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Lone Guard, Sunset, Santa Clara Valley

Posted by
Don Smith (California, United States) on 21 January 2011 in Landscape & Rural.

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I am very fortunate to live in an area where a 20-minute drive lands me in the middle of rolling hills and oaks. Oftentimes I will grab my camera and go for a drive to no specific location; instead, I simply follow the light. When I first decided to become more serious about my landscape photography 10 years ago, I would go to most locations alone. Over the years I have developed many friendships with different photographers who share my passion and rarely spend time by myself.

Yet there are those occasions that I simply want to experience nature and photograph in solitude. Often, I find myself able to concentrate better and I don't have to worry about getting a consensus should I decide to suddenly change locations.

Today's image was from one of those times where I just went on a drive by myself. Similar to my previous post, I had noticed that a subtropical flow was streaming broken clouds as sunset neared and I simply grabbed my camera bag and headed out the door towards the hills to follow the light.

My photography is really all about light and color. You've undoubtedly read if you follow my blog that I make those two elements paramount in my search for images. Subject matter really comes third with me. True I knew my subject matter on this particular evening would be these golden summer hills and perhaps some oaks, but when I left my home, I had nothing specific in mind.

I loved the play of warm light on the tips of the hills as the sun lowered against the blue sky. I found this scene located 90-degrees off axis to the setting sun and knew eventually the clouds would catch some sunset color. Now it was time to find the subject. This tree was rather isolated from the multitude of oaks that grow in this area, so I just played on that isolation theme. I simply changed my position relative to the tree to keep it on the low side of the sloping ridgeline, waited for the light to arrive, and made my image.

Is it always this easy? No, of course not. However, in retrospect, I was prepared. My checklist was as follows: check forecast - broken clouds, set up for the light - get 90-degrees from the sun, find the subject - rolling hills and lone oak - wait for the light. Really, I just try to keep it simple. If I am not prepared, I find myself missing the moment more often than not. Great light in nature is fleeting, preparation and arriving early cannot guarantee success but it can certainly tip the odds to your favor.

Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III 1/4 second F/16.0 ISO 200 100 mm

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sunstone_maria from California, United States

great image Don!!! wonderful light, colors, scenery !!!!

21 Jan 2011 5:28am

@sunstone_maria: Thanks Maria, I know you see plenty of similar scenes during the summer months.

Mike from California, United States

The clouds balance this image out nicely. Hope you've been getting some great light in DV this week.

21 Jan 2011 6:52am

@Mike: We are actually on a roll out here Mike, the luck of the Hart! Off to Lone Pine in about 30 minutes.

guillaume from Paris, France

Wow ! Fantastic !

21 Jan 2011 8:59am

@guillaume: Thanks Guillaume.

klausZ from Kufstein, Austria

it is amazing how the color change on the surface, from brown to this so beautiful orange,
which is also found in the dramatic composition of the clouds!
alltogether - great mood!

21 Jan 2011 10:06am

@klausZ: Light can do so much for a simple scene.

Hil from Roma, Italy

excellent landscape with lovely lonely tree!:)

21 Jan 2011 1:45pm

@Hil: Thanks Hil.

eversmile from Aix-en-Provence, France

Ooh, that's a majestic composition with a superb light and a serene loneliness I love the contrasts and warm tones on the hills, the delicate hues on the clouds are a plus. Just perfect. Thanks for the detailled narration of your approach. Keeping it simple is just what makes it so striking! Congratulations, Don!
Regards
Marine

21 Jan 2011 2:16pm

@eversmile: Sometimes simple is hard to accomplish, but is generally the goal.

James Guillory Photography from Garner, United States

Nice light, beautiful image, Smith. How was the trip?

21 Jan 2011 2:37pm

@James Guillory Photography: Going very good James, we have just wrapped DV and are leaving for Lone Pine. Night photography in the ALabama Hills tonight.

Mohamadreza from mashhad, Iran

Very beautiful tree. Combined with a dramatic landscape.
Well done.
Be Eternal

21 Jan 2011 2:45pm

@Mohamadreza: THanks for writing Mohamadreza. Welcome to my blog.

Judy aka L@dybug from Brooksville, Florida, United States

You certainly found both light and color for this image ... beautiful!

21 Jan 2011 2:49pm

@Judy aka L@dybug: More or less it found me Judy - I just showed up.

JCJ from Troyes, France

a perfect moment on a perfect place. simple and efficient composition, gorgeous lighting : )

21 Jan 2011 4:36pm

@JCJ: Welcome to my blog JCJ.

