Sunset over a small pond

Today I’m posting a few ‘golden hour’ test shots. These are experimental landscapes, done to try out both camera settings and methods of post processing. So much landscape photography is done during blue hour or golden hour. Nothing wrong with that, it’s usually the most dramatic light of the day. Those hours also severely test both the camera and the photographer’s processing ability. When there is an extreme exposure range and lens flare in the shot the out-of-camera image file is unlikely to give you a great shot.

The first shot is about shooting directly into a low sun. It was taken about an hour before sunset, right on the border of golden hour. The sun was behind a thin layer of upper atmosphere clouds which provided a filtering effect. It was still bright, just not to the extreme of the sun against a clear sky.

I set the camera up with auto white balance since I always shoot raw and fine tune in post. Sometimes I set white balance to daylight for both golden and blue hour shots. With raw files it’s not supposed to matter, that’s the theory, but I find that results are often better with the balance set to daylight, even if you fine tune afterward. I also used center weighted exposure. That will avoid completely blowing out the highlights at the expense losing detail in the shadows. I bracketed the exposures plus and minus two stops just in case. As it turned out, the best results came from the center exposure with zero compensation. At f/5.6 the shot metered 1/1000

The lens was the 16-50 kit lens, a good lens, very flexible, but not exactly a super premium lens either. One of the things I liked were the artifacts from the various lens reflections. I know this is a topic where people have widely diverging ideas. Lens artifacts are not usually a good thing, we strive for technical perfection, a goal that can never be achieved. The sun highlight on the water has a halo, but in my view it’s weak enough to avoid being a major distraction. There are a couple of other internal lens reflections as well.

A shot like this is really about the light. The contrast is so extreme that there is never going to be a lot of fine detail. I would say the subject of the shot is the light itself, and how it plays against a still water reflection.


Three trees in winter

The second shot was done about 25 minutes later from a slightly different position. Also bracketed plus and minus two stops. This time there was no way to get the image I wanted from a single frame. All three were blended in PhotoShop’s HDR tool. It takes a good bit if fiddling with contrast and color to make a shot like this work. With HDR and light like this it’s easy to make the clouds look like they’re made out of concrete. Many people like that look, but for me it has no appeal at all. It’s a matter of personal taste.

In spite of the HDR and much extra post processing I think this shot is more conventional. If the clouds near the horizon would have been just a little nicer, it might have even been a keeper. It was still a good exercise and learning experience.

Lesson Learned:  In difficult light, make sure you have coverage.  It’s very hard to anticipate what tools you will need in post production.