T H E ( A L M O S T ) W E E K L Y P H O T O G R A P H
26 April 2016
Tree Details - How To Do It In Tough Light
Winter Trees #2, Yosemite Valley, USA. Phase One XF with IQ180 back, 240mm lens, 1/13 second @ f11, ISO 35
Last week I explained my basic technique for shooting tree details in easy light - in 'hero' conditions. This photo is taken in tough light - in the middle of the day with bright, harsh sunshine. Interestingly, there had been a bush fire through this area a few months before, so the tree trunks were very dark and a lot of the finer branches were bleached and white.
The composition is similar to last week's photo - strong vertical lines created by the tree trunks, surrounded by wonderful detail and patterns created by the branches. There is no sky, no foreground. A telephoto lens is used to isolate the subject. Focus is kept on the important branches near the front. Add to this the strong highlights on the tops of all the horizontal branches and you have a very problematic lighting position.
If you've ever watched fashion photographers like Peter Coulson work, the trick to their outdoor portraits is ensuring the highlight values on the skin are not clipped. This is where many photographers make a mistake, going for an exposure that looks okay on the back of the LCD screen, rather than using their histogram and 'placing' their tonal values correctly. The trick is: don't clip your exposure.
In this case, it was hard not to clip the exposure. The shiny tree branches are reflecting so much light that I really had to darken down the exposure to avoid as much clipping as possible. However, even so, there is some clipping of the highlights, but the highlights don't 'bleed' into the lighter values. They are controlled (well, at least I feel they are controlled) and this keeps the image together.
In post-production, I first set the exposure so the highlights were just white, but not clipping unnecessarily. Then I adjusted my contrast and here's what you might find interesting: the contrast slider is moved right down to its minimum setting. I'm using Capture One, not Lightroom, but the principle is the same: low contrast post-production for a high contrast lighting situation.
So which do you prefer - this week or last week? This to my mind is a more challenging image with its strong contrast, but I'm thinking the 'easy' shot is a little quiet in comparison? Let me think on this for a week or so...