Perfect Exposure, is it Possible?

I had this topic come up in conversation this past week and at the end we were both having to take a look at our own photography and wondering how much it applied. So think about this for a second. The Perfect Exposure what is it, how is it captured, how will affect the final image? Exposure is how we deal with light and the absence of light in every photograph. As a photographer our job is to capture the best possible exposure in order to tell the best story. So exposure is important but can it even be perfect?

When I think of perfection what comes to mind is a perfect photograph. That long sought after image that is constantly eluding us so we chase it over and over again. But does it really even exist? If it does what do you do when you get it? Perfection is such a subjective thing that it’s a wonder we even try to make it possible. But when it comes to perfection how can you even know if there isn’t another person taking a similar photo to compare? Each photo is unique and with no way to compare then perfection will always be changing. Exposure is the same way. It’s always changing and how we capture that exposure is also changing. There is no mathematical formula that if you use in every photo you will always get perfection. Perfection isn’t the same as making things easier. Only with practice can you make things easier but never perfect. Why would you ever seek perfection I wouldn’t know but that’s for each person to decide on their own.

Driving back from North Dakota yesterday I drive around the edge of a massive storm cell that produced fierce winds and quarter sized hail. I was glad I was on the outskirts of the storm since the winds were pretty strong. I stopped at one point, grabbed the D5 and 18-35mm and took a few quick clicks. While the storm cell was producing a lot of lightning it didn’t quite have that thunderhead look. When it comes to working with big clouds and trying to accentuate the clouds so the seem bigger it’s best to have a small foreground.

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Natural Black and White

It still amazes me how light changes. Light is such a powerful tool and how it reacts with the world always fascinates me. When it comes to sunsets we are very accustomed to seeing brilliant yellows, oranges and reds. What’s not as normal is seeing the absence of light to the point where it’s almost black and white. Besides the glow on the horizon there really wasn’t any light present when it took this. Now you might be saying that I just changed in post, well I didn’t. Unlike other landscape images of mine this one wasn’t touched in ACR because there was nothing to finish. While I was shooting towards the sunlit nothing is really backlit merely the cloud layer was so thick that nothing was coming through. It’s strange to see in person especially since 180 degrees the other way the sky looked completely different.

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If you See Fog, Stop!

One of the natural occurring features in Montana is the geothermal rivers. We have a lot of heat keeping the rivers often unfrozen in the winter time. The closer to Yellowstone you get the better the water is and thus the greater the steam is coming up off the water. Lately what’s been happening is we get these great cold snaps that are followed the next day by a warm spell, and I’m talking about going from 10 degrees up to 25 degrees and then if it’s nice it might hit 30 degrees, but these snaps are creating some great fog banks. This winter I’ve seen a lot of these fog layers, one time it was so thick that it was white out and it lasted all day. Well these layers are great for photography especially at sunrise and sunset when the light really starts to bounce around.

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This was taken last weekend when it went from 16 degrees one day to 30 degrees the next and at sunset the light was just gorgeous on this ground fog. This was up towards Canyon Ferry Lake on the Missouri River and was a quick click with the D4 and 24-70 AF-S. I really encourage people to go out and drive around with a camera on their lap because that’s all this shot is. It wasn’t a lot of prep work, just knowing the weather patterns and exploring can produce some pretty amazing results.

Making Those Really Big Images

Well this is the last post before Photoshop World next week and I thought I’d talk about one of my new favorite areas and that’s making Panos. With ACR 8.4 it’s now possible to select multiple images in ACR, combine them into a pano, then do the final touches. At first I thought this would just be fun but I have found that it’s actually a money maker!

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Here’s a pano I made of Canyon Ferry Lake a few months back. It’s a simple 2 image pano that I already assembled and now it just needs the final touches. As you can see the image is a little bland, in part because I was trying to reduce the highlights by underexposing, knowing full well I could bring out that detail in post.

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Here’s the breakdown of how I finished the image. Notice that the whites, shadows and highlights sliders are moved over quite dramatically. That’s because those three sliders effect a whole lot of the image without effecting certain areas. You might be asking why not just bring up the exposure more then I did? Well exposure effects more then just how bright the image is and can create some bad highlights and ruin the shadows. This is where just moving the white slider and shadow can help control those areas without over doing it.

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As you can see by the final result, a few sliders is sometimes all it takes to finish an image.

Just a Touch of Light is All it Takes

I love the photographs that don’t require any post work, any explanation, or any serious thought. Simple images that tell a story can be so powerful. Positive Space and Negative Space play a big role in telling every story and when it comes to creating that contrast a little can go a long way. I’ve always been a fan of using natural light because that not only keeps things simple but natural tells it’s own story. It’s pretty impressive to think in a single day we go from no light, to light everywhere, to light being gone again. This range allows for so many options.

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Sometimes that little spot is all it takes to tell a big story. How you compose the image is entirely up to whether you want to see the whole landscape or just a snipit of the entire scene. Depending on how much light is available will determine what to do. These are examples of both, the top being shot with the 24-70 AF-S and the bottom with the 70-200 VRII.

The Big Day Has Arrived!

