In the Moment:
Michael Frye's Landscape Photography Blog
Rainbow and sunset clouds, Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite NP, California. 35mm, 1/2 sec. at f/16, ISO 100.
If I were to make a list of my favorite places on earth, the Yosemite high country would have to be near the top. There’s something about the thin, pine-scented air, intense light, vast expanses of polished granite, and lakes sparkling in the sun…
I’ve spent a lot of time in this area over the last 40 years. I feel like this land is part of me, and me part of it. Some spots are as familiar to me as Yosemite Valley, and yet I’m still finding new places to explore.
I’m thrilled to be joining the Out of Chicago team for another photography conference. This will be an in-person event – in Death Valley no less! – taking place next January 26-30, 2022.
The dunes and sculptured badlands of Death Valley are amazing, surreal, and beautiful locations for landscape photography. And I’ll be joining a wonderful cast of instructors, including Nick Page, David Kingham, Alex Noriega, Erin Babnik, Jennifer Renwick, John Barklay, Michael Gordon, Sarah Marino, Joshua Cripps, William Neill, Cole Thompson, Colleen Miniuk, TJ Thorne, and Eric Paré.
Clouds, tufa, and Negit Island at sunset, Mono Lake, California. This rain cloud lingered for awhile in the same location, allowing me to capture variations of this scene as the sun lowered, and the wind altered the reflections. 70mm, 1/15 sec. at f/11, ISO 100.
Mono Lake is a unique and beautiful place. It’s known for its tufa formations, but there’s so much more to it. It’s a giant pool surrounded by desert sage, and bounded by the peaks of the Sierra Nevada to the west. In summer, monsoonal moisture often arrives from the southeast and runs into that mountain wall, where the moisture gets pushed upward, forming clouds, showers, and thunderstorms. The lake becomes a vector for these storms.
While staying in Lee Vining a couple of weeks ago, we saw clouds and showers each afternoon, and had several opportunities to photograph beautiful evening light at the lake (along with a colorful sunrise). Under those conditions the lake can reflect clouds in beautiful ways, creating swaths of color and light across the sky and water.
El Capitan emerging from clouds, Yosemite
I recently did an interview with David Johnston for his podcast The Landscape Photography Show, and it just got released today. David asked a lot of great questions, and I thought it was a fun and interesting conversation. We talked about my photographic journey, photographing the same place over and over, whether originality is overvalued, internal and external motivations for your work, and much more.
You can listen to the episode on David’s website, or through all the usual podcast sources like iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, and so on.
Waves, fog, and sea stacks, northern California coast. High coastal stratus is common along the California coast, but low fog like this is more unusual. I used those conditions to create a soft-on-soft look to this photo, with a six-second shutter speed smoothing out the waves, and the fog obscuring the background. 168mm, 6 seconds at f/16, ISO 100, 7-stop ND filter.
As much as I love the redwood forests, the rugged, rocky coastline of northern California is just as beautiful, and just as essential to the character of this region. You can go from the windy, noisy, wide-open expanses of the coast to the calm, quiet, dense forests in minutes, and the transition is breathtaking. Along many trails through the redwoods you can hear the surf in the distance – while watching the fog roll in off the ocean and into the woods. To me, it’s the close proximity and interaction between the ocean and forests that creates the wonderful, wild mood of this place.
This coastline features innumerable rocks and sea stacks, as the ocean gradually erodes softer rocks, leaving harder rocks stranded offshore. Part of the challenge in photographing these scenes is figuring out where to stand in order to arrange those rocks in a compelling way within the frame.
Young and old redwoods, Northern California. Soft sunlight filtering through the fog added a beautiful and unusual mood to this scene, and I loved the juxtaposition of young and old trees. 25mm, 1/6 sec. at f/16, ISO 800.
Until last year, Claudia and I had visited the redwood forests of northern California nine years in a row. The pandemic interrupted that streak, but in late May this year we were able to return once again, and spent almost two weeks in the area.
It was great to be back, as I love this part of the world. While Yosemite has been my home, both physically and spiritually, for over 35 years, returning to the redwoods also feels like coming home. It’s a much different environment – damp, cool, foggy, lush, and overgrown – and that’s what I love about it. Many places look like they could be sets from a Jurassic Park movie (which, of course, they were). It’s not hard to imagine dinosaurs roaming this terrain.
Redwoods, ferns, and rhododendrons near the northern California coast, USA
Elements magazine is a new digital publication devoted to landscape photography, produced by the team behind Medium Format magazine. They’ve only published a few issues of Elements so far, but the quality of the photographs, text, and design has been top notch. Contributors include William Neill, Erin Babnik, Christopher Burkett, Chuck Kimmerle, Hans Strand, Rachael Talibart, Bruce Barnbaum, and many others.
And I’m honored to have my work included in the latest issue of this beautiful magazine. My article in the June edition of Elements is called Capturing a Mood. That topic is fundamental to how I approach photographing landscapes, and this article is the most comprehensive piece I’ve yet written about this subject.
Oak tree and lunar eclipse sequence, December 10th, 2011, Mariposa County, Sierra foothills, California. In this sequence, the moon was setting to the west-northwest just before sunrise. In the upcoming eclipse, the moon will also be setting just before sunrise for viewers in the western U.S. – but to the southwest. (Click here to read the story behind this photo.)
In case you haven’t heard, there’s going to be a total lunar eclipse this week in some parts of the world. That includes western North and South America, Australia, New Zealand, and eastern Asia. You can see all the places where the eclipse will be visible on timeanddate.com.
The total eclipse will last about 14 minutes, from 11:11 to 11:25 UTC (Universal Time) on Wednesday, May 26th. That translates to 4:11 to 4:25 a.m. Wednesday here in California. The partial eclipse begins at 9:44 UTC, and ends at 12:52 UTC (2:44 a.m. and 5:52 a.m. Pacific Time).
Half Dome, Nevada Fall, and rainbow, Yosemite. I made this photograph shortly after the rainbow first appeared. 28mm, 1/4 sec. at f/11, ISO 100, polarizer.
It’s fun getting wet. Seriously – ask any kid. And for photographers, sometimes you need to stand in the rain, or the spray of a waterfall, to see some dramatic light – including rainbows.
Last weekend a small low-pressure system moved through our area, and forecasts called for some afternoon thunderstorm activity. It looked like the best chance of rain was Sunday, so Claudia and I made our way up to Yosemite Valley that afternoon.
Dogwood above the Merced River, Yosemite. To find this composition I used my iPhone to “sketch” different possibilities. The composition I liked best required holding the phone high over my head, but luckily my tripod went high enough to put my Sony camera up there. 50mm, 1/3 sec. at f/16, ISO 100, focus stacked.
Despite the dry winter – or maybe because of it – it’s been a good year for dogwoods. These things always vary, of course, because that’s the way nature works. The relationships between plants and their environment is incredibly complex. Weather is a big factor, including moisture, temperature, and sunlight. But every plant is affected by soil, by microorganisms in the soil, by animals (especially insects) that want to feed on it, by animals that feed on the animals that want to feed on it, by animals that might pollinate its flowers, and by neighboring plants it competes with, or, sometimes, cooperates with. And the way each plant responds to all those factors is influenced by its own genetics.
Which is to say that not every dogwood lives under the same conditions, and even if they did, they wouldn’t all respond to those conditions in the same way. So when I say that it’s been a good year for dogwoods, it would be more accurate to say that it’s been a good year for many dogwoods, though not all. Some have produced average or below-average blooms. But this year many dogwoods have produced above-average blooms. Some are incredibly full, to the point where it’s hard to imagine where another blossom would fit.