In the Moment:
Michael Frye's Landscape Photography Blog
Note: I’ve closed comments on this post because the voting deadline has passed. I’ll be posting the results soon!
Happy New Year!
It’s become a New Year’s tradition on this blog to pick my best images from the past year, and once again I’m inviting you to help me make these difficult choices. I’ve posted 44 of my best photographs from 2019 below, in chronological order. After you look through these, please post a comment listing your ten favorites.
You don’t have to list your ten favorites in any order, or even name them – just numbers will do. (The numbers are in the captions underneath the photographs. Also, you can click on the images to see them larger.) Once the votes are in I’ll post the top ten or twelve on this blog, and submit the final group to Jim Goldstein’s blog project, where he’ll be showcasing the best images of the year from over 300 photographers.
Half Dome and El Capitan during a clearing storm, Yosemite
We’ve seen a pretty active weather pattern here in California since late November. There haven’t been any big storms, but rather a series of smaller systems. Each dose of precipitation brings a chance to photograph a clearing storm – if the timing is right. And the timing has been perfect a few times.
My last post featured a sunrise clearing storm on Christmas Eve. The photographs in this post were actually made about a week before that, when another small weather system cleared just before sunrise.
Bridalveil Fall and El Capitan, sunrise, Yosemite
For Claudia and me, Christmas came a little early. We made another early-morning journey to Yosemite Valley today, and got to see and photograph a beautiful, misty, clearing storm. I feel so fortunate to have lived close to this amazing place for 35 years, and to see it in every mood and season.
Claudia and I hope your holiday season is filled with wonderful experiences with family and friends. Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah!
— Michael Frye
Oak and frost-tipped ponderosa pine, Yosemite. We walked to a spot along the Merced River, then decided to check out a nearby meadow, where we found some mist, and even better, beautifully-frosted trees. This juxtaposition of a frost-tipped pine and oak caught my eye. 163mm, 1/3 sec. at f/16, ISO 100.
It’s easy to view landscapes as permanent and unchanging, since the major components, like mountains rivers, lakes, etc., change slowly, at a pace measured in thousands of years – too slowly for us short-lived animals to perceive directly. The geologic evidence tells us that the land has changed – dramatically – and will continue to change, but I think for most people that’s an intellectual understanding, and doesn’t really affect the way we perceive and experience the world around us.
Half Dome, winter sunset, Yosemite. Incoming clouds prompted me to head to this spot to photograph Half Dome; luckily the sun broke through a gap in the clouds at the right moment. 50mm, 1/45th sec. at f/11, ISO 100.
Our exceptionally dry autumn gave way to a series of storms recently, with lots of interesting photography weather.
During our recent workshop every day seemed to bring a new opportunity. The first day it was a clearing storm. The next day it was ice patterns with gold reflections. We photographed the moon rising next to Half Dome – twice – plus misty meadows, backlit oaks, and frosted pines. It was a lot of fun.
Snowy night along the Merced River, Yosemite. 20mm, 20 seconds at f/2.5, ISO 6400.
I’m not sure who decided that the winter solstice should be the first official day of winter, but I think that official designation is rather absurd. Winter has definitely arrived in many parts of the country, whether it’s official or not, including here in the Sierra. This past week Yosemite got its first precipitation in months, in the form of a cold storm that dropped over a foot of snow on the valley floor.
The snow began on Tuesday, and I kept my eye on the weather, of course, hoping to photograph the storm clearing, and looking for potential rifts in the clouds. Judging by satellite images, some stars might have appeared during the wee hours of Wednesday morning, but that was just a brief break before the clouds closed in again. Late Friday morning the sun finally started to poke through the clouds, so Claudia and I headed up to the valley.
Sunlit dogwoods, autumn, Yosemite
Thanksgiving is a day for gratitude. While I think we should be grateful every day, it’s nice to take one day to be especially mindful of everything we have to be thankful for.
As I’m writing this I can look out my window and see five inches of fresh snow on the ground. After a dry, warm autumn, it feels as if the weather changed directly from summer to winter. This cold storm is going to cause problems for holiday travelers, but I’m thankful for the badly-needed rain and snow our state is receiving. Fire season is finally over, and further storms are on the way, bringing more beautiful moisture.
Rocks and ripples in the Merced River, Yosemite. Claudia, Charlotte Gibb, and I noticed some interesting patterns in the water while wandering along the river last year. I made a few compositions at one spot, then moved downstream, where I found Claudia and Charlotte looking at similar patterns with prism effects – little squiggly rainbows flashing across the water. I made a couple of photographs I liked last year, but then went back to that same spot last month, and this time found a sunlit patch of water surrounded by tree shadows, which gave the pattern a natural vignette. I needed a fast shutter speed to freeze the motion of the ripples, and a small aperture to keep everything in focus, so I raised the ISO to 1600 to get the shutter speed up to 1/125th sec. at f/16. The focal length was 200mm.
Landscape photographers usually hope for great conditions: a clearing storm, sun breaking through fog, a spectacular sunset, great fall color, dense patches of wildflowers, and so on.
I wouldn’t say it’s easy to make good photographs under such conditions. You still have to put yourself in the right place at the right time, find a good composition, and get the exposure and focus right. And all of those things take skill. But it’s certainly easier. In those highly-photogenic situations you just have to capture the gift that nature is giving you.
Moon setting on a misty night, El Capitan Meadow, Yosemite. I’ve photographed Yosemite Valley many times, but on this night several years ago I found something I had never seen before: moonbeams radiating through the mist in El Cap Meadow.
I had a great time talking with Matt Payne recently on his F-Stop, Collaborate, and Listen podcast. The episode was just released today, so you can listen to it on your favorite podcast platform, or directly on Matt’s website.
We talked about all kinds of things – my connection with Yosemite, early influences, the challenges and rewards of photographing the same place over and over again, obstacles to creativity, ways to create depth in landscape photography, and more. I hope you enjoy the podcast!
Big-leaf maple in a burned forest, Yosemite
I’m always striving to make photographs that convey a mood. I want to do more than show what a place looks like; I want to capture what it feels like to be there at that particular moment.
It seems easier to convey a mood when photographing big landscape scenes during interesting weather. Just describing any kind of weather suggests a mood: sunny, cloudy, gray, overcast, rainy, foggy, misty, snowy, windy, calm – and so on. Combining weather with a compelling landscape almost automatically creates a mood.