In the Moment:
Michael Frye's Landscape Photography Blog
Mist, peaks, and creek at sunset, Sierra Nevada, California. I made this photograph on our second evening in camp, as the rain finally stopped, and we were treated to a wonderful sunset (see the last two photos below).
Long before the Oak Fire, Claudia and I had planned to go on a trip into the Sierra backcountry with some photographer friends. We would be using mules to transport our gear into a remote campsite, staying for six nights, and making day hikes to nearby photo locations.
The fire threatened to disrupt those plans, but once we were able to return home, and our power was restored, it seemed possible that we could make the trip. It meant we had to pack rather hurriedly, but it was doable, and seemed like the perfect getaway.
It turned out to be quite an adventure. The National Weather Service issued a flash flood warning for the mountains on our first day, and soon after we set up camp that afternoon an intense thunderstorm developed overhead. We all huddled in our tents, pummeled by torrential rain and hail, while lightning struck all around us.
This Friday I’ll be joining the Out of Chicago team for a live webinar called Creating Composition Out of Chaos. My fellow panelists include some of my favorite photographers, like Charlotte Gibb, Sean Bagshaw, Anna Morgan, TJ Thorne, Sarah Marino, and Kurt Budliger. We’re sharing how we were able to create a compelling landscape or intimate scene composition when challenged by a chaotic environment. Register below to join us live and be notified when the recording is available.
Register for the Creating Composition Out of Chaos webinar, 1 p.m. Eastern time, 10 a.m. Pacific, Friday, August 19th
I hope to see some of you there!
The slope below our house burned, but the house is still intact.
First, thanks so much to all of you who have sent messages since my last post. While Claudia and I don’t have time to respond to them all individually right now, rest assured that we’ve read them all, and are very grateful for all the expressions of support. Your kindness is overwhelming, and greatly appreciated.
Please know that we’re fine, and our house is fine too. We were able to get into our neighborhood on Monday to assess our property, and the house and office are intact, with no damage that we can find. The fire burned almost to the edge of the house on the north side, and the edge of the deck on the west side, but didn’t reach the other sides, nor my office/studio building. We may have lost a few trees on our property, but the shade trees near our house and deck all seem okay.
Pyrocumulus cloud from the Oak Fire, Mariposa County, California, on Saturday afternoon. The dark areas near the bottom of the frame are actually black smoke.
I’ve received many messages expressing concern for Claudia and I about the Oak Fire near our home outside of Mariposa. So first, thank you all very much for your concern! Claudia and I are safe (and our four kitties too). We had to evacuate Friday night, and are staying at a friend’s house in town. Shortly after we evacuated the fire came through our neighborhood and property, but we’ve heard that our house is still standing. We also heard that fire crews worked through the night to save homes in our area, including ours, and were apparently successful in doing so, as no homes in our neighborhood have been lost as far as we can tell. We’re not out of the woods yet, but hopeful, and feeling very grateful to the firefighters for all they have done and continue to do. Some people have lost their homes in this fire, and our hearts go out to them. Fortunately no one has been injured so far.
I’d also like to express my appreciation to the volunteers from CCADT (Central California Animal Disaster Team) for taking such good care of our cats, and all the creatures in their care. This is a stressful situation for all the animals that have been abruptly moved from their homes, but most of them seem quite calm once they’ve settled into the routine at the shelter. Our cats certainly like being there a lot more than being in our cars.
“Twins” – sun breaking through fog in a redwood forest, northern California
I’m thrilled to announce that I’ll be receiving the Fine Art in Nature Photography Award for 2023 from the North American Nature Photography Association (NANPA).
The award “honors photographers who create fine art nature imagery and/or who educate/instruct other nature photographers about the techniques critical to fine art imagery.” It’s a relatively new award; the only previous recipients were Ron Rosenstock and Art Wolfe from 2021, and I’m very honored to be in such good company.
Frank Gallagher has written a blog post on NANPA’s website about the award, including some of my thoughts about how nature photographers can affect positive change. Also, along with this award I’ll be doing a keynote presentation at the NANPA Summit on May 4th, 2023.
What an honor! Thanks very much to the NANPA Awards Committee!
— Michael Frye
Reflections in a limestone canyon, Grand Canyon NP, Arizona
Between the rim and the river in Grand Canyon lies a vast wilderness. A few trails traverse this region, but most of it is trail-less, and seldom visited by people. This immense, empty land contains innumerable side canyons filled with treasures to discover: waterfalls, narrow, twisting slots, fern-filled grottos, Ancestral Pueblo ruins, rock art, sculptured rock terraces, and on and on.
