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Mist, Mammoth Springs

Monday, March 30, 2020

Anatomy of a failed shot

Not all of my shots work all the time, many don't, I thought it would be nice to deconstruct a fail for you. Learning experience for both of us. Hopefully helps my humility index.

I scouted a spot on the river I wanted to shoot the other day. Went back yesterday afternoon with Leslie, lugging the tripod and a backpack full of gear. It is a nice little spot where the river takes an abrupt divot. I almost missed the poison oak, got a little on my stomach. The water flows over the rocks pretty quickly at this location right now and I thought it would be a nice spot for a long exposure, the slowing technique that gives you the silky water look that photographers dig.


This untouched shot was a fifteen second exposure at ƒ16, iso 64. Nikon D850 with Nikkor 24 -70, 24mm, a b&w c.p and a Breakthrough 10-stop nd filter.

It isn't easy necessarily. You first take a baseline shot without the filters and ascertain proper, normal exposure, than apply a loose formula for the neutral density filter adding time per filter stop. You focus as best as you can and then screw in your filters which invariably causes you to lose some focus again with lens drift. Because you can't see what you have captured in the viewfinder at this point.

I took quite a few shots at different speeds and aperture, from ƒ8 to ƒ22 and up to thirty seconds. Because the sun was stage right, I went up in the aperture (down?) to see if I could grab and play with some sun rays. I did not. But they all are basically unusable, for several reasons.

I had wanted to get the shot in the morning, with the eastern sun behind me and it was late afternoon. The sun was low in the sky to my right, creating uneven color in the sky and undue brightness on the right side of the sky. Would have preferred the sun behind me. There is also some sun flare evident in the shadows right.

Midday shots are always problematic with their deep shadows and cross light.

Now I could certainly lift them but shadows do occur and there is something unnatural about revealing every detail of a scene in natural darkness.

One must use judgement and a light hand.

An even bigger problem is wind. Wind is the mortal enemy of the long exposure, hence the moving branches top left.

Now I could spend hours in photoshop deleting that tree or maybe painting over the sky section but that is tedious and not really my style. Better to go back and shoot it right. Something not right here with light and timing.

I did lop off a few twig shots on this vertical portrait shot to the left. I lightened the shadows too much, do you see how flat and chalky the oak shadow to your right looks?

One more problem I should mention, the circular polarizer filter. These invaluable tools remove glare and increase saturation, very helpful for water. But they are optimally used at a direction of 90° to the sun, my scene is near straight on.

In addition the filter fits under the nd so even though in normal usage you can twist it to find the best angle, it is practically impossible when under a pitch dark neutral density filter, hence the uneven sky tones here. Well, that and the sun.

I am going to go back to the river bend soon, both in the morning and at sundown and get some shots from the exact same vantage and see if I can do any better. Will post.


4 comments:

Ken Seals said...

I think the most effective use of the polarizer here is to mimimize the glare off the rocks.
Also, I find that it's possible to focus using live view through the ND filter.

Anonymous said...

Seriously, this photo is too dark. We need to calibrate your monitor and reset the brightness.
Took a whack in LR CL:
Lightened whites in water, brushed in clarity and dehaze in water. Leveled and cropped. And “muddy” in the tonal sense.

K

Blue Heron said...

k and I often disagree about what looks optimal and too dark. Everyone's perception is different, seriously, much of it brain function. But while he thinks the photo can be saved by some retouching, my whole point is that it was beyond saving in my personal value system. And yes, it is definitely muddy, that is what happens when you shoot into the sun, things flatten out.

Blue Heron said...

Fair enough Ken. I'm not a live view guy but considered using it yesterday.