Rich Ditch's Photography Blog

November 18, 2009

Light and Texture

Filed under: Boyce Thompson Arboretum, composition, favorite places, light, Non Birds, style — richditch @ 6:43 pm


Tree and Hillside, Boyce Thompson Arboretum

Tree and Hillside, Boyce Thompson Arboretum

One of the key factors in successful photography is an awareness of light. Light defines form and brings out texture in the subject, and can turn an ordinary scene into a memorable one. Awareness of light and what it can do to any subject is often what separates a snapshot from a great image.

This solitary tree has drawn my attention since I first started visiting Boyce Thompson Arboretum near Superior, AZ, 15 years ago, and I always look at it as I hike past Ayer Lake on my way to the switchbacks and the more birdy canyon on the other side of the ridge. Its appearance is determined not only by the number and age of the leaves but also by the direction of the light illuminating it. It looks its best to me when the massive rocks  behind it are mostly in shadow and the leaves catch the light giving the entire scene a wonderful three-dimensional appearance. Since photographs are two-dimensional representations of the 3D world it helps an image seem more real if it conveys a sense of the third dimension.

Note how the sidelight (light coming from one side) brings out texture in the rocky areas in front of and around the tree by creating shadows that are visible from the camera point of view. Frontlight (the vastly over-rated and recommended “point your shadow at the subject” light) puts the shadows directly behind the subject where the camera can’t record them, and the result is most often a flattened subject with little dimension.

In this composition I’ve balanced the tree in the left half of the frame with the rock mass on the right side. I’ve shown enough rocky terrain in the foreground to add depth and give a base to the image. I’ve limited the amount of shadowed rock above the tree to avoid including brighter areas receiving more direct light that would distract from the tree. I used a modest 55-200mm lens set at 155mm to get this coverage – this image is full frame (uncropped). I dialed in -2/3rds stops of exposure compensation while using the matrix mode of the camera meter.

In processing I’ve reduced exposure slightly  to darken the background a bit, without going so dark as to lose some text and detail in the shadows. I’ve also darkened the foreground rocks at the bottom of the image with a bit of burning, and darkened the rocky mass on the right a bit more to keep the leaves of the tree the lightest area.

As usual, I was primarily looking for birds on this November 15, 2009 visit, so my Nikon D200 was mated to my bird lens (a 300/2.8 plus 2x converter). But I’d slung my old Nikon D70 with cheap 55-200 lens over my empty shoulder “just in case.” This image was made as ISO 400, 1/400th second and f/11.



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