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Dawn Moonset, Alabama Hills

Posted by
Don Smith (California, United States) on 23 February 2011 in Landscape & Rural.


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Transitions in nature come in all forms. Transitions fascinated Galen Rowell and it was through his writings that I became aware of their importance in adding visual excitement to an image. Rowell and Frans Lanting co-produced a video (the title escapes me) where Rowell demonstrates the use of transitions while having a group of students photograph a simple shadow line. This is when the proverbial light bulb went on in my mind.

Now, looking for transitions in nature is, well, second nature to me (excuse the bad pun). I especially like transitions in light and color as we see in today's post. For those of you who follow my blog with any regularity, it should come as no surprise as to my affinity for shooting along the fringes of the day. Other than having to pull myself out of a warm bed, or waiting for a late dinner, there are just so many benefits, namely, the transitions between tonality and color.

In the high deserts and mountains, twilight wedges (the first/last warm light rays of the day bending over the horizon) provide a nice transition of color and tonality especially when the warm band of light sits atop the earth's shadow (think of shining a flashlight covered with a red filter behind a basketball). Not all photons project in a straight line, there is some scattering of the photons and the twilight wedge is basically this scattering of the sun's light rays. The hues one sees can range from pink to orange based on many factors including the amount or particulates in the air.

The other benefit besides transitions of tonality and color is the manageable range of contrast. With today's image, photographed in the Alabama Hills above Lone Pine along the east side of the Sierra crest looking towards Mt. Whitney, the contrast range was a mere 4 stops of light. My sensor is capable of capturing 6 stops, so no grad filters were required to capture this image. I did use a polarizer to saturate the color but that was it. Thanks to Gary Hart's meticulous planning of the moonset, he had the group in position to capture setting moon just over the top of Whitney (the highest peak in the contiguous 48-states at 14,494 feet). The soft warm light hovering over the dramatic eastern Sierra crest was beautiful without any foreground and I did capture some tighter frames, but then I decided to go wide and use the rabbit brush and chaparral as my foreground. I just took a low perspective with a 24mm lens and again only used a polarizer.

If you have not thought about using nature's transitions to enhance your images, challenge you to start looking for them. You will be amazed how simple it is to find them. Then start working with these transitions within your images and see if they don't add to the visual excitement of the overall composition.

Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III 16/5 second F/16.0 ISO 200 24 mm

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