Sunset From Home

· Reading Time: 10 minutes

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Welcome back!  It seems like it has been forever since I’ve been out with the camera.  It seems that way because it has been.  Since my last trek to the Reddies River Baptist Chuch, it seems that we have had more than our share of sunny days.  I do realize that most [quote/unquote] normal people love the sun and consider blue sky days the best days.  On the other hand, Toni is fond of pointing out that I am the most un-normal person out there and she is probably right.  My idea of a beautiful day is a cloudy day with storm clouds rolling in, and possibly a slight mist from time to time.  Those bring the best moody skies out there and they do wonders for my photography.  For the last, nearly 10 days we have been stuck in a high pressure system that has really pushed the clouds out of the sky and left me with very little to photograph.

Taking advantage of the “normal people” pretty day, I decided to mow the yard during the day on Saturday and get the grass cleaned up possibly for the last time of the year.  It was fun getting out in the yard once again as my yard work days are getting fewer and further between with the cold weather coming in like it is.  While I was out in the front yard I couldn’t help but look at the one lone tree that we have which sets apart from the rest of the wood sections of the lot.  Toni and I have been talking about doing some photography with this tree at night time with some light painting possibly.  There has also been discussions of doing some special effects portraits with her as the model.  In order to do either of these, I really needed to see just how the tree interacted with the surrounding area.  I hadn’t been overly motivated to go out and really critically look at the tree before since it was just now losing the leaves.

As I was finishing up with the yard I started to look at the tree in detail and began the process of thinking about compositions and lens choices for the concepts that we had been discussing.  In order to separate the tree from the surroundings, I was going to have to get very wide, and in close.  I wasn’t sure if either of the projects were going to work, but I was seeing some potential for a sunset image potentially.  I continued to think about this now that I had some scouting of the tree under my belt.

While I was sitting in the chair after I got out of the shower, I was looking to see what the sky was going to do later in the afternoon while the sun was setting.  It appeared that we were going to have some high clouds coming in right around sunset which was very promising for some color.  I wasn’t all that interested in going out to find a scene to photograph since I was a little tired from working in the yard.  Hey, it takes me about three hours to get it mowed, and I had done some clean up in the woods with some fallen trees as well.  I was feeling creative though, and with the sky possibly working for me, I decided that I would go on the very long journey to our front yard.

There was a lot of planning involved for this trip, I had to put shoes on, but I did leave my PJ pants on.  I went downstairs and grabbed the tripod out of the truck and the camera from the office before going back upstairs.  It took me 20 seconds to get into position (I counted) after leaving the front door which wasn’t bad at all.  I got set up first with the sun to my back as I wanted to get the tree illuminated by the low sun.  The lighting was great, but the sky lacked a little bit which made the composition rather run of the mill.  I stuck with it for a while and the light kept getting better, but the sky was boring and bland.  I wasn’t convinced that I had anything here, but I was pretty happy with the 16-35mm lens for getting the tree to stand apart from the background.  At least that part was working.  As the tree was placed into shadow, I decided to move around to the other side and look at how things were appearing that way.

There was no way to shoot this view earlier as the sun was causing too much backlight as low as it was.  I was needing it to sneak beneath the horizon to reduce the contrast before I could really try and work this angle.  I did like the interaction of the tree with the surroundings much better in this direction but the lighting was quite a bit more difficult.  I started out with a horizontal composition at 16mm using a Singh-Ray Daryl Benson 3-stop Reverse Grad in order to control the sky.  It worked very well, but I could tell it was darkening the trees down quite a bit as well.  The sky was looking really good, but there was a lot of contrast at the horizon which I was hoping would fade.  I fine tuned that composition and stuck with it as I liked how the sky was looking much better than the first composition that I shot.

I probably stayed here for about 10 minutes capturing frame after frame as the sun went down.  I was certain that I had something that I would like here so I didn’t have a problem repeating the composition as the light changed.  Eventually, there was too much shadow with the sun just at the horizon and I decided that there were just too many silhouettes of trees in a horizontal frame.  In order to stretch out my shooting time, I decided to flip the camera over to a portrait orientation and just focus on the one tree at 16mm.  I swapped out the filter for a 2-stop Reverse Grad as the contrast wasn’t as difficult here.  I fired off a few images and decided that I liked the horizontal one the best.  The colors were looking better now, but I just wasn’t digging the composition at all as a vertical.

