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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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Richard from Duns, United Kingdom

Fantastic textures and light. Great! The added bonus of an inspiring description of the shot.

23 Feb 2011 7:26am

@Richard: Thanks Richard, I utilize nature's transitions all the time. Like anything new, one just has to spend time getting their thought process wrapped around the concept, then it becomes easy.

guillaume from Paris, France

Superb shot !Fantastic atmosphere !

23 Feb 2011 9:50am

@guillaume: The Alabama Hills can only be described as other-worldly.

Barbara Lee from Oakland, United States

This is lovely,Don. Takes me back to last year with you and Gary. Love your description of the edges of light.

23 Feb 2011 3:47pm

@Barbara Lee: I have to credit my thought process to the influence of Galen Rowell. He wrote about the subject often but especially in Mountain Light. Hope you have been well - nice to hear from you.

Craig from Kansas City, United States

Why am I always attracted to an image that I subsequently notice it is one of your images. Great work as usual Don.

23 Feb 2011 6:08pm

@Craig: A very nice compliment Craig - thank you for starting my day off on a great note!

Denny Jump Photo from Easton, PA, United States

Great text and lessons here, too Don, as always. I think this is why so many of us love the eastern side of the Sierras..Where else can we marvel in such a unique juxtaposition of land elements, atmosphere and colors....abounding all around. Your wonderful image brings all of that magic to the fore! "Transition" is where the drama is. This transition is high drama blended with exquisite beauty and variety that we just do not see elsewhere..just wonderful.

23 Feb 2011 6:23pm

@Denny Jump Photo: I agree with you Denny that the eastern Sierra is a must see for any serious landscape photographer. Such an abundance of dramatic scenes to photograph.

Tim from Ft. Worth, United States

beautiful. love the tonality. crispness is also felt. hurray for a fun lesson today. thank you :)

23 Feb 2011 11:29pm

@Tim: I'm glad the lesson helped Tim. I know it has helped my photography immensely.

DarkElf from Perth, Australia

indeed that transition of colour tones and light here is very fine! excellent depth of field and sharpness definitely help em to appreciate it across the entire frame! superb work!

24 Feb 2011 3:50am

@DarkElf: Thanks Sir.

Maria Draper from California, United States

Don, I really like what you have here...
Can't really explain it in words, like you do, but looks very attractive (especially the mid transversal side, two thirds of the way up), and that's all that matters to me
Hope you're well and recovered from the cold you had...

24 Feb 2011 4:30am

@Maria Draper: I'm on the mend Maria and feeling better each day - my energy is returning - just in time to shoot some snow around the coastal hills tomorrow and Saturday (fingers crossed). Hope you are doing well also. Stay warm!

James Guillory Photography from Garner, United States

Nice job with the transition Smith, Its a beautiful image...

24 Feb 2011 1:36pm

@James Guillory Photography: Thanks James. It will be nice to see you next month. I'm kind of missing Spring Training this year.

klauSZ from Kufstein, Austria

amazing location and view! i like this compo!

24 Feb 2011 8:25pm

@klauSZ: Thanks.