27 Jul 2009 Podcast 201 : Towada Lake Images
While in Aomori photographing the beautiful Oirase Mountain Stream, I stayed in a hotel at the Towada Lake, which is about 10 to 15 minutes away from the road that runs along the mountain stream that we looked at last week.
The Towada Lake is really beautiful when in full Autumnal color, but I was hoping that there’d be some opportunities while I was there, and there were a few, as we’ll see.
First up, let’s take a look at a pretty dramatic sky that I captured in image number 2317. I took a walk along the shore of the lake with my wife at the end of the first day in the area, before dinner at the hotel. The sun was about an hour from the horizon, but with the mountains, I knew the sun would go down from my perspective a little earlier, and the clouds were pretty dramatic too, so I was hoping something nice would happen. There are a number of pleasure boats that take tourists out for a spin around the lake during the day, and one of them was moored up at this long concrete jetty on the other side to where the sun was, so I set up my tripod, straddling the closed gate to the pier, and as I did so, the sun started to break through the gaps in the heavy clouds, and just as I was ready to shoot I was presented with this beautiful fan of sun rays. I wasn’t quite lined up with the center of the pier yet, as we can see by the lines, but as the whole shot was never going to be totally balanced with the boat on one side, I am not worried about this at all, though I did correct this in the next image we’ll look at.
I had planned to do some long exposures here, which I also did, but before we look at them there’s some other stuff to touch on for this image. To start with, the reason I didn’t do a long exposure here, was because if I had, those sun rays would have moved and the whole dramatic effect would have been lost. I could have gone with a slower shutter speed than I did, at 1/320 of a second, and still have got the rays captured OK, but I also wanted to leave some texture in the water for this shot too, which would have started to blur out had I gone much slower. The other reason as well of course, is that this all happened very quickly, and had I started to mess around with my neutral density filters at this point, the shot would have been gone, so I really just had to think quickly, and capture the image, and I’m pleased that I was able to do that. There was a lot of contrast in the original actually. To bring out detail in the front of the boat that we see here, I increased the fill light a little in Lightroom. I also used the local adjustments brush in Lightroom to lighten up everything from the horizon upwards, except the boat. This was required to bring out detail in the clouds, as they were very dark compared to the bright sunlight pouring through them.
Al, who just played us in will laugh when I say that I have recently bought Silver Efex Pro from Nik Software. I’d been resisting this for a while, but broke down recently and bought the whole suite actually. I’ll go into that in more detail in a future podcast, but for now, I just wanted to say that I used Silver Efex Pro to do the black and white conversion here as a final step. Although I could have done something similar in Lightroom, I love the overall feel of the images I get from converting in Silver Efex Pro, and the control you have over the process is very nice. Overall I think the final image is well balanced and worth spending a few minutes on, which is exactly a few minutes longer than I usually spend on my images in post processing.
From this same place, though I moved very slightly to the right, I shot the next image, number 2318. Now this has a different feel from the last one, as you can see, I did a long exposure here. Both this and the last image were shot at F11, but compared to the 320th of a second that I shot the last image at, here the exposure was 30 seconds. I also dropped the ISO from 100 to 50 to help me get this slow, but I had also coupled an ND8 Neutral Density filter with an ND400. This gives me almost 12 stops of darkness, as the ND8 is three stops, and the ND400 is nine stops. That would actually have worked out at 40 seconds including the extra stop from the ISO change, but I didn’t want to spend the time to get the self timer remote switch out, so I went with the longest exposure I can set on the camera, which is 30 seconds, or a difference of 11.5 stops slower than my first exposure of 1/320, again, including that ISO change from 100 to 50. I wasn’t thinking about this too much at the time, but the clouds were thinning out now, so the sky was burning out more now than the previous shot. In hind-sight, this all worked out pretty well for me.
Again, I did a little bit of post process to bring out detail in the front of the boat, and had to use a little highly recovery to bring the blown out highlights around the sun a little more under control, but the sky was brighter in general now, so there was no local adjustments needed for this shot, just a bit of slider work in Lightroom before I again converted to black and white in Silver Efex Pro. In comparison to the first shot we looked at, you’ll notice that the water has smoothed over to lose most of its texture, especially on the right side where the sun is hitting it more, and I really quite like this effect. Again, I kind of like this look, as with the longer exposures I’m doing of the moving water and waterfalls that we looked at last week. The clouds here also are flowing out of the top of the frame because of the long exposure, which I also find quite pleasing.
