June 8, 2010
This time, I'm writing about photography, and patience. The old saying that "good things come to those who wait" is certainly true when applied to taking landscape photos late in the day. Look at the sequence of photos below and notice how dramatically the scene changes as the sun gets lower in the sky.
All of the photos here were taken at Donner Lake in East-Central California, just off of I-80. Donner Lake is named for the famously failed Donner Party who spent the winter of 1847 trapped in 24 feet of snow at Donner Pass, freezing, dying, and eating each other to survive.
We were on our way home from California and were spending the night in Truckee, California. After checking into the motel, we toured the Donner Pass State Park, and then went down to the lake (also in the park) to do some hiking around the lake. It was so beautiful and peaceful we decided to just eat dinner there at the picnic tables, then hang around for sunset.
All three photos were taken with a 24mm focal length, which is just on the verge of being an extreme wide angle. The wide field of view combined with a low camera postion helps give the photos a sense of depth, with objects in the foreground, middle ground and background. I also used a 2-stop graduated neutral density filter to keep the sky from getting too bright. It's kind of like wearing sunglasses that are only shaded on the top. If you'd like to learn more, check out my video on graduated ND filters on YouTube.
The first photo in the series (see below) was taken about two hours before sunset. It's not a bad picture, but the sun is still pretty high in the sky, which creates a lot of dark shadows. Personally, I'd consider this a nice snapshot, but not a great landscape photo, and certainly not a fine art photo.
Now look at the second in the series. It was taken about an hour and a half after the one above, but still about 15 minutes till sunset. It's also from a little different location, but that's not the point. The point is that the lower angle of the sun allows the light to skim across the tops of the rocks, which gives more depth and dimension. The light is also becoming softer, so the shadows aren't quite so deep.The lower angle also helps to tame the sun's glare on the water. Lastly, notice how the color of the light has changed, so the entire scene is a little warmer.
The last photo was taken just three minutes later. The sun was just slipping behind the mountains, so the foreground was now falling into the shadow, but the trees and mountains in the distant were still getting some sunlight. The setting sun's light is now quite warm, making the trees appear more gold than green, but the cool color of the shadow keeps the foreground a cool shade of blue. The resulting color contrast between gold and blue creates an additional layer of interest in the photo.
One other item of interest. Notice how the water appears to be much smoother in the last photo. The wind had calmed some, but the biggest change is the shutter speed. As the sun got lower in the sky, there wasn't as much light, so I was able to use a slower shutter speed. The shutter speed for the top photo was 1/45th of a second so the ripples in the water were pretty well frozen in time. The bottom photo had a shutter speed of 1/2 second. The much slower shutter speed allowed the ripples to average out, giving the water a more smooth, silky appearance. Also note that the smoother surface helps accentuate the trees' reflections.