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North Point, Point Lobos State Reserve

Posted by
Don Smith (California, United States) on 5 February 2011 in Landscape & Rural.


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In my previous post I discussed the importance of pre-scouting and patience, and how returning for the correct light can enable a photographer to capture a scene correctly. With today's image, I would like to discuss my mental process of arriving at a potential scene, visualizing the finished image, then getting to work capturing it, and finally, working the image through post-processing.

Oftentimes when I'm out shooting, I am simply following the light. I have no specific subject in mind. This image was made at the conclusion of a day-long private lesson with three photographers along the Big Sur coast. Having dealt all day with clear skies, I decided to head to the northern portion of the Point Lobos State Reserve (for reasons I wrote about in my previous post). I told the three gentlemen that I was heading towards the far northern portion of the Reserve as I felt that was where the best opportunity for images would be. I also told them to stop anywhere along the trail if something else caught their attention and as it ended up, we all went our separate ways.

I've always liked the potential for this scene for a number of reasons. As mentioned, we had a broken-cloud sky, but what intrigues me more is the roughness of the rocks below and the variation of wave action, especially when a set of swells stirs the ocean with an unpredictable vengeance. As I was setting up a potential composition, I noted that the sun was nearing the edge of this granite outcropping and realized I had the potential to produce a sunstar. I quickly dropped my aperture to f/22 and carefully moved the camera/tripod so the edge of the sun would fall along the edge of the granite.

Due to the extreme contrast range of the image, I realized that the only way to pull this image off would be to bracket my exposures using my shutter and combining the images later in Photoshop. If you are interested in learning more please read my article HDR The Old-Fashioned Way.

Shooting towards the sun can result in some dynamic images but one must be careful about too much flare ruining the scene. Sometimes you can control it and sometimes not; a lot has to due with the type (and quality) of the lens.

This finished image was very close to what I had initially envisioned. When capturing a scene like this one must be very familiar with the camera and its settings as time will not stand still. I have worked with many amateurs on this technique and many miss the moment because they are fumbling with their controls. First off, it is important that you are comfortable working in manual mode. Don't try to learn this while on location, practice this technique at home or during the middle of the day when the light is not critical. Second, I really encourage you to memorize full shutter speeds (from 1 second to 1/1000 of a second) and full apertures (f/2.8, f/4, f/5.6 etc.). Having this memorized recall at critical moments of light will enable you to work extremely fast and with confidence that the exposures are what you want.

Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III 1/100 second F/22.0 ISO 100 16 mm

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