The easiest way to access many of these side canyons is from the river, and we got to visit some of them on our journey down the Grand Canyon in April. I wish we’d had time to explore each and every side canyon, but of course that’s not possible on a ten-day trip. In the winter of 1976 a party of six people set off from Lee’s Ferry, and pulled out 103 days later – the longest Grand Canyon rafting trip ever, as far as we know. That’s enough time to truly immerse yourself – to explore as many side canyons as you want, or just relax and enjoy a spot for awhile. I’d love to do something like that (though unfortunately the Park Service doesn’t allow trips of that length anymore).
Thunderstorm over the Central Valley, California. I blended a series of frames, taken over the course of about 40 minutes, to create this image. Each frame was 20 seconds at f/5.6, ISO 400, and the focal length was 50mm.
Last Wednesday subtropical moisture pushed up from Mexico into California, triggering thunderstorms in parts of the state that rarely see them.
I kept my eye on these storms, but more out of curiosity than with any particular photographic ambitions. That night, as Claudia and I got into the hot tub on our deck (a nightly ritual), we could see an almost continuous series of distant lightning flashes to the southwest. This got me thinking about where I could find a view of this thunderstorm. We got out of the tub, and I took a close look at radar images. One thunderstorm south of Merced looked to be dissipating. But another cluster of cells over Fresno and Madera seemed to be strengthening and moving north, towards us.
I hemmed and hawed a bit. Did I really want to go out in the middle of the night chasing thunderstorms? What if they dissipated before I could photograph them?
Redwoods and rhododendrons in fog, northern California. Some dense coastal fog helped simplify this forest scene and add a soft, ethereal mood. 35mm, 1.5 seconds at f/16, ISO 200.
I half-jokingly refer to our redwoods workshop as the “Chasing Fog” workshop. The northern coast of California is definitely fog-prone (though there are never any guarantees). And fog can add so much to photographs of the redwood forests, or scenes of the meadows, rivers, or coast, so I try to take advantage of fog whenever and wherever I find it.
But fog is also fickle stuff. We’ve been going up to this corner of California every year since 2011 (except 2020), and every year I see the fog behave in new ways. Sometimes the fog will get into a pattern for a few days in a row, but inevitably that pattern gets disrupted by something – high pressure, low pressure, a cold front, a wind shift – and the pattern changes, or the fog disappears completely.
Milford Sound, by Phillip Bartlett. I love the moodiness of this photo by my co-instructor – very Lord of the Rings.
I’m so looking forward to going to New Zealand!
I remember seeing a National Geographic article about New Zealand when I was growing up, with a captivating cover photo of Milford Sound. It seemed like such an exotic, even mystical place, with mountains plunging into the sea, rainforests, peaks draped with glaciers, flightless birds, and on and on. I dreamed of going there.
And then I saw Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies, famously filmed in New Zealand. The landscapes fit so perfectly with the mythical, other-worldly realm of these stories. That made me want to go even more.
So I’m thrilled to finally get that chance this October, when I’ll be co-leading a photography expedition to South Island for Visionary Wild. My co-instructor is Phillip Bartlett, a fantastic photographer and New Zealand native, who has scoured the area to find lots of beautiful, lesser-known, but highly-photogenic locations, and put together an amazing itinerary for this trip.
Lichen-covered rhododendron, Northern California. This was an overcast day, and the soft, even light helped simplify this complex scene, and emphasize the color contrasts between the pink rhododendrons and various shades of green. I used a long lens to isolate the rhododendron against a dark, leafy background. Moving closer with a shorter lens would have required looking up at the top of the tree, forcing me to include bright, distracting patches of sky. 159mm, 1/4 sec. at f/16, ISO 800, polarizing filter to cut reflections on the leaves.
Forests can be challenging to photograph. They’re beautiful, but cluttered, and often visually chaotic.
Creating order out of that chaos requires finding ways to simplify things. That’s one of the reasons fog is so helpful for these scenes: it obscures the background, reducing the clutter. (It also lends a wonderful atmosphere to the photographs.)
During our recent workshop in the redwoods we did get some fog, and even sunbeams. I’m sure I’ll post some of those photos down the road.
But there were also many occasions before, during, and after the workshop when we didn’t have fog, and I was photographing forests in soft light, or with sunlight filtering through the trees. What then?