In the Moment:
Michael Frye's Landscape Photography Blog

Detwiler Fire

Wildflowers and forest burned by the Rim Fire, Stanislaus NF, CA, USA

Wildflowers and forest burned by the Rim Fire, Stanislaus NF, CA, USA

Many of you have heard about the Detwiler Fire in Mariposa County, and I’ve received a number of emails asking about our safety. Claudia and I appreciate everyone’s concern very much. It’s gratifying to know that so many people care – thank you!

Please know that we are safe and our house is not in danger. We’ve been under an evacuation advisory (that means it’s not mandatory) since Tuesday, but activity on the end of the fire closest to your house (the southern end) seems to have calmed down, and we expect the advisory to be lifted soon. Of course we’re packed and ready to go just in case, and we have a place to stay if necessary, but at this point it’s highly unlikely that we’ll need to evacuate.

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Deep Freeze in the High Country

Reflections in ice sculptures, Saddlebag Lake, Inyo NF, CA, USA

Reflections in sculptured ice, Saddlebag Lake, Inyo NF. Abstracts and telephoto lenses seem to go together, so I started off using my 70-200 zoom. But just to try something different I got down near the edge of the lake and tried using a wide-angle lens, and these wide-angle abstracts turned out to be some of my favorites. (35mm, 1/20 sec. at f/16, ISO 100)

This past winter’s record-setting snowpack in the Yosemite high country has left tons of snow and ice lingering into July. Tioga Pass finally opened on June 29th, and Claudia and I headed over the pass on July 3rd to scout for our Range of Light workshop. We found little snow below 9,000 feet, but above that altitude the hiking was tough, requiring either long detours to avoid snow, or traversing tedious, slippery, sun-cupped snowfields.

That meant we couldn’t get to certain locations during the workshop, but as compensation we got to photograph roaring creeks and rivers, and partially-frozen lakes. When frozen lakes melt you can often find beautiful patterns where ice and snow mix with patches of open water. On the last evening of the workshop we went to Saddlebag Lake, which had some amazing ice patterns. Better yet, the ice went into the shade around 6:30 p.m., while the rusty-colored mountainside on the opposite side of the lake stayed in the sun for another hour, casting beautiful gold and orange reflections in the water. This was kid-in-candy-store stuff to someone who likes abstracts as much as I do.

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Seizing an Opportunity

Redwoods and rhododendrons in fog, Del Norte Coast Redwoods SP, CA, USA

Redwoods and rhododendrons in fog, Del Norte Coast Redwoods SP, CA. A hike through the fog led me to some of the most vivid rhododendrons I had ever seen. (70mm, 1 second at f/16, ISO 100, polarizer.)

Continuing to look back at photographs from this past spring, here are some more images from our trip to the redwoods.

One morning prior to our workshop Claudia, Robert and I drove from Crescent City down to Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, hoping to see fog, but found that the marine layer was too high, above even the highest portions of this park, which reaches up to 1,200 feet in elevation. So we continued south, and hiked out to a favorite beach to check on conditions. Later that morning, on our way back through Del Norte, the ever-unpredictable fog had lowered. In fact, I saw fog in an area where I had rarely seen it before. I had long wanted to photograph this redwood forest in the fog, and here was my chance.

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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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