Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill

Early Autumn Sunrise Over Smithers

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In the Field

Early Autumn Sunrise Over Smithers. Smithers, BC, Canada. September 26, 2011.

I captured this image early one autumn morning while traveling through northern BC en route to Prince Rupert, BC. At the time I was "dead-heading" up to Prince Rupert and was determined to not stop unless it was absolutely necessary. But when I looked in my side-view mirror and saw what the rising sun was doing to the clouds capping Hudson Bay Mountain immediately above the northern BC town of Smithers, BC...well...I hit the brakes pretty fast!

In many respects this is a stereotypical "f8 and BE THERE" image capture (even though I actually shot it at f5!). Technically the only real concern was avoiding blowing out the highlights in the brightest part of the image. To accomplish this I gave metering priority to the sky and still underexposed the image slightly (-0.3 stops under matrix metered - on the sky - "recommendation").

But...when I looked at the raw image file resulting from the capture the foreground trees were MUCH, MUCH darker than presented here (and how I remembered the original scene). This observation - that "getting the sky right" in the image meant that the foreground was "wrong" - underlies a very important point in modern digital photography: while our new and very hi-tech digital cameras are very, very good, they still don't render scenes as we see them. Which, to my thinking, is the main reason why making selective edits to an image (including exposure blends, use of "shadow/highlight" editing tools, and even simply adjusting contrast in selected portions of an image, is totally justified. And, it's also a really good reason for shooting raw image files rather than JPEG's - you simply could NOT have captured this scene accurately with a JPEG capture (even if you attempted to heavily edit the JPEG output). For the record, what you're looking at here is an exposure blend where I composited the results of two raw conversions (that differed by 1.5 stops) using two different luminosity masks, followed by two other minor (but selective) exposure adjustment layers and two more minor (and again selective) contrast adjustments using curves adjustment layers. And, I did a little final tone-tweaking using Light Craft's Lightzone. And all that was done to get the scene BACK to the way I saw it in the field. The observant reader will notice I make no mention of bumps in image saturation (selective or global) - that's because there was none...

You know how fishermen always talk about the "one that got away"? Well, if I'm being perfectly honest, this image is kind of like that. While some of the folks who saw this image before it appeared here on my website were quite taken by it, the fact that I did an guillotine job on the bottom of the trees and excluded their base (quite intentionally) has a pretty negative impact on this image (at least for me). Why did I do this? Well...below the trees there was a beautiful field/meadow. It included hay bales, which arguably wouldn't have ruined the image if they were included (but it would have become more of a "man & nature" shot). But, unfortunately, there were also lots of derelict vehicles (dead tractor, etc.) and other even less visually pleasing junk that overlapped the base of the trees. Yep, if you were with me when I shot this you would have heard me uttering a LOT of expletives under my breath (or even slightly louder). And it's why I shot this scene hand-held at a crazy ISO (for a landscape shot) - rather than setting up "properly" to do the scene right (off a tripod, much lower ISO, etc.). Man...the one that got away here is still killing me!!

Behind the Camera

Early Autumn Sunrise Over Smithers. Smithers, BC, Canada. September 26, 2011.

Digital Capture; Compressed RAW (NEF) 14-bit format; ISO 1400.

Nikon D3S with Nikkor 70-200mm f2.8 VRII lens @ 105mm (158mm EFL) - hand-held. VR on in "Normal" mode.

1/125s @ f5; -0.33 stop compensation from matrix-metered exposure setting.

At the Computer

Early Autumn Sunrise Over Smithers. Smithers, BC, Canada. September 26, 2011.

RAW Conversion to 16-bit TIFF, including first-pass/capture sharpening using Phase One's Capture One Pro 6. Two exposure variants covering a 1.5 stop total range.

Further digital corrections on resulting 16-bit TIFF files using Adobe's Photoshop CS5 and Light Craft's Lightzone. Photoshop adjustments including compositing (layering and masking) the exposure variants using multiple luminosity masks, selective exposure and curves (contrast) adjustment using adjustment layers, and selective sharpening for web output. Final tone tweaking performed using tonemapper/re-light took in Lightzone.


Early Autumn Sunrise Over Smithers. Smithers, BC, Canada. September 26, 2011.

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