It’s winter so I naturally want to jump in the car and find snow. In my case I would have to drive about three hours to find something truly worth a wintery scene. Winter offers other opportunities to take advantage of the cold mornings besides just snow. One good way to improve your photography skills is to find a place close by your house you can return to at different times of the day and different seasons. Not only will you be familiar with the area, it allows you to track your progress as a photographer over time. This post will address both aspects, cold mornings and one of my favorite places.
One of my favorite places to go in San Jose is Lexington Reservoir. Lexington has two bonuses in addition to being close to the house, first, a local rowing company operates on the reservoir providing a never-ending opportunity to play with sculls with one to six people pulling on the oars. Second, the surface of the water gives me a chance to play with light and reflection. Recen
tly, I returned to the reservoir to capture sunrise and the fog created when the early morning temperature of the water is warmerthan the ambient air temperature.
My first challenge was to find the correct exposure to reveal the fog coming off the water. Going into the session I had two choices, put the camera on aperture priority and use the exposure compensation or use complete manual and measure the scene to get the contrast correct between the emerging sun and shade created by hill. In each case my most important technical tool was the histogram on the camera’s screen. I know I can’t trust the video display because it is not calibrated and it will appear different as the ambient light changes with the sunrise. I’m not a huge fan of HDR and I know that if I shoot in RAW format Lightroom and Photoshop RAW will help me pull out some detail in the shadows. My tack in the field in 32 degrees is to expose to the right of the histogram making sure I don’t overexpose the highlights. It’s not possible to bring back too bright highlights (blown out) but it is possible to bring back shadow detail.
You will see in the first image I overexposed just a little on the left. I did it on purpose to draw the view’s eye to the fog and then let it move into the picture. Second, I waited for the sun to peak over the top of the hill. In this case the fog was not so important as the lens flare-star of the rising sun.
I had to clean up a few spots in post-production to get a clean foreground. In the second picture, I have blue skies, a hint of blue water and leading lines to the sunrise along with that beautiful star created by the camera lens.
The last thing I did was take a picture specifically to convert into black and white. As I have written before, my go-to program for black and white is Silver Effex Pro (SFX) (currently available as a free download from Google). Lines and contrast are by tools in black and white so I wanted to make sure I have a hint of a sunrise to backlight the hill. The shade of grey on the water needed to be less than the silhouette of the hill and I knew I wanted the mirror reflection of the water. My plan was to expose to the right for the sun, wait for the water to be still and create the mi
rror I was looking for, and make sureI could use the fog on the water to create a separation between the water and the hill’s silhouette. Lastly, knowing I was going to play with a digital filter to fine tune the final image, I shot in color and converted later in Photoshop/SFX.
I hope I’ve encouraged you to find a place you can return to and play with new aspects to perfect your photo taking craft. If you have other techniques of questions be sure to leave me a comment.