Week 5: Black and White Landscape

After studying German for five years of my youth, you would think that I would remember more than a few odd words and spurious phrases. However, when you consider just how long ago my youth was, and how little I have used my German over the years decades, you probably shouldn’t be that surprised. One of the few things that I remember is particularly relevant this week’s entry for the photo challenge. “Besser spät als nie.

I know this post is late. Week 5 officially ended a couple of days ago. I didn’t get out to take the shot until Monday morning. This Monday morning. Yesterday. So, I’m late. As we say in English, “better late than never.” It loses nothing in the translation from German.

This was landscape week, and the particular assignment was to get a black and white photo. The instructions suggested a “scene with great contrast that will make a great black and white.” Unlike typical landscape photography which is best done around the times that the sun is rising or setting or – at the very least – hiding behind a layer of clouds, black and white shots are best taken when the sun is high in the sky. ( I would tell you to Google Ansel Adams images to get an idea of what I am talking about, but I would prefer that you didn’t look at his work before you see mine.)

From the outset, however, I was thinking about a low contrast image. I knew that I would be shooting close to home, which meant rather than wide vistas, mountain ranges and  river rapids, I would be either heading back into the woods, or looking across the rolling fields of northern South Carolina. Had there been snow in the forecast that might have offered some other possibilities, but our snowfall for the year has come and gone. That left me with my low contrast concept. In a word, I was hoping for fog. And I got some yesterday morning.

The forecast called for fog at dawn, but it was to burn off before 8:00 AM. That left me about an hour to work with. Sunrise was at 7:19. I left the house at around 7 and headed to an area where I have shot before. I had an image in mind, I just needed to find it. Sadly, as I pulled out of my driveway I found our road to be completely clear. Visibility was perfect. Great for driving, but less than ideal for what I wanted. As I got closer to my target area, the fog began to appear and actually got thicker as I drove.

As I made the final turn, I found the pastureland along both sides of the road to be bathed in a light fog, slightly illuminated by the first hint of the rising sun. As I drove, I was looking for a tree, or grouping of trees that I could silhouette against the light blanket of morning fog. I found a few candidates and parked my car, walking back and fourth between a few different vantage points. A bull eyed me warily for a bit, but never seemed to be too worked up by my presence. I stayed safely on my side of the fence, of course, and snapped this image at 7:22 AM.

I would have liked the stereotypical lone tree with nothing but the horizon behind it, but this one seems to communicate the mood of the morning: quiet, still, lonely. I think the line of trees in the distance help to add a little depth to the image, and give us a little better sense of the density of the fog.

Technical Details:

  • Nikon D7100
  • AF-S DX Nikkor 18-140mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR
  • 22mm
  • ISO 800
  • f16 at 1/10

Some of you may wonder why I shot at such a high ISO. I had a tripod issue. Actually, the tripod was fine, the tripod owner had an issue, so the shot was essentially handheld with a little assist from the tripod. I’ll spare you the details. Bumping up the ISO helped me keep the shutter speed in a more manageable range.

Challenges and things to continue working on: Landscape photography shouldn’t be rushed. My best images, with a few exceptions, are those that I have been able to take the time to “work”. Finding the best subject, working out the best composition, waiting for the best light – all of these things take time and attention to detail. I should, therefore, become a better student of my immediate local area. In a sense, I have done this to some degree because I knew exactly where I wanted to go to find the kind of image that I had in my head. But I need to dedicate more time to the process, whether that means going out to scout locations without my camera, or allowing more time for shooting itself.

The takeaway: I’m pretty sure that I have said this before, but it’s nice to have a clearly defined image in my mind before I ever pick up my camera bag. Does this image match, precisely, what I had envisioned? No. But that concept helped me to focus my attention and find what I needed more quickly when time was at a premium.

Next up: Please refer to the paragraph above. This week I have no idea what I will do with the challenge. We are back to the Artistic category. Specifically, candy: “Your artistic interpretation this week should be inspired by something sweet. A great chance to play with macro photography.” And to make things even more difficult, I am getting a late start to the week. Time to get to work!

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