Last year my first Eastern Sierra fall workshop ended in Lee Vining on a Tuesday morning and the second one began Wednesday afternoon in Lone Pine. I used the time between workshops to photograph some of my favorite places in relative solitude, and scout the color that can change significantly from one day to the next this time of year. And what better excuse to return to one of my favorite Eastern Sierra locations.
North Lake has always been one of my favorite spots, but its elevation makes it also one of the first places to drop its color each fall. It had been great for my first group several days earlier, but I wanted to be sure the leaves were still hanging in there. I arrived late Tuesday afternoon to find the color was still fabulous. I also found the lake pretty much devoid of photographers (though there were a few fishermen strewn about the perimeter). I was particularly excited by the western sky, which was decorated with broken clouds that I knew would light up at sunset. I'd arrived early enough to plan my composition, ultimately selecting this interesting arrangement of granite boulders that seemed to lead right toward the sunset.
The trickiest part of a scene like this is getting the exposure right. I don't do HDR, opting instead to rely on the "old fashioned" way--careful metering and occasionally a graduated neutral density filter (or two). But before resorting to my GNDs, I spot meter on the brightest part of the scene (in this case the sky right above the peak) to determine the brightest exposure that won't blow the highlights. Then I spot meter on the darkest part of the scene I want to retain (in this case evergreens on the mountainside). If the difference is more than 5 stops (as it was in this case), I pull out my GNDs. Here I opted for a 3-stop soft transition GND. I put the darkest part of the filter in the brightest part of the sky and "hid" the transition in the mountains. Later I used my Photoshop soft-light dodge/burn filter (just a simple PS action that creates a layer that allows me to brush areas of the scene lighter or darker) to even the transition.
I don't talk too much about Photoshop in my blog for a couple of reasons. First, I'm far from an accomplished PS user, using it only enough to accomplish what I need (and I'll freely acknowledge that others may have better ways to do what I do). Also, I don't want people to think that Photoshop is necessary to create great images. The image has to be good in the camera--Photoshop is merely a tool to refine an already well-captured image. In case you're interested, my Photoshop workflow is limited minor cropping, dodging/burning (as described above), and curves adjustments to even out a scene and sometimes enhance contrast. As a general (but not absolute) rule I avoid the saturation slider. I also apply a light touch with Noise Ninja to most images, clone out sensor dust (sigh), and always do my own sharpening (no sharpening tools for me).
* Website: Eloquent Images
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