I've written in my last couple of posts about difficult light, particularly the extreme dynamic range caused by bright sky and a darker foreground. The camera struggles to hold usable detail throughout the tonal range, resulting in washed out skies and black or noisy shadows. The options I've offered have ranged from sometimes awkward and arbitrary (the transition never seems to land exactly where I want it) graduated neutral density (GND) filters to complicated and sometimes unnatural digital blending. But I neglected to mention the simplest, most natural solution, which is simply to compose the sky out of the frame.
Last month I meandered the rim of the Green River Overlook in Canyonlands National Park, watching the sun drop toward the horizon and knowing something nice was about to happen. With red rock towers punctuating the distance, and the curve of the Green River that couldn't have been more photogenic if I'd designed it myself, I knew it was just a matter of finding a foreground and waiting for the light.
As the shadows lengthened I found myself focusing on this small flowering shrub, playing with wide horizontal and vertical compositions that included the sun and required a stacked pair of GNDs to hold detail in the foreground. But it seemed like I'd been doing sunset compositions like this for my entire Utah visit, so I decided to try something a little different. I switched to my 70-200 lens and moved back. This allowed me to narrow and compress the scene by bringing the interesting background closer. I moved around until I thought the primary elements (river, shrub, rock tower) were balanced, then lowered myself to my knees to reduce the visual distance between the shrub and the river.
One of my favorite things about landscape photography is the infinite variety of compositions possible for every scene. There were many ways to shoot this, and what you see here reflects my choices; someone else might have handled it entirely differently. For example, many might have wanted sharp detail throughout the scene. But because the shrub and surrounding rock were the prime subjects, I was completely fine with the background river and rock towers being slightly soft. In fact, I like the way that the softness makes the background more about light and shape than detail. Sometimes our decisions are conscious, other times intuitive, and often a combination of both. The key is understanding that there's no absolute right or wrong to these choices, and the way we handle them is a large part of what defines us as photographers.
* Website: Eloquent Images
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