After the Storm at Salem Lake

· Reading Time: 12 minutes

Friday, March 15, 2019

Yes, I love the clouds, and can even stand the rain much better than most.  However, it seems that it has rained for the majority of the days so far this year.  Every day is pretty dreary with just a few clear sky days mixed in from time to time.  For the most part, I have been picking subjects to shoot based on the cloud cover and hoping that I don’t get rained out.  This has been working pretty well, and I have been able to get several waterfalls shot lately.  My decay photography has been doing pretty well with cloud cover as well….but I was really wanting some dramatic landscapes.  Those work great with dramatic skies which requires a bit of depth and some blue above the clouds visible.  As I was going through the day on Friday, I really wasn’t thinking that I would be going out for any pictures.  It was gloomy and rained a large portion of the day.  My one bit of hope was that I had the evening free with Toni and Sierra going to visit family out of town.  I knew I would have a few hours before sunset where I could possibly go out and work something if the weather cleared as the forecast suggested it might.

My plan was to head out when Toni left to get Sierra from school and try to find something worth putting in front of my lens.  As Toni was getting ready to go, the rain had gone from light to coming down in buckets.  It was windy and just wasn’t looking like a good day for any type of photography at all.  I sat on the couch after she left staring out of the window and checking the radar for any glimmer of hope for an evening trek.  We were right on the line of a bunch of rain so I wasn’t sure how things would progress since it seemed to be tracking consistently to keep us under the rain.  There was even a bit of thunder and some lighting mixed in for good Spring measure.

I had Toni scope out a barn I was planning on shooting that was by Sierra’s school.  She sent video which showed more rain than anything else.  I wasn’t sure if I would be able to make the barn work yet or not.  I needed some color in the trees behind it, and I missed out completely on the Fall colors there.  The more I thought about it, the more I decided that the light had no pop to it, and wouldn’t be good for the barn at all.  Watching the rain continue to fall in sheets outside, I retired back to the office to get a few things taken care of.  When I got finished with my tasks I reverted to watching some Youtube videos on photography.  The first one I found was a guy shooting in the Lake District in the UK.  He was talking about shooting with a purpose.  He went through a lot of his reasons behind his photography and some about his equipment (no, it wasn’t me).  What caught my attention here was I was watching a video about a photographer who was shooting on a typical UK day with heavy overcast skies and quite similar conditions to what I was seeing outside currently.  It had at least stopped raining, but the light quality was rubbish (sorry, watching an English photographer).  I had the thought quite suddenly that “I am sitting here watching a photographer getting out and doing it, while my camera stays quietly in the bag.”  That hit me like a pile of bricks.  Here I had the time, the opportunity, and the desire to go out and shoot.  Who cares if the conditions weren’t quite what I had in mind?

Since I was watching some footage from the Lake District, my mind immediately went to Salem Lake and doing some long exposures with some interesting foregrounds.  I was torn between that and the barn, however.  It didn’t matter, I was going to go out and photograph something before the evening was over.  When I grabbed my gear and went outside, I could see that the clouds were actually breaking up and moving in the sky rather quickly.  This was quite promising for Salem Lake, so I made my way out there with a quickness.  When I pulled into the parking lot, I was greeted with a lovely blue sky and some wonderful clouds moving over the water.  There were some boats still present along the docks and on the shore.  I was going to have everything that I wanted, but I was needing to hurry.  The clouds were moving quick, and the light was fading fast with only an hour and a half till sunset.

Rosey Hues“, Canon 5D Mk3, 16-35mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Mor Slo 10-Stop ND Filter

I went down to the lake and found a couple of vantage points.  I really wanted the floating dock to be my foreground and leading line into the lake so I paid particular attention to how everything lined up.  I finally decided on an approach from the right side of the docks so that it would read nicely from left to right.  It also put the brightest part of the sky in the opposite third of the image for a bit of visual tension.  I set the camera up with a 16-35mm lens and started out with a B+W Polarizer and the Lee Filter System attached.  I added my wired remote because I knew I was going to be shooting in bulb mode.  I took a few test shots of the scene with slightly different compositions before deciding on the most effective one.  When I finalized my composition, I added the Mor Slo 10-Stop ND Filter and shot a minute and a half exposure.  It didn’t turn out quite like I wanted it to with the shutter speed.  I needed a longer exposure, and I also saw that the polarizer was causing a slight vignette at the 16mm I was shooting at.  I stripped off the polarizer and left just the ND filter.  I stopped the lens down until I could get a two-minute exposure time and then let the shutter go.

The results there were much more to my liking.  The magic formula for this shot was ISO 100, f/20, and 121 seconds at 16mm.  I could see that the clouds were streaking across the sky while still retaining plenty of detail.  The leading line took your eyes just off-center to the right while the main point of interest was to the left in a similar position.  This introduced the perfect amount of visual tension and kept the eyes locked in the frame quite well.  I only had two issues with this photograph.  First of all was the only boat that was in the water.  Of course, over two minutes worth of exposure it was going to move slightly.  That movement shows up as motion blur in the image.  I wish it wasn’t there, but I really had no choice on whether to include it or not.  The other issue, I had a little more control over.  I had set this shot up to be a black and white image, but when I was looking at it, there was too much potential for a color image.  Since I was still about an hour from sunset, the sky didn’t have many colors to it.  It did have a wonderful, rich blue above the clouds.  The white and gray clouds just seemed a little anti climactic.  A decision had to be made on this.  My intention was to shoot a fine art representation of the scene from the beginning.  With a long exposure, I am not really concerned with realism to being completely true to the scene.  I was going to utilize Lightroom to bring this image home.

