In the Moment:
Michael Frye's Landscape Photography Blog

Moonlit Clouds

Moonlit clouds, Sierra Nevada, CA, USA

Moonlit clouds, Sierra Nevada, California. 70mm, three bracketed frames, two stops apart, each at f/5.6, ISO 800, blended with Lightroom’s HDR Merge.

Every so often I’ll be outside at night and see some interesting clouds passing in front of the moon. This can be quite a beautiful sight, especially with a pattern of small, puffy clouds stretching across the sky. And under these conditions you can often see a rainbow-like corona around the moon.

I’ve tried to photograph moonlit clouds like this a few times, with mixed results. Usually by the time I get out my camera, find a suitable viewpoint, compose, focus, and figure out an exposure, the clouds are gone – or at least less interesting.



Snow-covered pines, Mariposa County, CA, USA

Snow-covered pines, Mariposa County, California. I found some snow-plastered trees in the fog as the storm was clearing.

Last week’s big storm played out mostly as predicted, dropping large amounts of rain and snow throughout much of California. The Yosemite area was right in the bullseye of the atmospheric river, but all of the Sierra Nevada got a healthy dose of rain and snow. Yosemite Valley’s rain gauge measured 6.67 inches. Other nearby areas received amounts ranging from four to eight inches, with one weather station just south of Yosemite recording slightly over ten inches.

Coastal mountains areas from Santa Cruz down to Santa Barbara reported impressive rainfall totals, with ten inches of rain in many gauges, and one spot along the Big Sur Coast, Chalk Peak, recording over 15 inches of rain in three days. A mudslide near Salinas damaged a number of buildings, and a section of Highway 1 south of Big Sur got washed out, but I think we were lucky to escape this big storm without more widespread damage.


Riding Out the Storms

Half Dome, North Dome, and Yosemite Valley at sunrise, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Half Dome, North Dome, and Yosemite Valley at sunrise. I made this image after a light snowfall – accompanied by some beautiful mist – in 2017.

Last Tuesday the Sierra got hit by a big wind storm. Events like this are called “Mono winds” around here, since the wind comes from the east, in the direction of Mono Lake. But similar winds are called “Santa Ana winds” in Southern California, or by various other names around the world. They’re katabatic winds that flow from an area of high pressure to an area of low pressure, accelerating down the leeward slopes of a mountain range. For Mono winds, that means high pressure over Nevada, and low pressure over the Pacific, with the winds flowing from east to west down the long western slope of the Sierra Nevada, accelerating as they descend.

We lost power for about 36 hours, and a large oak fell across our driveway, but we were lucky. Some nearby areas were hit harder, with many homes and vehicles damaged or destroyed by falling trees. Wawona, in the southern part of Yosemite National Park, was devastated. Some neighborhoods are still without power.


Join Me at the Night Photo Summit!


I’m pleased to announce that I’ll be teaching at the first ever Night Photo Summit next month!

The folks who created the National Parks at Night workshop series just announced this new online photo conference, focused exclusively on night photography. I’ll be joining 27 other distinguished instructors, including Lance Keimig, Tim Cooper, Adam Woodworth, Jess Santos, Chris Nicholson, Rachel Jones Ross, Troy Paiva, and many more.


Misty Ridges

Misty ridges, Sierra Nevada foothills, CA, USA

Misty ridges, Sierra Nevada foothills, California. 400mm, 1/200 sec. at f/11, ISO 100.

A few days ago I checked to see if fog might be pushing up into the Sierra foothills again. It’s often hard to get a good picture of what’s happening with the weather in the predawn darkness, but things looked promising enough to make me grab my gear and drive out to one of the local viewpoints.

When I arrived it was light enough to see that there wasn’t a distinct band of fog below. Instead, I found diffused layers of mist. That wasn’t what I was looking for, so for a second I considered turning around and heading home. But I was already up, and out, and then I spotted Venus and the crescent moon poking through some clouds, so I decided to photograph that. And then… I might as well hang around for sunrise.


Waves of Fog

Cascading fog, Sierra Nevada foothills, CA, USA

Cascading fog, Sierra Nevada foothills, California. 111mm, 15 seconds at f/11, ISO 200, 4-stop ND filter.

We’re in the midst of another dry spell here. After some modest rain in December and early January, the storm track has shifted north, with no precipitation in sight for at least the next two weeks.

But we got enough rain to add some moisture to the ground and the lower atmosphere, which triggered the typical winter fog pattern in California’s Central Valley. Fog down there has been a daily occurrence, and that pattern is expected to continue for awhile.


My Top Photographs of 2020

The votes are all in and counted, and here are my top photographs of 2020!

We had a great response this year: 597 people looked through my initial selection of 45 images and voted for their favorites. That’s the second-highest turnout we’ve ever had. A big thank you to everyone who took the time to look through these photographs and voice your opinions! I also really appreciate the kind words so many people posted in the comments or sent by email. I wish I could respond to everyone, but please know that I’ve read them all and am very grateful for all your support.


Breaking Through

Oak and grasslands at sunset, Sierra Nevada foothills, CA, USA

Oak and grasslands at sunset, Sierra Nevada foothills, California. 31mm, five frames blended with Lightroom’s HDR Merge, each frame at f/11, ISO 100.

While looking through my photographs from last year, I realized there were many images that I hadn’t had a chance to post before.

One of those was this photograph of a lone oak at sunset in the Sierra foothills. I made this on April 6th, during the first lockdown. Yosemite was closed, and we couldn’t travel outside our county, but Claudia and I felt lucky to live in the Sierra foothills, where we could easily drive to some beautiful spots without encountering any other people. We explored and photographed places we hadn’t been to before, and it was fun discovering these new locations in our backyard.


My Best Images of 2020: the Nominees

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 45 of my best photographs from 2020 below, in chronological order. After you look through these, please use the form at the bottom of this post to list your ten favorites.

That right – we’re doing things differently this year. Please don’t post your votes in the comments, or send them by email, because they won’t be counted! Use the form at the bottom of this post instead.


Motion and Serendipity

Sandhill crane takeoff, San Joaquin Valley, CA, USA

Sandhill crane takeoff, San Joaquin Valley, California. 327mm, 1/500 sec. at f/5.6, ISO 2000.

Every year Claudia and I photograph migratory birds wintering in California’s Central Valley. It’s a world of constant motion, with groups of birds taking off, landing, moving from fields to ponds (and back), skimming over marshes, or probing the water for food.

It’s that motion that we find so captivating, and it’s that motion that’s so challenging to photograph. It takes lots of practice to learn how to follow birds in flight, keep them in focus, adjust exposures on the fly, zoom in and out as needed, and make instant decisions about composition.