In the Moment:
Michael Frye's Landscape Photography Blog

Down the River

Dappled light, Grand Canyon NP, AZ, USA

Dappled light, Grand Canyon NP, Arizona

We are three-quarters of a mile in the depths of the earth, and the great river shrinks to insignificance, as it dashes its angry waves against the walls and cliffs, that rise to the world above; they are but puny ripples, and we but pigmies, running up and down the sands, or lost among the boulders. We have an unknown distance yet to run, an unknown river to explore. What falls there are, we know not; what rocks beset the channel, we know not; what walls rise over the river, we know not.” — John Wesley Powell

Powell wrote those words to describe the challenge facing he and his eight companions as they began their epic journey through the Grand Canyon in 1869. They had already been traveling for two-and-a-half months down the Green and Colorado rivers, through territory that was almost completely unknown to Europeans at the time. They were low on food, their clothes had been worn to rags, and their boats were battered an in constant need of repair. Somehow, Powell and five of the men made it through the Grand Canyon, becoming the first to ever do so – as far as we know. (The three others decided to hike out of the canyon, and were never seen again.)

Of course the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon is well known now. Every mile has been thoroughly explored and mapped. But rafting down the river is still a great adventure.


New Lightroom Course from Chrissy Donadi: Let’s Get Organized!

Let's Get Organized!

My online Lightroom courses concentrate on processing your images in the Develop Module. They’re designed to help you get the most out of your photographs, and enhance your original vision without making the images look unnatural.

But of course there are other aspects of Lightroom. The most important of these – and the part that often causes the most trouble and confusion for people – is the organizational part: importing, setting up folder structures, sorting images, finding images, and so on.

I often get asked whether I can recommend a book or course about that organizational aspect of Lightroom, and I’m happy to say that I finally can. Our friend Chrissy Donadi just launched her Lightroom course called Let’s Get Organized! It’s a thorough, comprehensive look at how to efficiently setup, organize, and maintain your photo library in Lightroom Classic. Chrissy does a great job of explaining everything clearly, with all the information you need – but not more than you need.


A Rare Storm

Half Dome and Bridalveil Fall during a clearing storm, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Half Dome and Bridalveil Fall during a clearing storm, Yosemite NP, California

Something rare happened last Tuesday: it rained. We’ve received very little rain here in the central Sierra since January 1st, but on Tuesday Yosemite Valley got .43 inches – not exactly a deluge, but something.

Claudia and I went up to Yosemite Valley on Tuesday afternoon, hoping to find some interesting light. We did see a faint rainbow at one point, but then clouds closed in, and it rained steadily until after sunset. We drove home in a downpour (and actually our town of Mariposa got more rain than Yosemite).

The next morning I rose early and drove out to the Merced River Canyon, hoping to find fog enveloping some of the late-blooming redbuds. But the fog and mist in the canyon hovered at least a couple hundred feet above the canyon floor – above redbud level – so I kept driving up to Yosemite Valley.


Live Lightroom Q&A

Redbud and oaks, Merced River Canyon, CA, USA

Redbud and oaks, Sierra Foothills, California

Next Saturday (April 2nd) I’ll be conducting a live Lightroom Q&A webinar. This is a chance for members of our Education Center to ask me any Lightroom-related question!

You can become a member of our Education Center by purchasing one of my Lightroom courses. My latest course, Lightroom’s Masking Panel: In Depth, is only $20! Or check out my other two courses: Landscapes in Lightroom: The Essential Step-by-Step Guide and Landscapes in Lightroom: Advanced Techniques.


Endless Dunes

Last light on sand dunes, Death Valley NP, CA, USA

Last light on sand dunes, Mojave Desert, California

If you’ve been reading this blog, you know that I love sand dunes. Dunes make great photographic subjects, but it’s more than that. I love just being in the dunes. When walking out to the Mesquite Flat Dunes in Death Valley, there’s this moment when you move off of the surrounding salt crust and onto the sand, and suddenly it seems as if you’re in a different world – a special realm that’s magical, beautiful, and a little surreal.

Children also love sand dunes of course. What kid wouldn’t love playing in a giant sandbox? When our son Kevin was little we took him to sand dunes whenever possible – not just in Death Valley, but to the Oceano Dunes along the California Coast, to the Kelso Dunes, and to the Imperial Dunes near the border with Mexico. He loved playing the sand, and when he was old enough we took him up the highest dune in the Mesquite Flat Dunes, which was a great adventure, and big accomplishment for him.