For those who follow my adventures, you will know that I don’t do heavy duty post processing with my images.  Once upon a time, that was because I just didn’t know how to, and it sounded better to say that I choose not to manipulate my images.  These days, I have gotten pretty proficient with Lightroom and have a few tricks up my sleeves.  Now, I still don’t go overboard on the vast majority of my image because I want them to be true to the scene that I shot.  With this image, however, I was looking for something a bit more out of the image.  I made a lot of local adjustments to the image and got it really close to what I was after, but it was still lacking that one important quality.  I needed a fire in the sky to bring those moving clouds home.  I opened up the Split Toning window which allows me to adjust the highlights and shadows independently from one another as far as hue and saturation.  I started to work on the sky and found this awesome combination that kept the blue, but added this wonderful pink/magenta hue.  I toned the shadows down and brought them back to a neutral point before complimenting the hues in the sky.  This took a good bit of work, and I probably spent about 45 minutes on this one image to get it right.  In the end, it might not represent exactly what I saw, but it does represent the fine art rendition that I was after when I set the camera up.

Salem’s Skiff“, Canon 5D Mk3, 16-35mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Mor Slo 10-Stop ND Filter, Converted in Lightroom

Having reached that point where I was happy with the capture at the docks, I moved my attention on to a boat that was left on the shore, partially hanging out over the water.  The recipe was the same as I had started with previously.  I wanted to shoot a monochrome image to really take advantage of the sky above.  The clouds were coming in thick by this time, so there wasn’t going to be those broad areas of blue as I had seen a few minutes ago.  I worked on getting the composition set up.  I had some hurdles to get over with this one.  I was going to have to include the docks based on the proximity of the boat I was shooting.  The best direction to shoot was still in that same direction.  I had wanted to get down really low on the boat for the perspective, but that would have caused the docks to be partially obscured by the boat.  I ended up bringing the camera up a bit more until there was separation between the boat and the docks behind.  I then started to move to the left and right in order to get the right perspective on the boat while having it keep a good relationship with the repeating patters of the dock behind.  When I was satisfied with the composition I got an exposure reading and switched over to Bulb mode.  The 10-Stop filter was added to the lens and I set the new exposure for ISO 100, f/16, and 161 seconds of exposure at 26mm.

Honestly, this composition was much easier than the previous one and I only shot four different frames to try to get different cloud formations.  A lot can happen in 2 minutes and 40 seconds so I wanted to stack the odds in my favor of getting a good result.  This was the third shot I did and I think that it covers everything that I wanted it to.  As I expected, there was not much in the way of color with this image so I wasn’t tempted to leave it as a color image.  By converting it to monochrome, I was able to take full advantage of the sky with a few tricks I have with Lightroom.  The mood really shines through with this composition.  As with the other one, I went with a fine art rendition on this which allowed me to really stretch what I was willing to do with the image.  When I framed the shot, I was wanting drama.  I got the drama that I was after when the processing was all said and done.  This one went much quicker than the last with only about 30 minutes spent on the editing process.  That is still longer than I normally like to spend on an image.  With these photographs, the presentation was intended to be a little different so I wasn’t really worried about how long the processing took.  I was only concerned with the final products.  I was now very happy with two of the fourteen images that I had shot.

Let’s Go Fishin’ “, Canon 5D Mk3, 16-35mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Mor Slo 10-Stop ND Filter, and Galen Rowell 2-Stop ND Grad Filter

As I was about to pack up shop and go see about another location, I noticed that the sky was starting to clear again and I was seeing a small bit of color from the setting sun to my back.  The clouds were all concentrated to the left of the scene that I had been shooting.  It really didn’t make for a balanced composition anymore so I started to rework the composition.  I flipped the camera on its side so that I could get more of the sky as well as concentrate on the boat.  I framed up a shot that met all of my requirements as far as the relationship between the boat and the dock in the midground.  I elevated the camera slightly and tilted it up, placing the boat right at the bottom of the frame.  I got an exposure reading and shot a 171 second exposure.  I was not happy with the outcome in the LCD as the boat was much too dark and the clouds were not smeared as much as I wanted them to be.  I was able to fix both problems by adding a Sigh-Ray Galen Rowell 2-Stop ND Grad over the Mor Slow ND Filter.  I then made an exposure at ISO 100, f/16, 201 seconds of exposure at 16mm.  When that one came up in the LCD I could see that I had nailed the exposure that time.

Unlike the other two, the intention here was to actually render the image as a color photograph since there was a bit of color in the sky.  Much to my surprise though, the colors didn’t really come though all that well in the digital negative.  It was a strong picture, but I was hating that the warm hues were largely missing from the composition.  I stepped back from this one and had that same debate once again.  I could convert this on to monochrome, but I really felt that the previous one was superior in that presentation.  I really wanted this one to be color which left me with a single option.  I had to pull out the Split Toning Tool once again with this one.  As with the other image, this was the trick to give this image that much-needed pop.  My rationale was the same as the processing on the other two.  This was fine art and not necessarily faithful to the actual scene.  It is very faithful to my intention when shooting the image.  In fine art renditions, I am much more concerned with how a scene felt rather than how it looked.  All three of the images that I captured here capture my feeling at the scene, and are quite faithful to my interpretation of what I was experiencing.

It is a lot of fun to let go every so often with my images.  Most of the time, I am presenting images in a faithful way to how I actually saw the scene.  This is very restrictive and I hold myself to a higher standard of post processing with these images.  When I go into a session like this one where my intention is something a bit more creative, I relax those restrictions in the name of art.  I am wanting to transcend the limited sense of sight, and blend it with all of my senses.  Only then, can I truly say that I have captured the image that was in my heart.