Denny Jump Photo from Easton, PA, United States

Being "fashionably late" for a sunrise or sunset might be cool for Paris Hilton but it "prrrobbbabbbly" would not work for a photographer. Once we are there, knowing what to do and how to set up is something that some of us still must master...so while we try, viewing your masterful art ALWAYS serves as inspiration, especially when joined buy the fantastic teaching points!! SO beautiful, here, Don. From a more basic and sensory point, I tell Scott the same thing, I NEVER tire of rolling California Hills and Valley Oaks, or, for that matter Coastal Oaks, Live Oaks and definitley not Steve Ochs.
ANd you often teach about making sure that the top of an element,. like the tree here, does NOT move over the top of, say, the distant rolling hills...That is such a great point and one that I never knew but it is pounded in pretty much now..The composition relies on some of these key factors. ANd what a dfifference just having those clouds in the sky there, to reflect and add color and to beg the eye to wander about just a bit. Gold, Gold, Gold...I love it!

21 Jan 2011 5:49pm

Don Smith from California, United States

Thanks, thanks, thanks, Denny, not much time to write this morning, packing and leaving DV for Alabama Hills.

21 Jan 2011 6:12pm

Tracy from La Selva Beach, United States

Beautiful as always and you make it sound so easy! (which I know it sometimes isn't) Wishing you lots of luck and great light for the next part of your workshop!

21 Jan 2011 6:28pm

@Tracy: It does get easier the more you are out with the camera, but I agree, sometimes we all struggle.

Stefan from Thiersee, Austria

Great landscape!

21 Jan 2011 7:11pm

@Stefan: Thanks Stefan.

steve loos from hollister, United States

I like the 100mm on this shot Don; focuses the eye on hills, clouds and tree - the pastel color in the clouds are beautiful.

22 Jan 2011 2:34am

@steve loos: We are lucky to live so close to all this beauty Steve.

Co33 from libourne, France

So beautifull is the world!

22 Jan 2011 7:55am

@Co33: I agree!

Visioplanet Photography from Agartala, India

You really are lucky that you live near that place.. The colors and lights did come out really good.. Nicely done!

22 Jan 2011 3:29pm

@Visioplanet Photography: THis location is a 12 minute drive from my home - I am lucky.

Marie LC from Entre montagnes et Bretagne, France

Great shot !

22 Jan 2011 4:47pm

@Marie LC: Thanks Marie.

Scott F. Schilling from San Martin, United States

Don, I enjoyed your discussion on this one and it is a great reminder that our best images can be taken very close to home. We are more familiar with the conditions that create magical light. Many of my favorite images that you have posted are within 30 minutes of your home - this is a great image from the local area! Wonderful soft, warm light! I hope you make it back safely from Death Valley and have a wonderful weekend!

22 Jan 2011 6:26pm

@Scott F. Schilling: I guess we all have our nearby "go-to" locations Scott, nice to get there and wait for the light. I'm back from DV, great trip even though we had clear skies. Gary scheduled most of his locations to include the moon so every location worked well. Good to be back after two-plus weeks. Now I will be playing catch-up!

Wild Mustang Photography from Carlisle, Massachusetts, United States

Awesome!!!!

22 Jan 2011 8:26pm

@Wild Mustang Photography: Thanks!!!

Mici from Toronto, Canada

It is true, we always see beautiful light and lots of colours in your pictures. I have to say I envy you for having the time and luxury to just decide and go out in the nature but also I know it must took you a lot of hard work to get you where you are now :)
The warmth of the sun on those hills is amazing...please keep us all amazed with your wonderfull pictures I always read and apreciate your descriptions.

22 Jan 2011 11:51pm

@Mici: There is a lot that goes into the mix when one decides to make a living with one's camera. Many people think that we are out with our cameras all the time but like anything else, it has to be planned. I like where I live because I can take these impromptu trips when I think conditions warrant.

Ana Lúcia from Leiria, Portugal

Absolutely calming... great shot.

23 Jan 2011 11:46am

@Ana Lúcia: Thank you Ana.

DarkElf from Perth, Australia

fantastic light and composition! i really like how the orange hues of the clouds match the same tone of the land below! i also like the balance of the composition with the hill on the left set nicely against the tree on the right - superb work!

24 Jan 2011 3:32am

@DarkElf: Thanks.

Bill Laing from Pacific Northwest, United States

great advice in your last paragraph--and you have a superb image to prove it.

25 Jan 2011 8:01am