We spent the last three nights camping in the Black Hills of South Dakota. I was up with the sun yesterday lurking in the shadows of morning and waiting for the light to turn magical. I drove a remote fire lookout I had noted on the Forest Service map. When I arrived I was a disappointed to find the the view less then spectacular.
I loaded up and started back down the mountain, but stopped when I saw these broken, burned trees. The light was coming over the horizon behind me, with the moon still in the sky over the tree tops. The way they stood, broken yet proud, immediately caught my eye. I stopped and spent some minutes planning this single composition.
It’s hard to show the beauty of a scene like this is so small a space. It needs to be in a large print. Since this is not a large print I’ve added a close detail crop below to give a better feel for the intricacy in this scene.
For Photographers. How it was made…
I made this at ISO 200, 70mm at f11 on a 24-70 Canon L 2.8. I did not try for long exposures, because I knew that moon was moving. Just a fast triple bracket so I could capture extra dynamic range. I thought out my composition. The large tree on the right set clearly as the leader. I positioned him offset and used him to a frame the moon and as a stopping point for the eye.
I did not use Photomatix or HDR software here. It was overkill. I felt a toned monochrome feel worked well here so I processed the mid exposure as my main using the Dark Chocolate preset from my Moonchromatix set and adding a few adjustments. I then copied the same settings to the +2EV bright frame from the sequence. Loading both intro PS I gently masked to the light frame only in areas where I felt the blacks were too back in the main exposure. I did not go for a strong HDR look. Doing so would have flattened the shadows, as this scene does not have that wide of range of light (as a sunset for example) Shadows give this scene it’s mystery and I wanted them to stay.
On a closing note, I often find the moon hard to place in a landscape and have it feel right. Sometimes it’s because the moon is so much brighter (ie a night scene) and doing HDR of that often makes a noisy mess (not that it’s impossible). In a wider landscape the moon is often so tiny it presents a problem and looks more like a misplaced dot. I’m keeping my eyes open for the right scene in which I can photograph a wide but distant landscape at say 200mm, with the moon above. The compression would make the moon larger in relation to the landscape and give a dramatic look.
No matter, I really I like how this came out. It may not be monumental, but it’s a nice portrayal of these passing pines and I feel the image draws us in. In this small web version the moon feels very small, but it’s detail is retained close up (as seen below) and when printed as a wall portrait I think it will shine (no pun intended 😉 – Gavin Seim