It’s been a long while since I dragged myself out of bed early in the morning to get somewhere for first light. But on Super Bowl Sunday, I happened to wake up early, looked out the window and saw a bald sky. Normally that would be a deal breaker, but I thought there might be some mist coming off the lake because of the cold weather, so I headed out.
When I arrived at one of my sunrise spots at Jordan Lake, it was a rare occurrence that there was another photographer already set up. I said “Good Morning” to the silhouette in the near darkness, and as is the usual practice, respected his space, and headed a short distance away where the water level revealed a few rocks for a foreground. The rocks also provided a leading line into the frame toward the distant color along the horizon. Luckily, there was a singular rock off to the side that helped balance the frame, because without it, the frame would have been much too heavy on the left side. Unfortunately, there was no mist coming off the water, but there were just a few thin clouds along the horizon to add some interest in the otherwise bald sky. As the sky brightened, some mist seemed to form in the distance on the far shore of the lake, and since that was where the action was, I switched to the 70-300mm to fill the frame with what was happening there, and clicked off five frames for a panorama (below).
By then, the silhouette turned out to be someone I knew! So that made the morning special, in spite of the lackluster light. It’s funny that two of the last three times I’ve gone out to Jordan Lake, I’ve run into another photographer I know.
We decided to drive the short distance over to where the fog was at White Oak Marsh, but it had mostly dissipated by the time we arrived. I forced a few frames as the sunlight began to filter into the marsh, but it wasn’t until it reached a bit deeper and lit up some of the trees on the edges of the marsh, that the scene really came alive. Unfortunately, we still faced some difficulty in finding compositions to separate a focal point from the tangle of limbs, branches and the chaos beyond. The only focal point I found was a very young oak still holding onto its autumn leaves in the dappled sunlight; some leaves backlit while others fell in shadow. Because of the warm winter, there were a few trees with some premature spring buds to add some color to the background, but the image is a bit unusual in that the main subject is darker than the brighter background. Generally, the accepted practice is to have the subject brighter in the frame, because our eyes tend to gravitate to things that are brighter. Although contrary, it seems to work in this instance.
Processing was a bit different, too. Blending a few bracketed frames in the HDR software, left the larger trunk on the left side with some highlights that were still blown out. Since all the other highlights seemed reasonable, I then blended the HDR frame with another very dark frame on a separate layer in Photoshop, using only the bright trunk edge from the very dark frame, and masking out all the rest. Additionally, back in Lightroom, to increase the sense of separation, I used split-toning to saturate the shadows with a blue tint (enter 225 as the color in Lightroom’s split-toning box). That is always a good method to use in order to increase the illusion of depth, because cool colors recede while warm tones come forward. Ultimately, it was the light that really gave the image its strength, in combination with the colors and depth that spelled success. Without the light, it would have lacked much color at all, and been very flat… an image that in all likelihood, would never have been taken to begin with.