In the Moment:
Michael Frye's Landscape Photography Blog

Color is not Enough

Sunset at Tenaya Lake, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Sunset at Tenaya Lake, Yosemite. I had to work quickly to find a foreground design to go with this colorful sunset.

I’ve always been attracted to color. Color can be eye-catching, but more importantly to me, it’s a powerful tool for conveying a mood.

My attention is easily caught by colorful subjects like flowers, fall leaves, sunrise or sunset clouds, reflections, and so on. The colors don’t have to be bold; a subtle color palette can be just as compelling.

But while interesting colors always catch my eye, I know that color is not enough by itself. You can’t just point your camera toward something colorful and expect to make a great photograph. A frame filled with a random mishmash of autumn leaves won’t be compelling – it’ll just be a colorful mess. You need to find a design to go with that color. So I’m always looking for focal points and patterns that could help give structure to the color.


Guess the Focal Length

Morning light and clouds, Mono Lake, CA, USA

A: Morning light and clouds, Mono Lake. Can you guess what kind of lens I used for this photograph?

When I post a photograph, people often ask me which lens I used. I’m happy to tell them, but I don’t think you learn much when someone hands you an answer. I think it’s more instructive to try to guess yourself. Estimating what focal length a photographer used can help train your eye to see the world the way the camera sees, and learn how lenses control the sense of depth and perspective in a photograph. And those things will help you find compositions more readily, and make it easier to choose which lens to use in the field.

Wide-angle lenses often create a sense of depth, and immerse you into the landscape, while telephoto lenses flatten the perspective and isolate small parts of a scene. Telephotos are also great for creating patterns. Those traits aren’t always apparent, however, nor are they exclusive. You can show patterns with wide-angle lenses, and you can convey a sense of depth with telephoto lenses. And you can photograph intimate landscapes with wide-angle lenses, and show a vast, sweeping landscape with a telephoto.


QT Luong’s Treasured Lands

I don’t often post reviews here, but QT Luong’s Treasured Lands is a book I thought you should know about, and QT is currently having a sale on signed copies.

Treasured Lands is a big, beautiful, coffee-table book with photographs of all 59 U.S. national parks. Just visiting all 59 parks would be quite an achievement, but to make artistic photographs of all these places in different seasons and varying weather conditions is an amazing feat. It’s not surprising that it took QT twenty years to accomplish this.


Happy Thanksgiving!

Ross's geese at sunrise, San Joaquin Valley, CA, USA

Ross’s geese at sunrise, San Joaquin Valley, CA, USA

The Thanksgiving holiday is always a good time to pause from our daily routines and think about all the things we have to be grateful for.

For me, first and foremost, I’m thankful for my family and friends. I’m happy that my son has flown the nest and is doing so well, and I’m especially fortunate to have been married to the same wonderful, beautiful woman for over 30 years.

And I’m extremely grateful for all the support I receive from you, my readers. Your comments and emails help make writing this blog fun, and keep me motivated and inspired. Thank you!

Whether or not you celebrate Thanksgiving, I hope you all have a lot to be thankful for!

— Michael Frye

Chasing the Weather and Color in Colorado

Aspens and ferns near Kebler Pass, Grand Mesa-Uncompahgre-Gunnison NF, CO, USA

Aspens and ferns near Kebler Pass, Grand Mesa-Uncompahgre-Gunnison NF, CO, USA

Claudia and I had wonderful conditions on our autumn trip to Colorado. As I said before, it wasn’t the best year for fall color there, but the weather more than made up for that, with rain, snow, fog, and lots of interesting clouds.

We chased the weather and color all over Colorado – or so it seemed. We reached the San Juan Mountains in the southwest corner of the state on September 27th, but found little color at that time. So we headed east and ended up near Twin Lakes, where I photographed aspens with snow and fog. Then we drove over Independence Pass and spent a couple of days around Aspen and Carbondale, braving the crowds to capture a misty view of the Maroon Bells.


