So often, photographers talk about the color of light and its influence on the interpretation of a landscape. That’s probably why landscape photographers chase the warm colorcast that’s produced near sunrise and sunset. This phenomenon was never so evident to me as in an image I took in Glacier National Park during sunrise.
The view of Grinnell Point from the shores of Swiftcurrent Lake is one of the most commanding and frequently photographed. To get a unique shot, I hoped for some exceptional lighting, as compositional choices were somewhat limited. This section of shoreline was chosen for the foreground rocks that seemed to cradle the reflection in Swiftcurrent Lake. Clouds from overnight rain greeted me as I walked the shore to a location that I had eyed the day before. The cool tones of early morning dominated the scene until shortly after the sun rose.
Then the transformation took place. A break in the clouds of the eastern horizon allowed the rays of the rising sun to strike Grinnell Point and little else. This highlighted the contrast of warm and cool light that morning. The red tones of Grinnell Point were further enhanced by the mountain’s rock composition—a sedimentary argillite and quartzite, which is reddish brown. Even the dark green pine trees near the far shoreline were cast in red from the sun.
In order to capture the wide dynamic range of the scene in a single shot, I used a 2-stop graduated, hard edge Neutral Density Filter over my Canon 17-40mm wide-angle lens. The Canon EOS 5D Mark II has a two-second-delay feature on the self-timer that I often use for these types of shots to reduce camera shake when triggering the exposure. Live View was enabled to further eliminate vibration of the mirror movement during exposure. My technique is to handhold the 4x4-inch ND filter in front of the lens and move it slightly up and down during the exposure, lining up the hard gradation edge of the filter to the transition of brightness in the scene. This avoids a nasty dark-light transition in the final image and negates the need for postprocessing correction. Without an ND filter, a dark and light exposure could manually be blended using layers in Photoshop. This would require two or more exposures depending on the dynamic range of the scene and more computer time and skill.
While wild light can be difficult to control and capture, proper technique and practice can yield stunning results.
See more of Harry Lichtman’s work at www.HarryLichtman.com.
Equipment & Settings: Canon EOS 5D Mark II, Canon 17-40L USM, Manfrotto tripod, Hitech 2-stop Graduated ND Filter Hard Edge; ISO 100, ƒ/16, 3.2 sec., single exposure