About a week ago, a friend of mine (you know who you are) asked if I would join a few other photographers to shoot a sunset at nearby Jordan Lake. I jumped at the opportunity, even though from my windows, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and the chances for any dramatic sky was pretty much near zero. It turned out the water was not mirror-like either, but there was basically nothing to reflect anyway. So what to do?
The first step is to search for an interesting foreground. With the water at very low levels, I walked along the nearby shoreline and found an interesting rock outcropping, but it was bone dry and lifeless. So what to do to attempt to elevate the impact of the composition?
Back at the car there was a mostly empty water bottle that I filled up with the lake water many, many times to soak the rocks in the frame in hopes that they might gather some reflection of the sky and hopefully, some sunset color if any should materialize. As the sun approached the horizon, and the camera locked down on a tripod, I took several frames exposed individually for the sun, sky, water and rock, figuring to blend them together later in Photoshop. However, the results did not look encouraging, which was eventually verified after completing the processing as seen above. The rippled water seems to compete with the texture of the outcropped rock, so the image seemed too chaotic. Yes, that is how it appeared, but is that the best image possible?
A second set of exposures were made utilizing a 10-stop ND filter in hopes of blurring the water, removing the chaos of the water’s surface, and simplifying the scene, making for a better image. After blending those frames, the image made a fractional improvement (below), yet another problem became evident in that now there was a vast, blank area of the lake taking up a large part of the frame, offering nothing in the way of visual interest! There were contrasting textures, but was that enough?
In the first frame, I did like the movement of the water on the right side of the outcrop and just to the left where the sun’s reflection meets the rock, and a few other ripples surrounding the rock, so I made an attempt to blend those two previously blended photos in order to provide a small bit of texture to the otherwise empty middle of the frame (below). Now the vast expanse is partially filled with some subtle textures and provides some additional leading lines toward the main focal point, the sun, eliminating most of that large and uninteresting middle.
But, it must be said in no uncertain terms, that the image itself is not a stellar shot to begin with, but at least the whole is made up of the best parts available from various, separate frames, along with some added life injected by watering the rocks (is that cheating? or merely enhancing?). The process is what is most important though; in finding the parts of each frame that best illustrate the moment, and blending those parts together to create a final image composed of all those ‘best” parts. That is the ultimate goal, creating the best image possible with whatever conditions you encounter… even if they are less than spectacular. That process can be used in many situations, but is probably most beneficial when shooting moving water such as rivers, waterfalls or the surf along the ocean. Take as many frames necessary to capture each element of the scene to its best advantage, blend them together, and they will elevate the final image to its highest possible potential.