Photography Tips

Waves and Slow Shutter Speeds

Fog at the mouth of the Klamath River, Redwood NP, CA, USA

Fog at the mouth of the Klamath River, Redwood NP, CA; 30 seconds

The far northern coast of California has many wonderful, wild coastal areas, providing great opportunities to make moody photographs of ocean scenes. It can be challenging to photograph these scenes, however, because things are constantly changing. In addition to that usual variable – the weather – you have to think about the tides and movement of the waves. Timing can be critical for catching a wave, or pattern of waves, in just the right position, and sometimes you need a lot of patience to wait for the right moment.

Any moving subject – including waves – can lend itself to using slow shutter speeds. With ocean scenes, the blurred motion created by slow shutter speeds can convey a sense of motion more strongly than a frozen image would, or give the water an ethereal quality that adds to the mood of the image. Here’s a small portfolio of my slow-shutter-speed ocean photographs from before, during, and after our workshop, with the shutter speeds included in the captions for each image.


Déjà Vu in the High Country

Setting sun, Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Setting sun, Tuolumne Meadows, 7:39 p.m. Thursday (as the sun sank behind the ridge)

Last week some unseasonal showers reached Yosemite. The showers didn’t bring heavy amounts of precipitation, but enough snow fell at higher elevations to temporarily close Tioga Pass and the Glacier Point Road.

On Thursday the Tioga Road reopened. Since Claudia and I are heading up to the northern coast of California soon for my redwoods workshop, we thought this might be our last chance to go up to the Yosemite high country for awhile, so we decided to drive up to Tuolumne Meadows for the afternoon. There were still some clouds and showers in the area, so the prospect of some interesting weather made the idea even more enticing.


Appalachian Waterfalls

Minnehaha Falls, GA, USA

Minnehaha Falls, GA; 1 sec., f/16, ISO 100

Waterfalls are abundant in the southern Appalachians. It seems like you can hardly throw a stick without hitting one.

Of course I’ve spent the last 30 years in Yosemite, which might have the most spectacular collection of waterfalls in the world. But they’re different. Yosemite’s waterfalls are big and dramatic, and often leap hundreds of feet in a single drop. The waterfalls in the southern Appalachians are smaller, more intimate, and more complex, often containing multiple tiers and channels. This complexity can make them both more challenging and more rewarding to photograph – challenging because there’s rarely an immediately-obvious composition, but rewarding because once you start looking you might find a dozen or more good compositions in a single cascade.

During our last trip, one of the first places we visited was Minnehaha Falls in northern Georgia. Since this fall is on the cover of two different waterfall guidebooks it seemed worth checking out. And we weren’t disappointed. Minnehaha is graceful enough to lend itself to overall views, and intricate enough to offer many smaller-scale compositions. The day was overcast, which is often ideal for these kind of waterfalls. I spent an hour and a half there working just one side of the cascade before we had to move on.


Photographing the Lunar Eclipse

Lunar Eclipse Sequence, 1:23 a.m. to 4:49 a.m., August 28, 2007, Yosemite NP, CA

Lunar Eclipse Sequence, 1:23 a.m. to 4:49 a.m., August 28, 2007, Yosemite NP, CA

On the night of April 14th and 15th viewers in North and South America will be able to see a total lunar eclipse. Most people should be able to see the whole eclipse sequence (weather permitting), though viewers in the far northeast will miss the very end of the event.

I’ve photographed several lunar eclipses, and they’re spectacular events to view and photograph. This one is special, however, because it’s the first time I might be able to see the whole eclipse sequence from beginning to end. In California the eclipse will be seen almost due south. This is not a great alignment for Yosemite Valley, though it should be possible to see the eclipse over Cathedral Rocks or Sentinel Rock. But California is a diverse state with many other possible locations, so I’ll be thinking about other possible locations between now and the 14th.

If you’re interested in photographing the eclipse, I’ve written a guest post about it for the blog. Although I’ve posted other articles about eclipses before, this new article is the most complete and comprehensive, with details about focusing in the dark, revised exposure times, how to align the eclipse with a foreground object (like a building, mountain, or tree), and more.

This is one night when I hope the clouds will stay away. 🙂

— Michael Frye


Of Geese and Shutter Speeds

Formation of Ross's geese taking flight, San Joaquin Valley, CA, USA

Formation of Ross’s geese taking flight, San Joaquin Valley, CA, USA; 1/250th sec. at f/16, ISO 800

On Wednesday Claudia and I rose early and drove down to the San Joaquin Valley. We spent most of the day photographing birds with our friends G Dan Mitchell, Patty Mitchell, David Hoffman, and Charlotte Hoffman, and had a wonderful time. The human company was great, and we found lots of my favorite bird subjects – the white Ross’s and snow geese.

While composition and light are always vital, some aspects of wildlife photography are very different from landscape photography. With wildlife the subjects are moving, placing greater importance on anticipation, timing, and the ability to make quick decisions about framing and camera settings.



Half Dome and moon at sunset, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Half Dome and moon at sunset, February 18th, 2008

There’s something magical about the moon. Putting the moon in a photograph adds a sense of mystery and timelessness, and can elevate an otherwise ordinary scene into something special. Ansel Adams confessed to being “moonstruck,” and I suppose I am too.

The moon will be full next Tuesday (at 1:28 a.m. here on the west coast), and I’m sure many photographers will be trying to capture a rising or setting moon during the coming days, so I thought I would share some ideas about photographing the full moon, and clear up some misconceptions.

Misconception #1

One misconception is that moonrise or moonset photos are taken at night. They’re not: they’re almost invariably made near sunrise or sunset. After dark the contrast between the moon and the landscape is too great, and a good exposure for the moon will make the landscape completely black, while a good exposure for the landscape will wash out the moon. Around sunrise and sunset it’s possible to balance the light between the moon and the landscape and get detail in both, yet have a dark enough sky for the moon to stand out clearly.

Misconception #2

Another misconception is that moonrise or moonset photos are made on the date when your calendar says “full moon.” This can work if the terrain is flat, or you’re at a high vantage point. But if there are mountains or ridges blocking your view of the horizon, you’re better off photographing a moonrise one to three days before the full moon, and a moonset one to three days after the full moon. While the moon won’t technically be full, it will look full enough, and be in a better position than on the actual full moon night. Here’s why: