Lightplay On Granite (Photo of the week)

As the sun sets, it casts one final beam across wild lupine and granite boulders, Sierra National Forest, CA
As the sun sets, it casts one final beam across wild lupine and granite boulders, Sierra National Forest, CA

This week’s photo is all about light. If you take away the dramatic lighting effects from this photo, you are left with something pretty mundane – a forest and some rocks. But with the sun filtering through the trees as a star burst, lighting the granite boulders and contrasting them with the darker forest, an interesting image is born.

Before this composition found me, I was pointing my camera in the opposite direction and quickly becoming uninspired. Sure, I was shooting from the edge of a cliff and had a large, open, forested valley below me, but no specific feature stood out and grabbed my attention. I turned around and saw that the sun was setting behind the trees, and knew then that I would use sunlight as my subject.

It didn’t take much hunting around to find this line of granite boulders illuminated by the setting sun. Now I had a decision to make – include the sun in the image or not? Since I was shooting at f/16 (as I often do with landscapes), I knew I’d get a nice, tight star burst effect from the sun. I ultimately decided to include it in the image because I wanted to balance the lower right of the image which included a lot of light, with the light of the sun in the upper left.

Another thing to worry about when shooting into the sun is that the camera’s meter can will be thrown off. If I shot this at the camera’s recommended shutter speed (I was in aperture priority), the forest would have been rendered brighter and the granite would have been completely blown out. I dropped the exposure compensation by two stops, which gave me a photo much closer to what I was seeing with my eyes.

I am pretty happy with the result. It is not the typical grandiose landscape typical of Sierra photography, but a more intimate scene. Hopefully it conveys more than just the visual aspect, but a real sense of place – the distant echos of forest birds, the sharp smell of pine needles, the thumping of the heart at high elevations. Ultimately for me, it was my latest reminder that when in doubt, I should always follow the light.

  • Great star/flare effect, it works well with the landscape. And a very nice closing sentence 🙂

  • Thanks Alexandru. I appreciate the comment.

  • Harsharn Gill

    Interesting point you make there about exposure compensation. When using evalutive metering on my camera (5DMKII) I have to increase the exposure by about 1-12/3 stop otherwise my shot ends up being under exposured as the camera gets a bit overwhelmed with the amount of light it has to deal with.

  • Thanks for the comment, Harsharn. I find myself gravitating toward certain exposure compensations depending on what I am shooting. For many wildlife situations, I usually over expose by a stop or more. For landscape in normal mid-day sun, I usually find myself at about 1/3 to 2/3 of a stop over exposed. In general, I always expose to the right, making sure to bring my histogram as far to the right without over exposing. Sometimes this looks terrible in the camera’s LCD, but by following the histogram, I know that I can bring down the black levels in post processing and all all that contrast back to the image.