Waiting for the Light

October 21, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

I have no idea how many times I’ve been really excited about photographing a fabulous landscape to only be unhappy once I began editing or selecting an image to print or share. I think it’s because I let the excitement get the better of me in the field. When I’m “on my game” I try to slow  down, analyze the scene, and figure out what combination of light, timing and technique will best replicate what captured my initial excitement about the subject.

East Beckwith Mountain 1Beckwith-Blog-1-300x199

The image at left is a great example. East Beckwith Mountain, just below the west side of Kebler Pass in western Colorado, offers many great viewpoints. This view is one I usually ignore but this autumn provided a great reason to stop and make photos. The sky was beautiful with very photogenic clouds. The light on the mountain was great. The colorful foliage was beautiful. There were several other photographers at the overlook, justifying my excitement.

I set up the tripod, chose my “standard” lens (Nikon 28-70 f2.8) and popped on the Moose Peterson Warming Polarizing filter to pop  the sky just a touch. I don’t often us a polarizing filter but since a lot of the fore and middle ground was yellow I thought a strong blue sky would add a little color-contrast and some detail to the clouds. When using the polarizing filter I rarely use it at its strongest rotation.

Anyway, I shot this frame. Not bad. Not great. What would make the image better? (I talk to myself when I photograph. Don’t you?) Well the light on the foreground and middle ground had fallen off due to the clouds and they were too dark and uninteresting. A little light there might be better. So I waited for the clouds to move.

East Beckwith Mountain 2Beckwith-Blog-2-300x199

After a bit of time the middle ground lit up nicely so I made another exposure. The foreground was still in deep shade and now the light on the mountain was failing. Since our eyes are naturally attracted to brighter areas and areas of higher contrast this scene really wasn’t working at all. The interest in the mountain was being replaced by the aspens in the middle ground which were now competing with the clouds. What is the subject here? So I waited some more. The other photographers have left. Yay!

While I’m waiting for the clouds to move and the good light to come back I have some time to really think about what I want this scene to look like. There’s enough conifer forest to provide depth and texture if the scene is completely sun-lit without any shadow from clouds at all. Although that scenario is not likely to happen, I could live with it. The shadows moving across the valley are providing interest, depth and texture when they cooperate. The sky would be pretty boring without the clouds. If the sky was clear I probably would compose the scene with less sky and get the mountain out of the center of the frame. Having a clear sky on this day was not going to be an option. It was supposed to snow in the afternoon so the clouds were going to become a problem rather than a blessing.

East Beckwith Mountain 3Beckwith-Blog-3-300x199 Slowly the sky began to cooperate with my plan for a beautiful photograph. The light returned to the mountain. Middle ground was illuminated nicely. Shadows from the clouds were still interesting. The foreground though is just not that great. I usually like to employ a darker foreground to keep my viewer’s eye from leaving the images. If clouds don’t cooperate I can use a split neutral density filter or vignette to darken it. That work is usually done in post-processing via Photoshop or Lightroom.

I didn’t really want the foreground in this scene to be very dark though. There are these colorful aspens placed against the dark conifer trees creating a beautiful and interesting contrast. There’s also a cool little pond in the lower left that I wanted to keep in the scene. Everything but the foreground is coming together nicely. I could live with this image. Being in no hurry, I decided to wait for the “Wow”.

More photographers show up. It was a pretty compelling scene but I think seeing a truck parked on the side of the road with “Photographer” written on the side makes people stop even if they don’t know what to look at. Really! I’ve done this experiment with my classes. We stand at the side of a road with our cameras all pointed at “nothing”. Cars drive by, slow down, and cameras pop out the windows taking photos of the “nothing”. It’s a good thing they’re not Lemmings. They’d be jumping over a cliff.

So eventually patience prevailed and I got what I was waiting for. Beautiful light illuminated a striking mountain peak. Great, puffy clouds floated in a deep blue sky. A golden aspen forest filled the valley floor with color, contrast and texture. The illuminated foreground provided additional interest and texture. Life was good!

East Beckwith Mountain AutumnBeckwith-Blog-4

My Mom always accused me of being a perfectionist. I thought it was a compliment. Good things are worth waiting for. The trick in photography is being able to figure out what the “good things” are. Having a little voice in your head saying “How can this be better?” is a really good thing too.


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Crested Butte, Colorado photographer, Dusty Demerson creates fine art photography displayed as prints and canvases and provides private photo tours in and around western Colorado.

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