Wind, Dust, and Light in Death Valley

Dunes in a sandstorm, Death Valley NP, CA, USA

Dunes in a sandstorm, Death Valley, California. Made before our workshop from a spot overlooking the dunes. I used my longest lens here (400mm), and even then had to crop this slightly. A brief lull in the wind allowed me to use a slowish shutter speed (1/10th sec.) at 100 ISO and get a sharp photo. As you can see, some photographers did make it out to the dunes that morning. One of them is kneeling down to take a picture, which I wouldn’t recommend, as there’s a hundred times more sand blowing around at ground level than at eye level in conditions like this. 400mm, 1/10 sec. at f/11, ISO 100.

Claudia and I just got back from spending another two weeks in Death Valley. This time I was teaching a workshop for Visionary Wild with my co-instructor Jerry Dodrill.

Jerry, Claudia and I scouted together before the workshop, and hung out and explored a bit afterward. Jerry is a super nice guy, and a great photographer and teacher (you can find his website here, and Instagram feed here). We really enjoyed spending time together and teaching together, and our workshop group was wonderful, which made it all even more fun.


Ocean Moods

Creek and sea stack, sunrise, Oregon coast, USA

Creek and sea stack, sunrise, Oregon Coast. I used a slow shutter speed (30 seconds) to smooth the waves, which simplified the scene by eliminating texture in the water, and helped create a more ethereal quality to the image.

In one of my posts about Yellowstone last fall I talked about my attraction to dynamic landscapes. And Yellowstone is certainly dynamic, with its ever-changing array of spouting geysers and steaming vents.

But seascapes might be even more dynamic. In addition to the usual variables of landscape photography – light and weather – there’s the ocean itself. Tides, wave height, wave direction, and wind all have big effects on the way a scene looks. And no two waves are the same, so one moment will often look quite different from the next.


My Next Live Lightroom Processing Demo

Firehole River at sunrise, Yellowstone NP, WY, USA

Firehole River at sunrise, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming. For this high-contrast scene I made five exposures, two stops apart, and blended them with Lightroom’s HDR Merge. That part’s easy; the real challenge is balancing the contrast in that merged file. You usually want to see some detail in even the darkest shadows and brightest highlights, but to do that in a natural-looking way often requires skillful dodging and burning.

My first live Lightroom processing demonstration in January went really well. It was a lot of fun, and I think everyone who attended learned a lot. So we’re going to do another one!

This one will take place on Saturday, February 19th, at 10:30 a.m. Pacific Time. Once again I’ll host a live webinar where I’ll pick a photo from a member of our Education Center and show how I would process it. The webinar should last about 60 to 90 minutes.


Desert Designs

Luminous ravine, Death Valley, California. The repeating diagonals and V-shapes create a strong pattern, while the curve of the ravine adds another design element.

Death Valley’s landscapes are elemental. You’re often photographing bare earth: rocks, sand, dirt, mud, and salt. Those things don’t sound very photogenic – not like, say, photographing a snowy mountain peak, or a rugged sea coast.

But in photography, light, composition, and design are more important than the subject. You can have a great subject (like that snowy mountain peak, for example), but if the light or composition are mediocre the photograph will be mediocre as well. On the other hand, a “mundane” subject can make an amazing photograph – with good light and a strong design.

Death Valley is full of “mundane” subjects like rocks, salt flats, badlands, and piles of sand. But wind and water have sculpted those elements into wonderful shapes and patterns. It’s a great place to learn to think abstractly. In other words, instead of thinking about subjects, you can concentrate on finding lines, shapes, and patterns, and putting those elements together to create strong designs.


Last Chance to Sign Up For the Night Photo Summit!


There’s still time to sign up for the Night Photo Summit! It starts tomorrow (Friday) morning at 11:00 a.m. Eastern Time.

My presentation is called Expressive Night Photography, and that’s just a small part of the lineup, with topics like Night on Earth by the legendary Art Wolfe, Creating Realistic Landscape/Milky Way Blends by Tim Cooper, a light-painting session with Chris Nicholson, Fantastical Fireflies with Kevin Adams, Rafael Pons on using PhotoPills, capturing and processing the Milky Way, and many more.