Every January, I spend couple of days reviewing the photos I made the past year. My first step is to narrow those down to about 45 – 50 favorite images and then eventually to top 12 (the latter reduction often aided by a Facebook poll). I find this exercise rewarding and a very effective way of improving my photography skills. I thought of sharing these final 10 – 12 photos from 2015 with the Photography Life community including the preparation that went behind creating each image, the thought process that led to the final composition, post processing technique etc. After a quick email back and forth with Nasim, I decided to take a stab at it and here is my first write up of this 12 part series.
I. Reflections and mist on a tranquil morning, Sunday Pond, near Baxter State Park, Maine
I visited Baxter State Park (BSP) in Maine in June 2015 for a three day trip. We started from Boston on a Friday afternoon, reached Millinocket, the closest town to BSP by 10 pm and checked into a hotel. Rain was in the forecast for the night and it was supposed to clear up by 4 am. BSP gate opens only at 6 am and with a sunrise time of around 5 am, it was impossible to reach any location within the park at dawn. Instead I had planned to check out Sunday Pond location for the sunrise shoot. Sunday Pond is situated 2 miles before BSP and is about 20 min drive from Millinocket.
Back home, before starting for the trip, I had carefully plotted the sun’s position at Sunday Pond using ‘The Photographer’s Ephemeris’ (this is an invaluable resource and a must have for any landscape photographer). It had revealed that a rising sun will be side lighting the distant Mt. Katahdin- a good angle for photographing reflections. Essentially, I had a vague idea of what I will be photographing this particular morning even before starting for BSP- a stage often referred to as previsualization in photography, which has served me well over past many years.
We got up by 4 am and reached the Sunday Pond around 4:45 am. The sky was completely clear and there was plenty of mist rising over the pond. The overnight rain had saturated the colors and it was a very calm morning with no wind. The overall scene invoked tranquility and peace.
With sometime at hand, I soaked in the atmosphere and picked my elements- distant Mt. Katahdin as the background anchor, a line of trees on the opposite shore and rising mist as the prominent background, reflections in the still waters of the pond as the middle-ground, and the back-lit weeds among the front-lit rocks in the foreground. It was a complicated scene and I needed the right balance for a composition involving all the elements to work. In addition, there was an opportunity for simplified compositions using only a subset of the above.
The first decent picture I made that morning is shared next. It looks ok but somehow the light is not right for conveying what I felt that morning. The distant trees are dark, the foreground doesn’t complement the background and the composition looks unbalanced to me.
Dawn, Sunday Pond, ME, 5:13 am
Next, I simplified the composition. It involved switching form wide angle to a mid-range lens and zooming in to isolate the part of the scene with most interesting elements (to me). I think this simpler composition emphasizes the contrast in highlights and shadows and works well.
Mt. Katahdin, morning mist and reflections, Sunday Pond, ME, 5:16 am
The scene kept me occupied but essentially I was waiting for the sun to come up just enough to bathe the distant trees in golden hues. Also, I had moved a bit to the right to find a foreground that was humming well with the overall scene. At around 5:35 am, the sun started to hit the top of the trees and at 5:37 am, I made the opening shot of this post. Couple of minutes later, the sun started to hit the water and the mist disappeared almost instantly- not really ‘static’ as is often associated with landscape photography. The changing light makes the landscape dynamic with the best moments lasting only a few minutes, sometimes even less.
Dissecting the Composition
With the tripod height of around 4 feet (not the full 60+ inches and not very close to the foreground), and by pointing the camera down at an angle, I ensured that the weeds/grass do not touch the reflections in water. Also, the pattern of weeds now forms a layer, which complements the distant rows of trees (unlike the image I made at 5:13 am). The light on the foreground rocks sings well with the light on the trees. I turned the polarizer just enough to reveal the submerged rocks in the foreground but not to cut the reflections and last but not the least, the back-lit mist adds to the overall mood. If, I really want to nitpick, I will crop out the little rock located towards the right but since it is dark and doesn’t cut the reflection line, I left it there.
The image was made using a Nikon D610 and Nikon 24-120 mm f/4 VR lens @ 27 mm and an aperture of f/16 (for DOF). The shutter speed was ¼ seconds. I focused the lens at the point of focus as shown in the above image, which was good to hold sharpness from front to back. The raw file was processed in Adobe Lightroom 5.6 and then converted to a jpeg. Since I had a good exposure to begin with, this last part was the most boring part of the process (something, I actually prefer).
My photography style is to find quality light and then let the compositions flow from my emotional response, which may be a recurring theme in these articles. I hope you enjoyed this dissection of one of my favorite images from last year and will eagerly look forward to comments and feedback. Since, this is the first article in the series, please let me know if there is anything more you want me to cover in the subsequent write-ups. Stay tuned for second installment of the series.
Based on couple of critiques, I re-processed the image in Lightroom- boosted the shadows in foreground and midtones in the overall image. I like this version. Also, I found another image from my archives, which captures the sense of the place before sun started hitting the tress in the opposite shore. Somehow, I missed this one before and now am undecided, which one I like more. Would love to hear your thoughts!