The only color image that we’re going to look at today is from the afternoon of the following day. As I’d pretty much worked the mountain stream as much as I wanted to, I decided it was time to be a better husband and just relax with my wife, so we drove back to the hotel, and went for a ride on one of those pleasure boats. I wasn’t expecting to get anything great photographically, but did take my camera, and the 24-70mm F2.8 and 70-200mm F2.8 L lenses. I was pleasantly surprised to see the scene that I captured as image 2316 though.
The plankton in the lake give the water a beautiful cobalt blue coloring when the sun hits it, and with the sun also on this line of trees on the shore, then the dark mountains and heavy detailed sky in the background. I had the camera set to F8 for 1/125 of a second, at ISO 100. I was far enough from the sure that F8 was going to give me plenty of depth-of-field, but I wanted to keep my shutter speed high enough to stop camera shake, as I was shooting from a moving boat, with a certain amount of vibration from the engines. It turned out pretty well with bright foreground and somewhat foreboding sky, and that slightly lighter patch above the mountains. I was happy that I’d take my camera out for our relaxing excursion and I managed to not take many more photos until the evening, when I shot the next two images that we’ll look at.
On the way back to the hotel after the cruise around the lake, I noticed the wooden jetty that we can see in image number 2319. I came back later to actually shoot this, when it was getting dark, but as I studied the jetty, it became obvious that it was not publicly accessible. It was out the back of a small café on the side of the lake. We decided to go in for a coffee, and when we’d done, I asked what time the café was open until, and the lady that runs it said they open at 5AM and stay open until 10PM.
She lives on the second floor, and so basically is open all the time she’s awake. I asked if it would be OK to photograph the jetty later, and she said that was not a problem. After dinner, we went back, and we were allowed to go out back and start photographing the jetty. I made a number of exposures, the first half of which were using the ND400, for nine stops of darkness before it actually got dark. This first shot that we are looking at was a two and a half minute exposure. The water is almost totally texture-less, and the clouds have blurred nicely as they sometimes crept over the top of the mountains the opposite shore of the lake. There’s still a little detail in the trees at this point, which adds a little texture back, and the sharpness and clarity in the jetty itself are very nice here. Luckily, although this is a wooden jetty, its foundations are wooden pillars firmly set in bed of the lake, so it’s not floating on the water as I had kind of expected. Had it been floating it would have been constantly moving and there would quite possibly have been no picture here, at least not for a two and a half minute exposure.
Having gotten a nice shot in the landscape aspect, I turned the camera on its side for a portrait aspect shot, as we can see in image number 2320. This was shot at 7:40PM, and the sun had gone down almost forty minutes earlier, so it was pretty much dark now. I’d removed the ND filter, as I no longer needed it, and I still needed a 90 second exposure for this at F11. I was using the 24-70mm F2.8 lens by the way. Notice here how the jetty intersects almost perfectly spaces from the bottom corners. Through the viewfinder I’d gotten this close, and then fine tuned the composition almost blindly based on the feedback from my first few exposures. It was also perfectly straight because I use a spirit level in the flash shoe. I didn’t have to do any cropping or rotation though to get this image like this, so I was pretty happy with the alignment. As it was pretty much totally dark at this point, the mountains have lost their detail, but there’s some interest in the sky with the flowing clouds lit by the pretty low light in the middle of nautical twilight. This image also has some light from the café itself too, as the lady had now turned the lights on. The light from the café was pretty warm, compared to the cold natural light outside, but this actually helped to make the jetty stand out in the black and white conversion, again done using Silver Efex Pro.
This image is about as close to Michael Kenna’s work as I think I’d like to get. Of course Michael Kenna’s work is beautiful, but I don’t really want to emulate it. With the jetty and the smooth water, as well as the black and white conversion, I was very much aware that I was getting close to emulating his work here. The scene just cried out for this kind of exposure and post processing though, so I allowed myself the indulgence.
(Note that I have also posted the transcript from Podcast 190 , “Ten Steps to Great Long Exposure Images” as that is pretty relevant to this post.)
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