanted to return.

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