Growing up in rural Pennsylvania and upstate New York, I always looked forward to watching the forests around me explode into color. The vibrantly colored hills would ALMOST make me forget that a long, cold winter was coming.
In coastal California we are blessed with many things, but impressive displays of colorful foliage is not one of them. Most of our nearby forests are shrubby, chaparral grasslands or evergreen, and, as monumental as our redwood forests are, I always miss that annual transition.
I’m not alone, and that’s why each fall, color-loving Californians flock to the Sierra Nevada to see the more diverse woodlands at higher altitude explode with color. That’s what I was hoping to see when I signed up for renowned landscape photographer, Michael Frye’s Eastern Sierra Fall Color photography workshop.
From Sunday through Wednesday, my classmates and I stayed at a motel in the tiny town of Lee Vining, east of Yosemite National Park. At 6am each morning, we would gather and carpool out into the field to photograph various landscapes at sunrise. By late morning and the rise of the harsh midday sun, we returned to town at met at the local community center for a few hours of in-class instruction on the technical and creative aspects of landscape photography. At mid-afternoon, we returned to the field to photograph more diverse and colorful landscapes, ending at sunset.
I learned a lot — and very quickly! Starting out, my grasp of DSLR camera technology was weaker most of my gearhead classmates. Plus, I’d borrowed my father-in-law’s more advanced camera, tripod and lenses which I wasn’t used to using. Still, I managed to catch up, and I’m really happy with the photos I was able to capture.
Our field trips were highlighted by groves of golden-leafed Aspen trees. We saw so many aspens!
Just before dusk, the aspen trunks would start to take on a blue-grey tint, which contrasted greatly with the leaves, still warm and glowing golden.
Each night on the phone from home, Kevin asked me what we’d been taking pictures of. On the second night, I told him that I never wanted to see another yellow aspen tree!
(I was kidding of course… who wouldn’t want to see more of this brilliant glow!)
Our sunrise destinations were broad vistas with sun-capped mountain reflections. We went to Mono Lake the first day, and then Convict Lake (Mammoth Lakes) on the second day.
The last morning, we started with a sunrise reflection over Silver Lake (June Lake Loop).
At the bodies of water, Michael and instructional assistant, David Hoffman, advised us to look beyond the broader view for smaller reflections with interesting shapes, colors and abstract patterns.
As I was hiking near Convict Lake looking for new vantage point, Michael pointed out this tree framed by the glowing reflection of a mountain peak in the water. This is an interesting pattern that I definitely would have missed were it not for Michael’s guidance.
Returning home through the Tioga Pass and through they Yosemite Valley, we had the opportunity to see some other more diverse landscapes, including this sharp reflection and a snow-covered mountain at Ellery Lake…
massive Redwood trees with glowing green moss…
… and some gorgeous groves of red and purple foliage.
The workshop offered a few really valuable things: Creative inspiration and instruction on how to create a good composition, technical guidance and tips for capturing your desired shot under given conditions, and finally — logistics! So much of photography is about being in the right place at the right time. I always intend to get up for sunrise photography when I travel, but without having a team of people waiting for me by the car, it’s often easy to roll over and go back to sleep. This early morning field work was invaluable!
Thanks to Michael, David, Claudia and all my classmates for a great workshop. I can’t wait to see all of your shots!
Planning to visit the Eastern Sierra in the fall? Check out this Fall Color Guide for maps, suggested drives, and current viewing conditions.
Where is your favorite place to see fall colors? Have you ever taken a field-based photography course?