BEHIND THE IMAGE: LODGE POLE PINES & SNOW
Lodge Pole Pines & Snow - Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada, FILE# 0231561
Link To Original Image: http://www.tom-hill.biz/Galleries/Scenics/Canada/20969133_4ZvNwq#!i=1666286078&k=FvLPMg8&lb=1&s=A
Sometimes you never know what you’re going to get when you start shooting. This particular morning I was leading a workshop with Charles Glatzer in Jasper NP. Normally when we were shooting, large herbivores was the subject of our attention. Sometimes, not very often, we’ve got out our tripods and short lenses to shoot a scenic or two. I think we got to shooting at this location because we were bored.
A few miles south of Jasper Townsite, there was a road we were exploring looking for animals when we stopped for a lesson. The subject of the lesson was how to take a picture of essentially nothing. We pulled our cars over. We all got out. Then we talked about those times when you know there’s a picture in there but can’t quite see it. That’s the case in this particular image.
I’ve driven by thousands of miles of forests looking at the trees “getting” a feeling of the large expanse of endless trees. When you’re driving you’re thinking “wow, there’s a great picture in there”. However, when you stop to take the image what you saw while driving it’s lost. What happened there? What happened was when you were moving you were getting a much more broad feel for forest and not really seeing the trees. The forest had a definite feel--i.e. looking like it went on forever. When you stopped, that whole perspective changed. Where previously it was easy to not see the detail--i.e. the individual trees--when you were stopped, the detail began to overcome what you saw. Instead of a wide expanse of forest, you now saw lots of individual trees in a group. Not only that, the trees individually weren’t that compelling looking.
So, the challenge here was to get the feeling of the large forest while looking at a lot of mundane trees.
I approached this challenge by standing on the road staring into the forest. What that meant was I just stood there quietly and stared into the forest trying to get the feel of the situation. As the feeling of what I wanted to shoot came to me, I then began to look for that shot. The idea here was to match up something image-wise with what I was feeling. In this particular case, I wanted to show the quiet, repetitive nature of the forest. BTW, yes it was very quiet with the new snow and there were lots and lots of trees.
The next task after getting the idea for the image was figuring out the details. The details were the compositional rules of photography like on this article. This meant I needed a foreground subject. Next, I needed some space to develop between my foreground and the mid and background. I needed to minimize clutter a bit to avoid distracting the viewer too much. I also knew the single image 3:2 aspect ratio was not going to work. I needed to make a panorama for the same reasons I make panoramas on the prairies or on the ocean. The purpose of the pano is to give the impression of the wide expanse of the scene. Also, panos just seem to “sing” with me. So, it was an easy fit for what I wanted.
My first attempt with this subject was completely different. I shot without the pano creating a different feel over the pano above. As it was, I decided to try something else that allowed more breathing space and a different format for the final product.
The next challenge was the exposure. As I’ll get into later, the most important thing to make this image work was every object in the image needed to be tack sharp. This meant a small aperture and long exposure. What helped a lot in this respect were the clouds. If it was sunny, the dark forest would be filled with high intensity highlights. They’d be bright sploches on the trees. The visible sky would be well beyond the dynamic range of any single image capture. Not only that, trying to get detail in the shadows of a tree while avoiding blowing out super bright highlights caused by the sun would make the image hard to believe. The clouds evened out the light considerably. The whole forest was in a huge soft-box. Some people don’t like shooting in cloudy situations like this. I personally love it because the exposure problem is solved for you.
I made this image prior to my purchase of Really Right Stuff first generation pano gear. All I had for the lodge pole image was my camera, my normal tripod, and Kirk BH-1 ballhead. All I did was set the camera in the horizontal orientation. I didn’t worry too much about nodal points mostly because I didn’t understand that whole thing around nodal points. Then I just shot from left to right like I normally do.
In this case not rotating directly around the lens’ nodal point wasn’t much of an issue because the near-far relationship wasn’t that large. If I was much closer to the near image--I mean really close--then I haven’t had some troubles. As it was... not so much.
If I recall, this image was the first where I used the eye-dropper tool in Adobe Camera Raw to set the white-balance. For some reason I left the camera in daylight white balance when I captured it resulting in each image having an extreme blue hue. The beauty of raw file formats being that you can change such things without degrading the image quality, I changed the image with very blue snow to its correct white color with a simple click of the mouse. Very neat stuff.
While this image is a bit older in my collection I still love it. I’m most impressed by how successful I was without knowing about the details of digital photography like I do now. I don’t think I’m any better at composition but I certainly better at making final products. I think the image looks as good as it does because the basics are there--good composition, good exposure, good material.