It’s that time of the year again when the afternoon thunderstorms come rolling in at 2 pm and last for a few hours. The Gallatin Mountains get covered with these black streaks as the rain and hail come down. It’s really fun to watch these systems pass through the valley and then disappear over to the east. The best part is that tiny sliver of light that pops up on the western horizon letting in just enough to light up the underbelly of the clouds before disappearing entirely. With the Z50 and 16-50mm there wasn’t much needed to make a good capture of this previous afternoon.
Fall is definitely here! The temps are dropping into the 40’s at night on a regular basis, rainstorms and snow in certain areas, and the days already feel shorter as the skies stay darker. With these days comes great opportunities. From wide-angle to close up the cloud formations allow for a lot of different options. This one stormy evening last year proved very fruitful as the small window of god beams came through the clouds lighting up the Bridger Mountains.
Images Captured with Nikon D5, 24-70 AF-S, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film
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.
Every photographer knows that light is not only an essential element to any photograph but also shapes the story that is told in every photograph. We spend a lot of our time trying to understand and use light to the best of our knowledge but can a photograph be just about light? Does a photo need to follow the rule of thirds or any other of the many rules that we love to regurgitate? Can a photo be just about light and be successful?
Light is never the same in any two spots. It is constantly making everything around it change and thus in itself change. Can that variation be enough to fulfill the rules? Then of course are the shadows that are produced from the light. That adds a whole other element that can fulfill the needs of the photo. These sorts of questions I often wonder about in winter time when there is more time to think then shoot and with a blank canvas like snow, the options are truly limitless. Have you ever tried using a flash in snow? It can be fun. If you live in an area with snow, which right now in the US thats a few places, then try capturing just the light and see what happens.
Images Captured with Nikon D5, 70-200 VRII, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film
There are certain elements that exist within the areas you live that symbolize where you live. The connotation with Montana is of course the old west, cowboys, open space, etc. Well one element that I don’t incorporate as often are cows. Cattle is a big part of what makes Montana but in landscape shots they aren’t the easiest to incorporate. A big part of this is because they are big black animals that without light they look like black dots. The good thing is everyone knows what a cow is and they are easy to recognize.
Driving around one afternoon we had some immaculate light over the valley thanks to a recently departed thunderstorm. While there was numerous ways to showcase that evening I went wide with the 24-70 AF-S captured as much as I could. Even the cows are in there because they are a part of the story.
It’s an interesting feeling chasing the light. It’s a mixture of anxiety as you try to find that subject that captivates the day and then when you find it there’s a sigh of relief and a feeling of satisfaction that the hunt wasn’t wasted. Then of course there are the chases that end in nothing, you go home empty handed. How do you conquer those days?
The only way to come back with something is to keep pushing forward. You push and push until you find something, even if that means driving around until the light is gone. With the warm temperatures finally coming through the valley, bird activity has picked up, especially with raptors. While out looking for a subject, which ended up in a goose egg, I saw this one shot. The day was almost over and the light almost gone but there was enough left for one shot with the D5 and 70-200 VRII. Chasing the light sometimes means doing exactly that.
Except for my travels, I have spent my whole life in the mountains. Whether it’s the Sierra’s or the Rockies there is just something about being up in gods country that just feels good, especially when those days come along that I’m glad I became a photographer.
The Gallatin River is very swollen right now with high waters at most access spots and is anything but clear. This is usually the case with the Spring runoff and it makes it not enjoyable for fishing but still useful for shooting. A while back I had found a spot that looked promising for birding and it happened to be next to the river. The light was fading fast but there was enough on the river with the right clouds in the background to warrant a quick click with the D4 and 24-70 AF-S.
I never would have guessed that with the small diffusion layer to the west that the sky would turn from what it was to what it became. I truly haven’t seen a sunset that spanned the length of the Bridger’s and lasted for forty five minutes, that’s 30 minutes after sun down, in a long time. It was one of those moments where I was kicking myself wishing that I was at a better spot but life being what it is you can only make do and enjoy the show.
When it comes to landscape photography I was taught a long time ago that taking in everything in your scope, while good, is not always the best way to go about it. If you go by the traditional rule of thirds then you have to take everything into effect but if you are trying to capture just the feeling or the beauty of the day then little slices can be just as powerful. Here’s a good example of this.
Not everyone lives in the most scenic places on earth. The majority of people live in cities and have to contend with many obstacles to make great landscape images. Certain elements such as power lines, telephone poles, cars, houses, lights and other man made objects can get in the way and make the image worse. Well there are three options in such cases; first you take the shot anyways and make the best, second you go in tight and take a section of the overall scene or third do nothing and just enjoy. As a photographer usually we tend not to do the third reason because our brains are often over thinking of everything else and eventually tells us that we need to make a click happen regardless. It takes practice to turn off our brain and just watch the light unfold. The second option can be helpful.
While out shooting sunset this past weekend, I notice certain areas where the light was hitting but I couldn’t get to. I could have driven somewhere else and seen what else I could’ve done. Maybe something better could have been found. Who knows? Or I did this. Shooting with the D4 and 24-70 AF-S f/2.8, I zoomed in and focused on spots where the light was hitting and I wouldn’t get telephone wires in my frame. Now the 24-70 is one of my favorite lenses that I use constantly! For this type of work the 70-200 VRII would have been better but with the light fading fast I didn’t have time to switch. So, for the bottom image I switched the camera to DX mode or high speed crop which with the D4 doesn’t loose any quality but does give that little bit of extra focal range which got me a little tighter on the clouds. It was a simple solution to a problem that occurred in the field.
I usually like to go out when we have a storm going through because there is a chance we’ll have some great light. Well I didn’t think that that would happen the other night as it got pretty grey and boring out real quick. Then 20 minutes before the sun went down, an opening occurred and lit up this one great cloud. I couldn’t believe it. Well there wasn’t any time to get somewhere so I just shot out my back window. One of the benefits of living next to a ranch is having lots of space. Here is the result….
Well it was a beautiful sky but just couldn’t get it right. So what happened? I forced an image that wasn’t good. We all do it. We see that one moment when we think it’s going to be great and then we get back to finish it and no matter what it just doesn’t look right. You know it’s not good when that nagging voice at the back of your mind is saying, “something doesn’t feel right.” I tried a number of different ways to finish this one but no matter what I did the foreground just killed me, along with the dark lines going throughout to much of the frame. This was one of those moments that would’ve been better to just watch and enjoy.
The great thing about living in a valley surrounded by farms and ranches is having those long fields of wheat, alfalfa and barley to work with. Looking back out to the east as the sun went down the horizon had just a few puffies left but that was enough. With fields like these there are lots of options, because there are lots of different stories that could be told. As for me I went with the light streaking across the open fields approach. Not the most original but always fun.