I found that tree while I was walking through the wood on my way to the ancient Thracian sanctuary Belintash in the Rhodope Mountains, Bulgaria. With its red autumn leaves the old deciduous tree stood out amongst the young pine forest. Fortunately, the sun had just climbed above the horizon, the light was warm and the trees cast long shadows. At first, I tried to shoot with my back to the sun, but soon I discovered that facing the sun and letting through only the sunbeams, the tree looked better and gained texture. I took the picture from a very low angle using a tripod.
I made the exposure on the brightest part. It's important to push the histogram maximum to the right side, but carefully, without burning the highlights. This way I kept the details in the shadows. I post-processed the image in Adobe Lightroom. In the Basic controls I moved the exposure with 1 step on the right, decreasing the highlights and increasing the shadows and blacks. In Tone Curve Adjustments I moved the sliders positions: Highlights -41, Lights +43, Darks -47, Shadows +84. In Color Adjustments, I decreased the Saturation and Luminance of the blue color. The image was still too bright at the upper side, so I added a gradient filter: Exposure -46, Highlights -52 and Shadows 100. Finally, I corrected the vertical perspective. That way I managed to achieve the natural look of the place, with soft shadows and highlights.
There is always a risk to add a lot of noise with the post processing. It was very important to shoot with a tripod, a correct aperture (f/11) and a minimum ISO speed (100). In this case it wouldn't be possible to achieve the same result using the HDR processing. The main reason to avoid the HDR blending are the leaves. The slightest breath of air would be a serious obstacle. - Evgeni Dinev
Canon EOS 5D Mark II, Canon EF 17-40mm f/4 L, 1/10th, f/11, ISO 100