From One Extreme to the Other

April 09, 2020  •  Leave a Comment

Photographing the landscape is often a tale of contrasts. 

On the one hand, we wait. 

We sit in the darkness before dawn waiting for the sky to lighten. We wait for the wind to die down. We wait for a front to move through, or for a stubbornly persistent region of low pressure to begin to ease its grip. We wait for the rain to let up. We wait for the fog to lift. We wait for the light to change.

This waiting can go on for quite some time. Hours. Days. 

After all that cooling of heels, finally - if we're lucky - we get something we can work with. Very often when that occurs, it's a flurry of activity as we scramble to take advantage of conditions which may be fleeting. And since the resulting conditions might be something other than what we were anticipating, there's the added element of improvisation on the fly.

One extreme to the other.

When you have only a narrow window in which to make a photograph, you can't afford to squander the opportunity. Decisions must be made quickly. Mistakes cannot be made.

Do you know everything your camera is capable of doing? In the blink of an eye, can you manipulate its settings to achieve whatever your objective might be - and to manage quickly changing conditions? Have you read your owners' manual? (By this I mean really reading it - not just paging through.) Though the vast majority of information contained therein is likely basic to you, you might be surprised to find some nuggets scattered throughout. There may be a few functions which you either had no idea were possible, or have never taken the time to master.

Likewise, are you up to speed regarding the capabilities of both Lightroom and Photoshop?

Since field shoots are currently constrained, now might be a great time to familiarize yourself with the full range of features at your disposal - both in terms of your gear and as far as the digital darkroom is concerned.

The image pictured below is an example of a situation in which the conditions not only changed rapidly but also created a difficult shooting environment. On this summer afternoon, storms had been firing up and moving through Grand Teton National Park. I'd been chasing them. One featuring violent winds had just passed to the southeast of the Moulton barn. Having photographed that storm, I decided to hang around and see if anything else might develop. Though the sky was flat and uninteresting for a while, finally another cell began to creep into the area - this one moving from south to north over the mountains.

Again the winds dramatically picked up; it was difficult at times to maintain balance and certainly the camera and tripod had to be tightly gripped. The sky was phenomenal, with angry-looking clouds swirling above and the distant downpour nearly obscuring the Cathedral Group. THAT was the photo, with the barn anchoring the foreground. The storm was moving very quickly; I had only seconds to decide how to compose and execute the image. 

This had to be a stitched panoramic: a pano would make it possible to see both the progress of the storm over the peaks and as much of the swirling clouds higher overhead as possible. There were two problems with that: manipulating the camera in that heavy wind (I needed to create four verticals to stitch together), and dealing with extreme contrast. Exposing for the sky was critical; it was the story. But exposing for the sky meant the barn and foreground would be extremely dark. 

The cell moved quickly. I had time for two series of verticals before widespread, heavy rain moved in and created a flat sky. I knew what I had to do to execute - and there was an element of luck at play, too, in that there was no camera shake from all that wind.

Put yourself in a position to make the most of golden opportunities like this storm. Take advantage of extra time you might have right now and augment your skills!

Moulton Barn Grand Teton National ParkTurmoil AloftA strong storm creates stunning, turbulent skies and brings with it powerful winds. As it passes, the mountains are rendered as shadows by heavy rain. (T.A. Moulton Barn - Grand Teton National Park Wyoming)


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