Ten Minutes

General Thoughts

I am constantly looking at the sky to see if conditions are ripe for a good sunset. Clouds are an essential requisite, and the other day there were plenty of them but not much in the way of sunshine peeking through. Throughout the late afternoon, I kept an eye on the sky and finally decided to head out toward Jordan Lake with my son in case anything happened as the sun hit the horizon. We got there about twenty minutes before sunset and we had our cameras out and ready with wide angle zooms to capture as much of the sky as possible, because if anything happened, the sky would be the star and we wanted to capture as much of it as we could. The sun peeked out from behind the clouds for just a few minutes so there was some nice sidelight on a few individual trees along the edge of the lake, but it was too early for any kind of color in the clouds. And it seemed like the sun would go behind a band of clouds as it dropped to the horizon and we would be out of luck for any color; it looked like the sunset would end up being a bust.

jordan lake sunset I © jj raia

Jordan Lake Sunset No.1  © jj raia

As the time for sunset approached, I noticed some color in the clouds far off to the northeast and tried to get a tree in the foreground with some reflections on the water. The water wasn’t completely calm, but a longer exposure managed to smoothe out the ripples somewhat. As I turned around, I was amazed to see that a few clouds looking toward the west were beginning to take on the glow of sunset and marked the start of a spectacular show. As the sky began to light up, I literally ran from tree to tree to get different images looking southwest, west and northwest while the sky changed with every setup. I had already placed a two-stop, hard edge split neutral density filter in front of the lens to even out the light values between the sky and the reflections in the water, but one image also necessitated another soft edge split held sideways with the darker part on the right side of the frame to eliminate the bright spot where the sun had set.

jordan lake sunset III © jj raia

Jordan Lake Sunset No. 3  © jj raia

Some clouds were lit pink while others remained dark and ominous. At one point, a band of dark clouds reflected in the water to form  a bit of an arrow. Then there were whole swaths of pink that didn’t even seem to be clouds at all, almost like a swipe of a paintbrush held by a Divine hand. Color reached every corner of the sky in every direction of the compass. It was one of the best sunsets or sunrises I’ve seen. Because the sky was changing so rapidly, it seemed this light show lasted for quite some time. After looking at the times the exposures were taken, it lasted ten minutes, an eternity for such magical light.

jordan lake sunset II © jj raia

Jordan Lake Sunset No. 2  © jj raia

Ansel Adams once said:

“Sometimes I get to places just when God’s ready to have somebody click the shutter.”

…and that’s just the way we felt. Brian and I left the lake totally exhilarated after having witnessed such a wonderous event, with high fives and grins from ear to ear!!!!

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Experiments

General Thoughts
Tulips in a Vase  © jj raia

Tulips in a Vase © jj raia

Friends of ours were over for dinner the other night and they were kind enough to bring us some tulips that were ready to pop open in a day or two. When they did I decided to try to photograph them in a makeshift studio. I placed a table by a window so the indirect light would come in from the left and placed a large blanket behind the flowers as a background, but far enough away to be out of focus. A piece of white foam core was placed to the right to reflect the light back into the shadows and another small piece placed below the vase to reflect back up into the water and glass. A polarizer was used to eliminate the reflections from the flowers and leaves. You can look through the viewfinder as you spin the polarizer to determine the point where the color shines through and the reflections are eliminated. After a few shots, I felt the background was too bright and competed with the flowers for attention, so I added a box to the left of the blanket to cut down the light falling on the background but not blocking the light for the flowers. Two images were used for this final shot; one in sharp focus and another slightly blurred, out of focus shot wide open to narrow the depth of field. Since all the shot were taken on a tripod, there was no problem in keeping the two in register. They were combined in Photoshop on separate layers with the blurred one being the top layer. By lowering the opacity of the blurred image, the sharp image behind begins to appear. The opacity can be adjusted to suit your own taste but I ended up at about 75% opacity. A little adjustment in Lightroom; mainly large amounts of negative clarity and positive noise reduction to eliminate any texture in the blanket, and a little dodging and burning in a few spots rounded out the post processing.

 

In the Rain

General Thoughts
Forest in Fog — Ramapo State Forest, NJ  © jj raia

Forest in Fog — Ramapo State Forest, NJ © jj raia

There is something about rain that generally keeps many photographers indoors when opportunities still exist that otherwise would be missed. Many years ago, I added a piece of inexpensive gear that allowed me to keep shooting in the rain so long as the wind wasn’t howling. I bought an umbrella holder. Umbrella-7Generally sold in golf stores, it allows the avid golfer to play while keeping the rain off the clubs. I believe they also sell very dark golf balls for play in the snow. But the idea transcends various sports, to allow us to continue to enjoy our hobby/profession of choice during inclement weather. It mounts to one of the tripod legs and has an angle adjustable tube that the umbrella sits in and is secured with a screw. The umbrella opens up to cover the immediate area where your camera is mounted and you can place a camera bag on the ground below (preferably on a piece of plastic) and keep the raindrops off it as well. When you’re ready to move on to another location, no need to take the camera off the mount, just use another plastic bag secured with a small bungee cord to protect it and throw the tripod over your shoulder.

Rain Soaked Forest — High Point State Park, NJ  © jj raia

Rain Soaked Forest — High Point State Park, NJ © jj raia

One useful note when photographing in the rain, or even just after a rain, is to use a polarizer to eliminate the glare from the water on leaves, grass or whatever is in the viewfinder. The image above as well as the one below were taken in a downpour yet my camera remained dry. The leaves on the ground would have reflected to bright gray sky if not for the polarizer which allowed the rich color of the soaked brown leaves on the ground and the leaves on the trees to really show through. Even the reflection from the boulder was eliminated. When things are soaked, there is much more contrast and the colors come alive. Note the almost black trunks of the young beech trees above. If they were their normal light gray color, much of the contrast would have been lost. They usually do not stay dark for long after the rain has stopped, so for the most part, shots like this need to be taken as it is raining. The rocks too are more dark and richer than they would normally be if they were dry.

Aspens in Fog — San Juan National Forest, CO  © jj raia

Aspens in Fog — San Juan National Forest, CO © jj raia

Sometimes, the rain is light (as in the image below), but you still need some protection for your camera gear. Remember, almost everything in our cameras and lenses is electronic, with information being sent along or through metal connections wires and chips. But water and electricity do not mix, and no matter how weather sealed things are, moisture is bound to find its way to where it shouldn’t be. If we can keep the water off in the first place, the better our gear will perform.

Young White Birch Stand — Delaware Watergap, NJ  © jj raia

Young White Birch Stand — Delaware Watergap, NJ © jj raia

So keep on shooting during the rain to gain a new perspective. Once you’ve tried it, you can look at a scene and know that it might look much better soaking wet and return then. You might begin to envision the image as you want it rather than how it appears at the time, and with patience, come away with something a bit better. By doing so, you may also find that you might see a scene and imagine how it would look with different lighting, or if it would look great in fog; file it in your memory and return when the conditions occur that you envisioned.