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.

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About Author Varina Patel

There is nothing more remarkable to me than the power of nature. It is both cataclysmic and subtle. Slow and continuous erosion by water and wind can create landscapes every bit as astonishing as those shaped by catastrophic events – and minuscule details can be as breathtaking as grand vistas that stretch from one horizon to the other. Nature is incredibly diverse. Burning desert sands and mossy riverbanks… Brilliant sunbeams and fading alpenglow… Silent snowfall and raging summer storms… Each offers a unique opportunity. I am irresistibly drawn to the challenge of finding my next photograph, and mastering the skills required to capture it effectively.