Aspens in fog, White River NF, Colorado. I used a bit of negative Dehaze to slightly soften this image.
In preparing my recent presentation for the Out of Chicago Live conference, I was digging through my archives for examples to use, and found some interesting images I had overlooked. In some cases I had put them aside, too busy to process them at the time, and then just forgot about them. In other cases I think my perceptions had changed. And sometimes I could see the potential to process an image differently, using new tools and new skills.
One of those tools is the Dehaze slider in Lightroom. It’s not that new (2015), but didn’t exist when I initially processed some images, and can sometimes make a big difference – especially with fog. I’m a big fan of fog for forest scenes, and these days I’m often using Dehaze selectively with the Adjustment Brush to cut through fog in one part of an image, or thicken fog in another area to hide or deemphasize something. (Just to be clear, you can’t create fog where none existed; there has to be some fog to begin with. But you can make some tenuous fog look a little more substantial. I show how to do all this in my latest Lightroom course, Landscapes in Lightroom: Advanced Techniques.)
Dusk light, Grand Canyon, Arizona
In a recent post I described how Claudia and I made a spur-of-the-moment detour to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. We arrived in the afternoon, and spent the rest of the day checking out various viewpoints.
As sunset approached we had just enough light to check out one more spot. We made it there just after sunset, and in the gathering dusk I thought the light in the canyon to the west was exquisite: soft, with a beautiful backlit glow, and a slight haze to add atmosphere and depth.
Redbud above a rapid in the Merced River, California
My mother grew up in the Panama Canal Zone, in the hills above Panama City, running and playing all year in the tropical weather, watching sloths in the trees outside her bedroom window, shaking her shoes out each morning to make sure there were no scorpions inside.
When she was 13 years old her family moved to Queens, New York, but later, in the early years of her marriage, she and my father migrated to the outer suburbs, and once again she was surrounded by nature. She would often point out beautiful things she noticed to my brothers and me: the first buds of spring, a sunset, ice-coated branches, a bird singing, autumn leaves starting to turn…
Sand dunes at dusk, Death Valley
Sand dunes present an incredible array of shapes, forms, and textures, which makes them highly photogenic. When I first started photographing dunes I was fascinated by those abstract patterns, especially with low-angle light raking across them. And I still am.
But on our last visits to Death Valley, at the end of February and beginning of March, I realized that my tastes have evolved, and I actually prefer photographing the dunes in soft light, before the sun reaches them in the morning, or after the sun leaves them in the evening. At dawn and dusk the dunes can reflect beautiful colors from the sky, turning gold, blue, pink, or even purple. But also, and perhaps more importantly, they look softer. Under that light the dunes look like big, fluffy pillows of sand. They’re less harsh, and more inviting.
Rocks and ripples in the Merced River, Yosemite. Claudia, Charlotte Gibb, and I noticed some interesting patterns in the water while wandering along the river last year. I made a few compositions at one spot, then moved downstream, where I found Claudia and Charlotte looking at similar patterns with prism effects – little squiggly rainbows flashing across the water. I made a couple of photographs I liked last year, but then went back to that same spot last month, and this time found a sunlit patch of water surrounded by tree shadows, which gave the pattern a natural vignette. I needed a fast shutter speed to freeze the motion of the ripples, and a small aperture to keep everything in focus, so I raised the ISO to 1600 to get the shutter speed up to 1/125th sec. at f/16. The focal length was 200mm.
Landscape photographers usually hope for great conditions: a clearing storm, sun breaking through fog, a spectacular sunset, great fall color, dense patches of wildflowers, and so on.
I wouldn’t say it’s easy to make good photographs under such conditions. You still have to put yourself in the right place at the right time, find a good composition, and get the exposure and focus right. And all of those things take skill. But it’s certainly easier. In those highly-photogenic situations you just have to capture the gift that nature is giving you.
Big-leaf maple in a burned forest, Yosemite
I’m always striving to make photographs that convey a mood. I want to do more than show what a place looks like; I want to capture what it feels like to be there at that particular moment.
It seems easier to convey a mood when photographing big landscape scenes during interesting weather. Just describing any kind of weather suggests a mood: sunny, cloudy, gray, overcast, rainy, foggy, misty, snowy, windy, calm – and so on. Combining weather with a compelling landscape almost automatically creates a mood.