In the Moment:
Michael Frye's Landscape Photography Blog
Sun setting behind Manly Beacon, Death Valley NP, CA, USA
We just returned from another workshop in Death Valley. The wind and weather in Death Valley always present challenges, requiring flexibility to adapt to the changing conditions. But this time, just to make things more interesting, Stovepipe Wells lost power during our stay. With high temperatures around 100 we definitely felt the lack of air conditioning. And simple tasks like charging camera batteries became difficult. But California Edison trucked in two generators, so luckily the most serious problems only lasted about 12 hours.
The power outage aside, we actually had very good photo conditions. Some wind just before the workshop cleansed the sand of footprints, and we had clear skies for our first two nights in the dunes. Then some clouds moved in, followed by a big sandstorm on our last night. Typical Death Valley stuff.
Clouds and mist from Tunnel View, Yosemite NP, CA, USA
We’ve had a series of storms recently. The last of these arrived Saturday and continued into the night. It wasn’t much of a storm; Yosemite Valley received only about three-tenths of an inch of water. But it was cold enough to leave a dusting of snow on the valley floor.
It looked like the storm would clear during the night, so I left for the valley around 11:00 p.m. Saturday, arriving just after midnight. But clouds and snow showers kept lingering so I ended up dozing in my car. I woke up around 5:30 a.m. and saw a few stars for the first time. At least the clearing seemed well-timed for sunrise.
Sunbeams and morning mist from Tunnel View, Yosemite. While photographing this dramatic light from Tunnel View a few years ago, I zoomed out wide enough (to 40mm) to leave some dark areas between the bright clouds and the edges of the frame.
When you compose a photograph, you put a frame around a piece of the world, at a certain moment, and say, “Hey, look at this.” It’s the frame that creates the composition, and it’s the edges that define the frame. That’s why it’s so vital to pay attention to the edges of your photographs.
It’s always a good idea to run your eye around the edges of the viewfinder before pressing the shutter. Look for anything that might be distracting, and see if you can get rid of it. Look for objects that are cut in half along the edge, and decide whether you should include them or eliminate them.
Winter morning, El Capitan and the Merced River, Yosemite NP, CA, USA
The big storm finally ended last night. Yosemite Valley received about four-and-a-half inches of liquid precipitation since Thursday. It started as snow, then changed to rain for awhile, and then changed back to snow, with about a foot of snow accumulating on the valley floor. Precipitation for this water year is still well below average, but this storm was a big help.
The forecast called for snow showers to continue all day Saturday and linger into the evening. But you never know, so I set my alarm for 4:00 a.m. on Saturday morning in case the storm started to break earlier than expected. After getting rudely awakened by the alarm I checked the radar and satellite images, which showed clear skies approaching from the west. But it didn’t look like they would reach Yosemite Valley until at least a couple of hours after sunrise. And besides, showers often linger in the mountains, and all the forecast predictions showed showers continuing in Yosemite all day. I went back to bed.
Clearing storm from Tunnel View, Yosemite NP, CA, USA
Storms have been rare in Yosemite during this dry winter. But on Monday evening a small, cold weather system moved down the coast and brushed the area.
I set my alarm for 4:00 a.m. Tuesday morning to check on the weather and see if it might be worth driving up to Yosemite Valley. We had about three inches of fresh snow at our house in Mariposa, but Yosemite hadn’t received much precipitation – less than a tenth of an inch. Most of the rain and snow with this system fell further west.
Sand waves, Mesquite Flat Dunes, Death Valley NP, CA, USA
Sand dunes are so much fun to photograph. They’re full of interesting lines, shapes, curves, and textures – almost as if they were sculpted for photographers. And they keep changing. Every big windstorm reshapes the dunes, creating new possibilities.
So when Claudia and I traveled to Death Valley last month to photograph the lunar eclipse, I had to make a couple of trips to the dunes during the day as well, just to fill my eyes and viewfinder with all that abstract beauty.
Sunset over Yosemite Valley with Cathedral Rocks, El Capitan, and Horsetail Fall, Yosemite NP, CA, USA
I’m pleased to announce that I’ll be having another exhibit at The Ansel Adams Gallery in Yosemite from February 25th to April 7th this year. Called “Elements,” this show will include a mixture of new work and some classic images. It’s been two years since my last exhibit at the Gallery, so it’s great to have another opportunity to display my work there. It’s always a privilege to show my photography in this unique and historic venue.
Also, I’m honored that one of my photographs, Half Dome and Oaks in Flooded Leidig Meadow, has been accepted into the annual Yosemite Renaissance juried exhibit. This year’s exhibit features work by many wonderful artists, including friends Penny Otwell, Charlotte Gibb, Michael Gordon, Kay Pitts, and Kerik Kouklis. And I want to give a special shout out to three of our workshop participants, Kathy Barnhart, Fran Mueller, and Tony Siciliano, who all have photographs included in the show. Congratulations to Kathy, Fran, and Tony!
Lunar eclipse sequence over the Mesquite Flat Dunes, January 31st, 2018, Death Valley NP, CA, USA
As I thought about locations to photograph last Wednesday’s lunar eclipse, I kept coming back to the idea of putting sand dunes in the foreground. Dunes seemed appropriately lunar.
I initially planned to go to the Mesquite Flat Dunes in Death Valley, but as the eclipse approached the forecast called for high clouds moving through much of the western U.S., so I kept a close eye on the forecasts. Two days before the eclipse it looked like the further south we went, the fewer clouds there would be, so Claudia and I headed for the Kelso Dunes in Mojave National Preserve.
Horsetail Fall at sunset, Yosemite. I had this view to myself When I made this image near Northside Drive back in 1995. How things have changed!
Yesterday the National Park Service issues a press release announcing a new permit system for viewing Horsetail Fall. Here are the essentials:
– From February 12th through 26th there will be a special “event zone” between Yosemite Valley Lodge and the El Capitan crossover.
– During that time Southside Drive will be open to two-way traffic, with no parking allowed between the El Cap crossover and Sentinel Bridge.
Horsetail Fall at sunset, February 19th, 2009, Yosemite NP, CA, USA
Horsetail Fall season will be here soon. The best light occurs from around February 16th through February 23rd. During that time, if conditions are right, the waterfall is backlit by the setting sun, while the cliff behind it is in the shade, creating dramatic color and contrast.
Before February 16th, Horsetail can get beautiful sunset color, but the cliff behind it is still in the sun. After February 23rd, the sunlight gets cut off before it reaches its deepest color. Of course the angle of the sun doesn’t change dramatically between the 15th and the 16th, or between the 23rd and the 24th, so it’s possible to capture good images of Horsetail Fall a few days before or after that window. But that period between the 16th and 23rd is, as far as I can determine, the optimal time. (See this post for an in-depth discussion about the timing of this event.)