That’s right it is the big day with the tiniest of images. Believe it or not I did think this through. While I was out shooting over the weekend we had some AMAZING clouds in pretty much every direction. Since the clouds filled the sky, the landscape photographer knew that the only way to capture everything I saw and felt was through a series of Panos. I was so excited when I was shooting to write this post because I knew these would turn out awesome. Now if you tuned in Monday when I wrote my post about what you can do with just a couple of hours and that more was coming, then here is the pay out. Here is the catch though, YOU HAVE TO CLICK EACH IMAGE TO SEE THEM FULL SIZE. I’m afraid that’s one disadvantage of posting a pano to a blog.

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Each one of these panos was taken with the D4 and 24-70AF-S. No bracketing but I was shooting at about f/8 or f/10 to increase depth of field and get more details to come out. After all these are supposed to be big. Each one was finished in Adobe Camera Raw with the merge to panorama option. There is about 5-7 compositions overlapped in each one. Now if you haven’t played around in ACR very much with this feature then you should, especially with the spherical and cylindrical perspective. Both options create a different look before you save the pano. Spherical is narrower but creates a longer pano, cylindrical is more even with more proportionate height to length. These three are all cylindrical. The last pano is special!

While I was out I played around a little bit because I hadn’t done a lot of panos before. Partly because stitching them together took time that wasn’t worth it for me. Now, well, I just can’t stop! This last pano I thought, “hey turn the camera vertically and see what happens?” This seven frame pano actually turned out better then I thought, because I honestly thought ACR wouldn’t merge it together but it did.

What’s the advantage of doing this? Merging images together taken horizontally provides more in focus from left to right. By going vertically you are providing more information up and down. By going vertically there is more foreground, which is that great Montana grasses, and background which is the dramatic sky. The other difference between horizontally and vertically, is the image feels less compressed then it does shooting horizontally.

Working these techniques and experimenting after you already have a shot in the bag is how you learn and your photography evolves. Without a doubt I will be doing more of this in the future.

How Much Foreground is Needed With a Landscape?

Every photographer has heard of the rule of thirds. It’s one of the first things that we are taught in photography in order to achieve a good photograph. You need a foreground, middle ground and back ground, roughly 1/3 of the photograph is taken up by each of these. As we progress with our own photography we learn how we can bend around that rule to come up with more interesting compositions that still achieve success.

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Usually with my landscape images I either show about equal proportions with the earth and the sky or if it’s a dramatic sky, I tilt the camera up to show a sliver of land and mostly sky. Easy ways to make the world look bigger. Well what about the reverse? I was standing by this alfalfa field with the D4 and 24-70 AF-S and after shooting like I normally do, I even made a pano, I started thinking about the grass. The skies were great but I liked the grass more then skies. The light on the grass tells just as interesting a story as the sky does. Since the Gallatin Valley is known for all the farms and ranches it’s also a culturally important feature to include as well as aesthetically. With a little help in Adobe Camera Raw to put on the finishing touches, this image was done. Is it wise to have so much foreground in any one image? I really don’t know, but I’m going to keep testing it until I come up with an answer.

A Couple of Hours is all takes

When I first started in photography it was because I enjoyed exploring. To this day I still enjoy exploring and most of the time you don’t have to go to far away or be out for a long time. Thankfully we had a great storm come through over the weekend, because we need the water, and that storm produced some great clouds. After a morning of dealing with this and that I grabbed the camera and just took off exploring.

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While it is true that if you want great shots of fields or rolling hills then you have to go where those places are but no matter where you live just going out driving, with a camera on the lap, is all it takes to get started. All these shots came from driving along the river and then over to another river. Now when I started I had the 70-200VR out with the D4 to isolate the spots of light that were contrasted against the grey skies. I quickly learned that was not wide enough and switched to the 24-70 AF-S. I like that switch.

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Even though I’ve never been much of a flower person I love it when I find a set of rolling hills covered in flowers. Those great blankets of yellow, purple and red instantly just suck the eye in so no matter what is in the background or how bad the light is, there is still an option. With clouds not being as dramatic here I opted to show more of the foreground which had that vibrant yellow to it.

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After passing the Gallatin River and the fields leading up to the Madison River, I went into a valley that I have always loved because it has just great landscape features in it. It’s amazing how different and how fast the clouds are moving between the thirty miles I drove. This entire exploration took only a couple of hours but the images speak volumes. That’s why it is important to not always be bogged down by projects and just go explore. You never know what you mind find. Best of all are the images that I didn’t put here and some of those will be coming later in the week.

Inspiration lead to a new Shot

A while back I saw an image on Google+ and it was a real nice basic landscape shot that was taken while laying down in the middle of the road. It really got my attention and made me want to go out and get a shot like it. Now I have always been an advocate of using man made roads when shooting landscapes because they can be just a great lead in. One of the great benefits of a road is it provides the viewers imagination of a journey. While I was out working on a new project last Saturday, after a big storm went through, I went out and chased the tail end of it before sunset.

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You can see here my attempt to copy the image I had previously seen and to me it just isn’t quite the same I still really like the angle. Finding those great spots where you can just stop and play with now cars around is pretty hard and it was just worth playing. Now I put up both of these images because they tell two very different stories while being shot with the same basic setup, D4 and 24-70 AF-S, and at the same spot.

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The top image is shooting up and that makes the road so much bigger then the storm making it feel like it’s not a big deal to drive around. The bottom image is the opposite shooting down the road showing how big that storm cloud really is. Little changes like this can make a huge difference with your landscape photography and it’s important to realize before you take that image not only what the subject is but how you are communicating what it is.

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