Photo Talk 3

August 29, 2014

This article is my third "Photo Talk" article, showcasing the photo below: Dawn in Yosemite, 7/30/13.

(Click to see on black  ::  Link to photo in gallery)


This was one of those instances where maximizing the time I have at a location was absolutely critical.  I was vacationing in Yosemite, and I got to go with my family (my mom, dad, and sister).  Out of all four of us, I'm the only one who even owns a non-phone camera, which basically shows that they were not looking for a trip where I stopped every five minutes and spent a half-hour setting up my tripod and waiting for the light.  I had an amazing time, and I got some great photos, but I knew that I had to budget my photo time very carefully.


I took this photo at the Tunnel View around sunrise, where we stopped briefly on our drive to the valley.  Checking my EXIF, I literally spent a grand total of 28 seconds taking just three pictures at this location.  One had horrendous flare, one was composed poorly, and then there was this one.  I wouldn't have even had time to set up my tripod, so this was a handheld shot. (Luckily, I got a fast shutter speed because I shot directly into the sun!)


In terms of composition, I specifically wanted to showcase the sun and Half Dome by placing them horizontally near the center of the photo.  I'm an advocate for composing to a specific shot, not composing to a guideline like the "rule" of thirds.  (In fact, in the photo with poor composition that I mentioned, I had placed the sun near the left third of the photo.  This made the frame uneven, which was inappropriate for such a peaceful, balanced scene.)


I always aim for a natural result when I process my photos, but this photo necessitated a different workflow than I typically use.  Since my family refused to wake up at 6:00 to see a sunrise, the original frame came out much less sunrise-ish, like this:


Obviously, not the same quality as the final photo!  I got the result you see at the top by using Lightroom to correct the green cast and to make contrast changes.


It's my personal philosophy in landscape images to never add or remove significant elements from a photo.  Occasionally, I will clone out a pesky leaf on a tree, or maybe a small bird that strayed into my frame, but I do not change any of the important content in a photo.  I do not mind photos where content was significantly changed, and I still consider them photography and art, but I personally do not use that technique.  In fact, this image is on the edge of what I would typically do to a photo.  But I saw tremendous potential for the image, and I didn't want the time of day to stop the photo from communicating my purpose. 


I took the photo in RAW, because I always do.  Seriously, just try editing a jpeg photo this much.  I guarantee that you'll immediately switch to RAW, because the colors that I got in the original photo are unattainable from a jpeg.  To demonstrate, I converted the unedited RAW to jpeg, then I applied exactly the same edits to that jpeg as I did to the original RAW.  Here's the result:


That's why landscape photographers don't shoot jpeg!  The colors are tremendously exaggerated, and there is no way to correct for the dark yellow-orange cast around Half Dome.  It may be hard to see at this size, but the shadows of this photo are noticeably blocky. That's just unacceptable!


Okay, I know that I went off on a few tangents, but I felt like it was important to know the philosophy behind this photo after learning about the background story.  The last pieces of the puzzle are the camera settings for this photo, which are below:


1/2500 second shutter, f/5.6, ISO 100, 34mm (51mm full-frame equivalent).  I used the Nikon 17-55mm f/2.8 DX lens on my Nikon D7000 camera for the photo, and I used aperture-priority.  I didn't need any exposure compensation.  


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