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Clearing Storm Sunset

Posted by
Don Smith (California, United States) on 2 April 2010 in Landscape & Rural.

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Oftentimes when great light is happening, I am in a frenzied mode of what I like to term "heightened - awareness." All my senses are attuned to the rapidly changing light and weather. I don't always like to shoot like this because it can seem a a bit haphazard. When the light finally dies away, I will usually review one memorable scene, which may have been the one I was originally after, and forget about the other moments, relegating them in my mind to seconds.

Well every once in awhile, these "seconds" come screaming off the computer screen, and my reaction is "I don't even remember shooting that!" Have you ever experienced this? Today's image was a case of great sunset light coinciding with a clearing late-winter storm. For approximately 10 minutes there was great light in virtually every direction I turned! As Galen Rowell once said, "My first thought is always of light." If you have followed my blog and/or writings with any regularity, you have heard me state that subject is generally third on my list of elements I look for in crafting a landscape image. I will usually seek out great light (such as in this image), and/or great color, then I will find something to put with it. This has been a successful formula and one I rely on when struggling to make meaningful images. Most often, my failures are absent of either great light, or vibrant color, or worse, both!

Fortunately this clearing storm at sunset offered me a quality of light in the form of the low-angled sun crafting shadows and highlights across the green hills of the Diablo Range, and also great color both in the saturated greens of the wild grass and the warmth in the clouds (complimentary colors). I also like how the shadows/highlights of the clouds mimicked that of the hills. The cool blue above the clouds added visual tension by allowing for a juxtaposition of warm/cool colors.

In reality, my subject could be both the beautifully lit clouds and the rolling hills, yet when I first arrived 30 minutes prior to making this image, I would not have thought twice about trying to capture either as the light was void of color and the scene looked flat.

I encourage participants in my workshops to make their own list of what is important to them for a successful landscape image, and I encourage you to do the same. Go back and look at your memorable images - your Top 10, and see if you can find a unifying visual theme. Jot these elements down and place them in an order of priority. The next time you are in the field and struggling to make an image, go back to your list. I will guarantee you will bring back consistently better images.

Technical notes: I used a Singh-Ray Galen Rowell 3-stop, soft-edge, Graduated Neutral Density Filter to hold exposure back on the clouds and allow the foreground hills to blend naturally.

Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III 1/5 second F/16.0 ISO 200 120 mm

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