Thinking in the Field

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Sunrise – Alftavatn, Iceland

For this shot, my goal was to capture the motion of the clouds and the smooth surface of the lake. I also wanted to show the glow on the water and the distinct color differences – the bright pinks in contrast with the powerful blues and greens. At the same time, I wanted to maintain a sharply-focused foreground.

I realized that I couldn’t achieve all of the goals from my current location at the top of a hill, especially since it was a fairly windy evening. I ended up sliding down the hill to the muddy shoreline (where I had to pull my hiking boots out of the muck). I walked the shoreline and took a few test shots before I found the spot I wanted for my shot. I had a couple of things going for me at this point. First, I was down low by the water with the hillside blocking most of the wind. And second, I could capture more of the reflection because, the lower you are in relation to the water, the more reflection you’re able to see.

I chose a long shutter speed for two reasons: 1) I wanted to blur the movement of the clouds in order to capture their motion; and 2) I wanted to completely smooth out the surface of the lake. A smooth water surface would allow me to enhance the pink glow; I could let the motion of the water blur the colors and spread them around with the motion of the water throughout the long exposure.

I chose an aperture of f/16 which is large enough to prevent the distortion that can occur with a really small aperture, but large enough to allow for a 25-second shutter speed. This shutter speed allowed plenty of time to smooth the water surface completely and to capture the motion of the clouds… as long as I chose a 25-second span when there was very little wind. I took a series of shots and chose the sharpest one for the final image.

For post processing, I used two exposures – one for the brightest area of the sky and one for the rest of the image. I then combined the two photos in Photoshop and used our manual iHDR workflow to blend them. I brightened the green flowers in the foreground to make them stand out against their background. My goal was a simple composition – nothing too strong. I wanted to make the most of the leading lines that guide your eyes from the foreground out towards the sun. I also chose a slightly underexposed look for this shot. I wanted to stick with a natural look… the early morning light just beginning to glow on the horizon.

It’s often just as important to describe what isn’t in a photograph as it is to explain what is included. For this shot, I excluded the muddy bank of the pond. I was going for a lush, green foreground and the mud detracted from that goal. I also wanted to ensure the viewer couldn’t see any of the lights from a power plant located in the distance on the opposite shoreline. I intentionally positioned my camera and tripod to avoid those additional lights.