A Bright, High Energy Image

Black Sands Beach - Perspective 1

Black Sands Beach, Bonita Cove, Marin Headlands, Marin County, CA, FEB 2015 

Almost a year and half ago, my friend Richard Bieniek took a day trip to the Marin Headlands outside of San Francisco.  The Headlands are the area north and west of the Golden Gate Bridge that border on the ocean.  It was a beautiful day.  The sun was almost blindingly bright.   The waves were tall and strong.  As we walked down the steep that was path cut into the cliff side, you could hear the waves thunder before you could even see them.  When we reached the small, sandy beach in the cove, the unfolding scene was remarkable.  It was mid—afternoon.  The sun was so bright it caused strong silvery reflections on the water.  Those reflections contrasted with the deep shadows in the surrounding rock.   As the waves approached, they gave the impression of a wall of water coming right at you.  The scene was full of energy.  Though difficult, I knew I had to share the story of what I saw.

I hope this image gives you that picture because it was wonderful to behold.

How Did I Process This Image

Those of us who shoot with a DSLR will recognize the difficulty in capturing this image.  The dynamic range, the difference in exposure needed to display some detail in the shadows while not blowing away the highlights in this image is well outside the capabilities of most cameras.  The obvious answer is HDR.  However, that requires 3 identical images with exposures about 2 stops apart.  The problem is that the ocean won’t stand still and pose long enough to make that happen.  I might have chosen to blur the waves but that would have defeated one of my main objectives, to show the energy of the scene.

As you can see from the histogram in this this screenshot below, I exposed the image to minimize both the black and white clipping thus minimizing the loss of detail in both shadows and highlights.  However, the digital negative is very dark.  Despite many hours of trying, there was no way get a good image just manipulating the sliders and using other features of Lightroom.  I had to rely on HDR.  I made 3 virtual copies of the digital negative in Adobe Lightroom.  I opened the exposure of 1 copy about as far as I dare; about ¾ of a stop.  I made one of the others about 2 stops brighter and the other about 2 stops darker than the first.  I opened the 3 copies in Photomatrix to merge them into a single HDR image.  I chose the option that gave me the best, most realistic image I could find.  I made a few minor tweaks and created the final HDR image.  But even that created an image where the foam in the foreground churn was dark and dingy.  I couldn’t open the exposure, the highlights or the whites.  It would cause the ocean to blow out and lose the silvery reflection.  So, I finished the image using Lightroom’s paintbrush to open the exposure on just that section of the image.  I believe it worked.

Lightroom Screenshot 20160615

Regards,

Larry

 

This and other images are available to view and to purchase at my website: http://www.earthwatcher.us.

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Using the Light You are Given

Figure 1: Image with Warm Saturated Colors

Figure 1: Image with Warm Saturated Colors

Landscape photographers are taught that you should always try to shoot during the golden hours; roughly the 3 hours after sunrise and the three hours before sunset.  Indeed, the warm saturated colors make very dramatic and beautiful vistas.  But does that mean you pack away your camera the rest of the day?  Not really.   You can get great shots any time of day if you work with the compositional elements and lighting you have to craft a great composition.  It is the composition that makes the image.

I took the image in Figure 2 on a clear day, at mid-day, when the sun was high.  The composition is decent and interesting.  You can see some texture in the canyon and the canyon itself leads your eye

Figure 2: Image Taken Under Uninteresting Light

Figure 2: Image Taken Under Uninteresting Light

through the image.  So, it is a good image to show friends that have never been to Yosemite, what they would see; a travel photograph.  But it’s not a great image.   Contrast that with the image in Figure 3, taken from a similar perspective but with strong, dramatic lighting.  The difference is obvious.  Besides making the picture pop with color, the light leads your eye through the image to interesting features.  It provides shadows that add texture.  It makes the image much more interesting.

Figure 3: Image With Strong , Dramatic Light

Figure 3: Image With Strong , Dramatic Light

So, its obvious:  If you have great light, you can make better image.  But, what if you can’t just run off and chase the light? You have to work with what you have when you are there.

Look again at figure 3 to see the enhancements the light is providing.  It provides  color, texture and controls the movement of the eye through the image.   When you have light that is diffuse, you need to find other compositional elements to compensate for the missing light.

Figure 4: Image Taken Under Diffuse Light

Figure 4: Image Taken Under Diffuse Light

Look at Figure 4.  It was taken under cloudy skies, in the evening.    It is, to me, a very interesting image.  I like the composition.  While the light is not available to provide the interest, look at how the grass and leaves provide texture that contrasts with the granite and the stream.    The colors in the leaves add color that subtly pops the image.   Even without strong light, there are shadows and highlights.  The stream and the line of rocks lead the eye.

Figure 5 is an image taken under foggy conditions that also diffuse the light.  In this case there is some subtle early morning rim light highlighting the edges.  The color and texture in the reeds and bushes provide texture to offset the fog shrouded background and the stream.

Figure 5: Image Taken Under Low, Diffuse Light

Figure 5: Image Taken Under Low, Diffuse Light

The key is to look around; to see what is happening; to see what you can use; then craft your image from what you have.

Regards,

Larry

These and other images are available on my website: http://www.earthwatcher.us, or by contacting me at: larry@earthwatcher.us.