In the Moment:
Michael Frye's Landscape Photography Blog

The Beauty of Backlight

Backlight Photography, Pines, oak, and mist, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Pines, oak, and mist, Yosemite, Thanksgiving weekend. 70mm, 1/45th of a second at f/16, ISO 100.

Over Thanksgiving weekend I photographed a beautiful, misty morning in Yosemite Valley (see this previous post). Looking through my photographs later I realized that almost every one was backlit. And that made sense, as mist looks wonderful with backlight. So do other translucent objects like clouds, leaves, grasses, flowers, raindrops, and so forth.

Translucent, backlit objects stand out best against a dark background. And that’s one of the great, overlooked features about photographing in Yosemite Valley: you can often use the cliffs as a dark backdrop. It’s like draping a giant black cloth behind your subject.


Autumn Blizzard

Photographing an Autumn Blizzard with a fast shutter speed: Aspens and conifers in a snowstorm, Uncompahgre NF, CO, USA

Aspens and conifers in a snowstorm, Colorado. 120mm, 1/125th of a second at f/11, ISO 400.

In early October a series of storms brought rain and higher-elevation snow to the mountains of Colorado. Claudia and I spent several long days chasing the weather, and I found many intriguing combinations of weather and color, including aspens with snow, fog, clouds, and sunbeams. But I never found aspens with snow and fog. That’s not too much to ask for, is it?


Eyeing the Weather

El Capitan and the Merced River at sunset, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

El Capitan and the Merced River at sunset yesterday evening

Several storms rolled through here last week. The largest of those dropped over two inches of rain in Yosemite Valley, and left a dusting of snow on the Valley floor Friday morning, but I couldn’t get up there early that day because Highway 140 was closed by mud and rock slides in the burn scar from the Ferguson Fire.

A smaller but colder storm was due to arrive Saturday, this time promising a chance for more significant snow. By noon Friday all the roads into the Valley had reopened, so I took a detailed look at the weather forecasts to see when this next storm might clear. Most of the information seemed to point to a clearing sometime after sunset on Saturday. But there was one item in the Hourly Weather Forecast on the National Weather Service website that hinted that the storm might clear before sunset. This graph showed sky cover (cloud cover) staying at 77% until 9:00 p.m., then dropping to 40% by 10:00 p.m. – well after dark. But the line showing precipitation potential dropped abruptly from 90% at 2:00 p.m. to 40% at 3:00 p.m. Hmm. Here’s what that looked like:


Misty Morning in Yosemite Valley

Misty sunrise, Half Dome and the Merced River, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Misty sunrise, Half Dome and the Merced River, Yosemite. This was a very contrasty scene, so I bracketed five exposures, each two stops apart, and blended them with Lightroom’s HDR Merge. The settings, for what they’re worth: 16mm, various shutter speeds at f/11, ISO 100.

I don’t like getting up early. I’m really more of a night owl, and it’s always an unpleasant shock when the alarm jars me out of a deep sleep at oh-dark-thirty. But I force myself to rise early any time there’s a chance for an interesting sunrise, because if I don’t I might miss something special, and then I would kick myself.

After a very dry autumn we finally got two storms last week. The second storm moved through on Friday and Friday night. All signs indicated that it would clear sometime around sunrise yesterday (Saturday), which could be great timing. So I set my alarm for 4:30 a.m., pried myself out of bed, made some breakfast, and drove to Yosemite Valley.


Feeling Grateful

Feeling Grateful - Oaks and Lower Cathedral Rock, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Oaks and Lower Cathedral Rock, Yosemite

As our Thanksgiving holiday approaches, Claudia and I have been reflecting on all the things we have to thankful for. It’s easy to feel gratitude for the big things in life, like your health, wealth and general happiness. But in the wake of recent fires and hurricanes, Claudia and I find ourselves feeling grateful for all the little things that we often take for granted – especially our home, with running water, electricity, wood for our stove to keep us warm, a safe place to welcome family and friends.

We’re grateful that our son is happy and healthy. We’re grateful for each other. I’m so lucky to have had such a wonderful partner for over 30 years!

And I am always so grateful for you, my readers. Your support, comments, and emails make writing this blog fun. Thank you!

Whether or not you celebrate Thanksgiving, Claudia and I hope you all have a lot to be thankful for!

— Michael and Claudia

Coping Strategies

Coping Strategies, not just pretty pictures: Cottonwood leaves swirling in the Merced River, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Cottonwood leaves swirling in the Merced River, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Our country has endured so many disasters lately. The recent fires in California have been devastating – especially the Camp Fire that destroyed the town of Paradise. My mom lived in Paradise for eight years, and although I haven’t been there in decades, I remember the area well. I wonder whether any of her friends were still there. I’m sure her old house was destroyed; I just hope whoever was living there got out safely.

At least two members of our landscape-photography community lived in Paradise and lost nearly everything in the fire: Cindy Hoover and Erin Babnick. Please consider helping them out by contributing to the GoFundMe campaigns that have been set up for them: Cindy’s here, and Erin’s here.


Holiday Print Sale Ends Tomorrow!

Holiday Sale Ends:Half Dome and clouds at sunset from Glacier Point, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Glacier Point Sunset, Yosemite

Just a quick reminder that the holiday print sale ends tomorrow (Friday, November 16th) at midnight Pacific time, so you still have time to get 25% off on three images: Glacier Point Sunset, Yosemite; Milky Way over Sand Dunes, Death Valley; and Aspens and Ferns, Kebler Pass, Colorado.

In case you missed the earlier post, you can see the available sizes and sale prices underneath the descriptions of each image below.


A Brief Detour through the Canyon Country

Storm clouds at sunset, Capitol Reef NP, UT, USA

Storm clouds at sunset, Capitol Reef National Park, Utah

On our way back from Colorado last month, Claudia and I spent a couple of nights in southern Utah. We had dinner with one of Utah’s most talented and thoughtful photographers, Guy Tal, along with his wife Sarah. (If you’re not familiar with Guy’s photography and writing you should be!) And we enjoyed the change in scenery, going from the forested, snowy mountains of Colorado to the red-rock canyons.


Holiday Print Sale

Milky Way over sand dunes, Death Valley NP, CA, USA - holiday sale image

Milky Way over Sand Dunes, Death Valley

The print sale has ended, but you can still order prints at the regular price below.

I’m pleased to announce that we’re having a holiday sale on three prints never offered before, at 25% off the normal price. For this sale we’ve selected three popular images: Milky Way over Sand Dunes, Death Valley; Glacier Point Sunset, Yosemite; and Aspens and Ferns, Kebler Pass, Colorado.

The discounted pricing will last until Friday, November 16th. You can see the available sizes and sale prices underneath the descriptions of each image below.


Dogwood Rebirth

Yosemite fall color: firs and dogwoods, autumn, Yosemite

Firs and dogwoods, autumn, Yosemite. Dogwoods have proliferated in this area burned by the Rim Fire in 2013. 116mm, 15 seconds at f/16, ISO 100.

One afternoon about ten days ago Claudia and I headed up Highway 120, west of Yosemite Valley, to check on the fall color. We found some colorful dogwoods between the Valley and Crane Flat, but west of Crane Flat most of the dogwoods were brown, scorched by the Ferguson Fire last summer. Or, to be more accurate, they had been scorched by firing operations (back burns) performed by firefighters along the road.

We decided to hike down to the Tuolumne Grove of giant sequoias. While the Ferguson Fire didn’t reach the Tuolumne Grove, the Rim Fire did in 2013. The media latched onto this story, with headlines about the fire threatening these ancient trees.