Why F/16?

Late-October aspens near Silver Lake, June Lake Loop, Inyo NF, CA, USA

Late-October aspens near Silver Lake, June Lake Loop, Inyo NF, CA, USA. I used f/16 to get everything in focus in this 2008 photograph from the eastern Sierra. (The shutter speed was 1/6th second, the ISO 400.)

I sometimes post my camera settings here on the blog, and I’ve had many people ask me why I often use f/16. Is that the sharpest aperture on my lens? (No.) Don’t you get diffraction at f/16? (A little bit.) Is it for depth of field? (Bingo!)

As many of you know, most lenses are sharpest at middle apertures – generally around f/5.6 to f/11, depending on the lens.

Better lenses will perform decently at wide apertures like f/2.8 or f/4, but usually the corners are softer compared to the middle apertures. On the other end of the spectrum, at smaller apertures diffraction causes all lenses to get softer over the entire image (not just the corners).


Yosemite Fall Color

Big-leaf maple leaves along the Merced River, autumn, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Big-leaf maple leaves along the Merced River, autumn, Yosemite. 19mm, 2 seconds at f/16, ISO 100, polarizer.

Claudia and I spent Friday in Yosemite Valley checking out the fall color. And it was beautiful. The big-leaf maples, in particular, were quite colorful.

It was a clear, sunny day, so there wasn’t any weather to add drama to the valley landscapes. When the weather and light aren’t that interesting I tend to narrow my focus and photograph smaller subjects. And for those subjects, conditions were perfect. The low autumn sunlight kept some parts of the valley in shade virtually all day, and that soft light was perfect for highlighting the autumn color. Plus, from the south side of the Merced River you could look toward sunlit cliffs on the north side of the valley and find beautiful, golden reflections in the shaded water.


Big Lightroom News

Spruce and aspens after an autumn snowstorm, Medicine Bow-Routt NF, CO, USA

I used the new Range Mask tool in Lightroom Classic CC to improve the green colors in this photo from Rabbit Ears Pass in Colorado

Adobe announced two new, different versions of Lightroom last week. And, unfortunately, the names have created a lot of confusion. Here are the essential things you need to know:

No More Perpetual License

Adobe will no longer make new standalone versions of Lightroom with a perpetual license. That means new versions of Lightroom will be available by subscription only. Lightroom 6 is the last non-subscription version that you can purchase outright. Lightroom 6 is still be available for now, but won’t be updated to support new cameras. (You can still use Adobe’s free DNG converter to convert Raw images from new cameras into the DNG format, then import those DNG files into Lightroom 6.)

New Lightroom Classic CC

The new version of the program we’re familiar with is called Lightroom Classic CC. This is the traditional, folder-based version of Lightroom. It is essentially the same as Lightroom CC 2015, but with performance improvements and a new Range Mask tool that allows you to make more precise selections with the Adjustment Brush, Graduated Filter, and Radial Filter.


Autumn in the Eastern Sierra

Autumn scene along Rush Creek, Inyo NF, CA, USA

Autumn scene along Rush Creek, Inyo NF, CA, USA

We just finished our workshop on the eastern side of the Sierra. When I arrived a few days before the workshop the aspen color was rather mixed, with bare trees, green trees, and every stage in between. But the weather was cold, and things turned quickly. By the time our workshop started most of the green leaves had turned yellow and orange, and we found lots of beautiful color – particularly along the June Lake Loop.


Photographing an Icon

Maroon Bells in autumn, White River NF, CO, USA

Maroon Bells in autumn, White River NF, CO, USA

Some photographers love photographing icons, and try to visit as many as possible. Others avoid them at all costs.

But I think most of us have mixed feelings about them. These iconic spots have a certain undeniable appeal. There are good reasons, after all, why these places have become iconic: they’re great locations. With the right conditions, it’s possible to capture some beautiful images at these spots. They work.