My Obsession with Getting the Perfect PhotographPhotography is all about light. That should be patently obvious to even the most casual observer. In fact, let me submit to you that it is patently obvious to the casual observer: Of the thirteen pages of photos I've posted on SP, almost every one of the photos below appear on the first page. Almost without exception, the remaining twelve pages of photos do not have particularly notable lighting.
However, finding just the right light can be a very serendipitous experience. That is, the studio photographer (a job I loath to think I'd ever have to do) is blessed in having virtually complete control over the lighting situation. Photojournalists are more interested in the story than in the light -- images with even mediocre lighting can become great because of their documentary value. The snapshooter simply doesn't care ("I'm not very good with a camera."). But, the good landscape photographer understands that great photography is all about the lighting, and that the lighting is under the control of God, Mother Nature, or whatever super being in which one professes to believe. Thephotohiker has written an excellent article on this mystical pursuit. I encourage anyone interested in it to read it: Waiting for the Light. Meanwhile, this article is simply for discussing those photographs where I spent the time and resources -- whether it was waiting for a different time or hiking to a different location, or simply have the fortuitous good luck to be at the right place at the right time, to get the perfect (okay, maybe "near" perfect) photograph. Enjoy.
Half Dome and Glacier PointCurtis and I had decided to hike four mile trail from Yosemite Valley to Glacier Point. We parked the Jeep at the trailhead early in the morning (that being the only chance to get a parking spot at the trailhead!), and headed on up.
Dunes Sunset with Crestone PeaksI set up my camera on a tripod not too far from the entrance to Great Sand Dunes National Park, CO. It was mostly overcast, but I was hopeful that there would be a break in the clouds that allowed the sun to light up the dunes as it set. In fact, after waiting about 30 minutes it did open up. All of the photos before that are boring and lifeless (click here to see one). But, the several that I shot after the clouds opened up a bit all came out quite nice. This is my favorite of those images (and also one of the SP communities favorites). A graduated density filter was applied to give the clouds that dark, brooding look.
Who Needs a Five Star Hotel?I shot this photo over a period of two evenings. We were camped in the Chisos Basin of Big Bend National Park, TX. I had shot a series of a couple dozen photos the evening before after noting that Curtis wasn't moving much while reading a magazine. They came out okay, but focus at night is very difficult -- I was concerned that it might be a bit off and not get the pinpoint stars I was seeking. Of course, I was aided in this endeavor by the fact that the moon would not rise until about an hour before sunrise. The next evening I selected my widest lens (10-22 mm) and adjusted the focus to infinity. Even though Curtis moved during the 30-seconds of the exposure, there was so little light that his movements do not show. After shooting the image, there was some noise in the form of about a dozen white specks on the mountains. I used a photo editor to clean those up, ensuring that all of the stars were in the sky!
Blue Light ColumnAntelope Canyon, AZ provides fantastic opportunity to experiment with light columns in a very sensuous environment. Curtis and I had timed our arrival to be in Upper Antelope Canyon at noon. However, we were foiled because we did not know that the Navajo Nation, unlike the U.S. state of Arizona, does recognize daylight savings time. We were an hour late at Antelope Canyon after departing Monument Valley, missing most of the best part of the canyon light. On top of that, in our haste from the truck I forgot the tripod. Therefore, all photos were shot hand-held, and on film no less (no digital preview!). By bracing myself against the canyon wall I was able to get a few good shots; this one coming out as best by SP consensus.
Upper Antelope CanyonAnother one shot in this famous slot canyon near Paige, AZ, during the same trip described above. Actually, I prefer this one to the other, however the SP consensus (based on voting, whatever that means) is that the other one is better. For me, however, the greater area with detail makes up for the missing light column.
Upper Antelope Canyon IIOne last take, but this time from a different angle. Sometimes the best thing to photograph is that which everyone else isn't noticing .. or is just ignoring. I really like this one, it reminds me of a giant mouth with some pretty gnarly teeth.
Chisos Basin Window SunsetIt was my turn to cook dinner, so I was just finishing the clean-up at the Chisos Basin Campground in Big Bend National Park, TX when I looked and saw a very dramatic setting sun in the window. I yelled at Curtis that I wanted to get to the viewpoint to get a photo. As we were headed up there, I notice that a telephoto shot of the setting sun behind some trees on the actual viewpoint might prove quite dramatic. So, I set up and, despite missing most of the last few minutes of the setting sun, I shot several photos. This one is not SP's favorite, but it is mine.
Sunset in Chisos Basin WindowAnother in my series of photos of the sunset in the Chisos Basin in Big Bend National Park, TX. This one was shot from the same location as the prior one, actually just prior to it. But this time I used a 75-300-mm telephoto maxed out. This is the SP favorite of this series of photos.
Sunset at the Chisos Basin WindowThis is the final shot at Big Bend in the series of the Chisos Basin Window sunset. I had repositioned myself to the location of the trees in the two former photos. In retrospect, I wish I had placed the sun off-center, as did Bob Sihler in his excellent photo taken from a bit further away (Carter Peak, Sunset).
Chisos Basin Moonrise
We were fortunate to be at Big Bend National Park, TX during a time when the moon would not brighten the skies. In fact, it was a very old moon, rising just before the sun. One morning I decided to take a few shots of the crescent moon rising over the mountains. The photo below shows the new moon in the old moon's arms. The sun is about an hour behind the moon, so there is plenty of light in the sky to serve as a beautiful, deep blue backdrop to the moon. And, though it was necessary to overexpose the old moon so that the new moon would show, I didn't do it so much that it obliterates that area of the image. I suppose had I wanted to keep both areas properly exposed, I could have shot two differently exposed images and used digital techniques to merge to best parts of both photos. But, while I'm not against some post-shoot processing of an image, I wouldn't merge parts of two images to create an artistic photograph. Having said that, let me make a prediction: It won't be very long before cameras do this automatically, quickly shooting two or more images at different exposure settings, then merging the properly exposed parts of both images to create a pleasingly lit photo. I'll wrestle with the ethics of that when that day arrives (honestly, I'll likely give in!).