When I finally decided that the light had faded enough to justify packing everything up I broke the camera down and made the long hike back to the front door.  I think that took me 15 seconds (it was getting chilly and I was still in my PJ’s).  Since I wasn’t all that thrilled with images from the night, even though I had 45 frames captured, I decided that I wasn’t going to bother with culling and editing just yet.  Having looked at the weather, I was expecting clouds through the morning on Sunday and I was wanting to get up early to take advantage of those.  I just left the memory card in the camera and had it staged to go out in the morning.

Stand in Awe“, Canon 5DS R, 16-35mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Daryl Benson 2-stop Reverse ND Grad

When I got back on Sunday, I pulled the memory card and loaded the 45 images from the previous night into Lightroom and started to go through them.  I ended up with three images that I wanted to work on which represented one from each of the compositions that I had shot.  The first one, I never even made it through the basic edit.  I wasn’t able to muster much love for the image at all.  The light was great, but the composition and sky just weren’t up to par for what I was wanting.  I moved onto my next one which was the horizontal image which I had been most excited about.  I did do a full edit on that image, but in the end it just didn’t have any soul to it.  There was no story here and the sky wasn’t good enough to pull the image through like I had hoped.  I was pretty sure that my time out in the front yard was going to be a waste at this point.  Remember, I really didn’t care much for the last composition in vertical format when I was looking at the image review on the camera.  I didn’t have much different of a reaction seeing it on the computer either.  As a last ditch effort, I decided to play with this image a little bit to see what I could do with it.

As the process went forward, I was really liking the colors that were here and they were quite a bit better than the horizontal image which I hadn’t expected during the shoot.  I was also able to pull more detail out of the trees since I had only used a 2-stop grad.  The technical aspects of the image were looking pretty good considering the extreme exposure latitude that I was working with.  I just still wasn’t sold on the composition.  I had shot it planning on making it a 5:7 ratio as the standard crop of the camera usually isn’t flattering for a vertical composition.  It just looks too long usually.  I applied the 5:7 crop to the image and it did improve, but the tree lost the presence that I wanted it to have.  There was also the patch of grass that was minimized with this crop.  I wasn’t able to do an 4:5 crop because of the height of the tree.  When I moved it back to the native 3:2 it just looked very stagnant.  The image was decent, but the crop was killing it.  Since I wasn’t liking the normal crops here, I decided to go rogue for a moment and look at a 16:10 crop which I very rarely do in a vertical orientation.  In fact, I believe that I have only done this one other time.  When I applied the crop and then positioned the image within the frame I saw something that I had not seen before.  This was just what the image needed.  It accentuated the height of the tree, and kept the grass in the foreground which I really wanted for color balance.  The narrower sides drew the eyes right to the trunk of the tree which was roughly centered in the frame.  The background trees fell victim to the wide angle lens and the low perspective and had converging verticals which also drew your attention the tree and the sky.  All in all, this became a very impressive composition considering the simplicity of the scene.  It was this one that I finished working and got it all polished up as the keeper from the evening.

It just goes to show you that looking at images on the back of a camera is not always the best test of whether or not you will like an image.  That is why I shoot different variations on the compositions that I decide on because they will have a different impact on a full screen which will be much closer to what they will appear like as a print on a wall.  I’m glad that I shot a couple frames of the vertical composition even though I didn’t care much for it at the time.  I know exactly why I like the vertical one more now, and it is the same reason as to why I shot it in the first place.  In the horizontal version, the main subject gets lost even though it is the tallest and closest tree.  By going vertical, I was able to put that tree front and center with no question as to what its importance in the image is.  It is now a main subject rather than just a supporting element to a greater scene.  The direct composition was the best here by far, and doing the 16:10 crop was the way to go to hammer that point home.

I do hope you enjoyed this quick trek into the front yard.  If you happen to like this sunset image, remember that any image that I shoot is available as a print.  You just need to let me know the title and size of what you want to get the process started.  You can also just go directly to the gallery store and order standard sizes from there.  I’ll be getting started on the next batch of images that I shot on the follow up trek which will probably take most of the evening to get through.

I’ll be back as quick as I can, so stay tuned….
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