Behind The Shot: Zen Garden

Harriman State Park, New York

Behind The Shot: Zen Garden

It was an early spring morning when I awoke to an expanse of low-lying fog filling the sky. I immediately knew there would be plenty of opportunities to capture and create extraordinary images. Harriman State Park in Hudson Valley, New York, was only a short 15-minute drive from my home. I quickly gathered up my camera gear, jumped into my vehicle and motored off to the park.

With the advantage of spending countless hours at Harriman State Park shooting, I headed directly to Lake Kanawauke—a most promising location. Once there, I began scouting the surrounding area looking for interesting compositions. I was drawn to a combination of wispy grasses and delicate lily pads close to the shoreline, the scene where I’d find my shot. My first instinct was to utilize these components as part of the foreground for a more expansive image. However, after further examination and trying out several lenses, it became evident the image lived in a more compact scene.

For this image and similar images where isolation is crucial, the flexibility of my 70-200mm zoom allowed me to create and simplify the composition. When I began to evaluate the scene on the camera’s LCD, I immediately noticed the powerful interaction between the grasses and the lily pads. I used a circular polarizer, which enabled me to bring up the reflection and added a very dynamic component to the composition—something I always strive for in my work. Luckily, the elements set up naturally for this shot. I chose a portrait orientation for the image based on the grass’s verticality, the dominant element in the scene.

Presented in the image were several tones on opposite ends of the spectrum, which contributed to making an excellent black-and-white image. The green lily pads and grasses converted beautifully to shades of black, and the water turned to gradients of gray. The fog converted to an almost pure white, which added a striking contrast.

Using my camera’s option to display a JPEG preview in black-and-white, I continued to adjust the exposure variables, refining the image while on location. Once home, I began the final processing of the image. I used Adobe Lightroom to adjust the white balance, levels, saturation, etc. Then I exported the image to Nik Silver Efex Pro 2 to complete the conversion to black-and-white and adjust levels of contrast and tonality.

When all was said and done, I viewed the printed picture and found it to be strikingly peaceful and serene, giving it the title “Zen Garden.” When images invoke a powerful feeling, it’s apparent the photographer has accomplished the goal.

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Canon EOS 5DS, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM at 84mm. Exposure: 1/60 sec., ƒ/11, ISO 100.