Posts Tagged ‘High Dynamic Range’

Mastering Light – Sunrise and Sunset

February 1st, 2015

We all love a beautiful sunset, especially when the clouds glow with color. The same happens with sunrise although there may not be as many of us up to enjoy it. There’s something special about sunsets and sunrises that bring joy and wonder to our hearts.


My personal favorite is sunrise. I like to arrive while it’s still dark and set up my camera in the cold, crisp morning air. I like standing under the fading stars waiting for the sun to come. I like the stillness of the earth at that time of day. For me, it’s magical.

To get the most out of sunrises and sunsets, it’s helpful to know what’s going on in the sky. (I’ll talk just about sunrises now but much of the same things apply to sunsets.) A lot depends on the clouds. If the sky is completely overcast then you’re not likely to have much of a sunrise or sunset. If the sky is clear then you’ll have a totally different experience. But if the sky is strewn with scattered clouds you may be in for a wonderful experience.  And yet it’s hard to predict.

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How to Photograph the Coastal Redwoods

June 22nd, 2014

California is blessed with two species of redwoods, the Giant Sequoia (Sequoia giganteum) of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the Coastal Redwoods (Sequoia semperverins) along the California coast from the Oregon border to 150 miles south of San Francisco.  These awe-inspiring trees are both a joy and a challenge to photograph.  I recently spent a week in Crescent City in Northern California photographing the Coastal Redwoods and leading a photography workshop there.  I’d like to pass along some of the techniques we employed to capture photographs that do these majestic trees justice in breathtaking but often very difficult light.

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Making a Photograph – The Four Pillars

May 20th, 2012

I’ve been giving a lot of thought recently to what goes in to making a great landscape photograph. It turns out there are four things, four pillars if you will.  Four, that’s a good number.  There are the four legs of a table or the four wheels of a car.  And not to forget the four sacred directions of the Native Americans.

In landscape photography the four pillars are evenly divided between the aesthetics and the technical.  So what are they?  The two aesthetic pillars are Fantastic Light and Strong Composition.  No surprise there.  The two technical pillars are Appropriate Sharpness and Optimum Exposure.  No surprise there either.  If just one of those pillars is missing, well, the table collapses, the image suffers.

Let’s look at them one by one….


Joshua Tree Spring Sunrise (2011)

(click on the images to enlarge them)

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Shoot Till You Can’t Shoot Any More

December 6th, 2008

There’s a lot of talk amongst photographers about shooting in the golden hours – around sunrise and sunset.  There’s no disagreement that the light is wonderful at those times of the day.  The low angle gives excitingly long shadows and the fact that the sunlight has to travel through more of our atmosphere means it’s a bit softer and a lot warmer.

So you often find a lot of photographers lining up for sunset shoots at iconic locations.  The bridge over the Virgin River in Zion is a perfect example.  I’ve got to admit, I love to shoot sunsets from the bridge myself.  Most photographers will arrive early and stay about 20 minutes after the sun disappears below the horizon at which time the pack up and head off to dinner.

I like to stay till I can’t shoot any more.  The light show isn’t over by any means when the glow on the clouds fades.  It’s just a lot more subtle.  As the light fades exposure times increase and when you get up to 30 seconds then ISO starts to bump up.

Why do I like this light so much?  Well, because there is so much going on.  Many complex and intricate things are going on in the sky above.  You end up getting a delicate play of warm and cool light.  Everything is enveloped in a quiet, soft luminance.  It can be a magic unlike any other time of day.

I was shooting on that famous bridge in Zion back in November.  If it hadn’t been for my two friends shooting with me I would have been the only one on the bridge.  Everyone else had long gone.  I was shooting HDR, 5 bracketed shots, something I’ve found to be very effective (don’t forget, the sky stays bright long after the sun disappears).  Each shot was varied by 1 1/3 stop.  Post processing consisted of Photomatix and a little Light Room.  Here’s what I got.  (You can click on these images to enlarge them.)

Watchman at Twilight

Watchman at Twilight

A few weeks before I took this Zion twilight shot I found myself in Death Valley on the Mesquite Flats Dunes, again at sunset.  I set up on this one composition and shot it for about an hour and a half.  Many people like the stark contrast created by the sun playing on the undulating surfaces of the dunes.  I like it too.

Mescuite Dunes Sunset

Mesquite Dunes Sunset

 But a while later comes the real show, at least for my money.  The play of colors becomes outrageous with reds, magentas, purples, oranges, yellows and blues.  And I love the forms and textures of the sand.  It’s truly amazing.

Mesquite Dunes Twilight

Mesquite Dunes Twilight

So for my money, you’ll see me out there (usually by myself) until I can’t shoot any more.  Hey, why don’t you join me and see for yourself.

Then and only then I’ll pack up my gear and head off for dinner.

Note:  All of the above photographs are HDR, not just Zion.

To see more of my work go to Ralph Nordstrom Photography.


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High Dynamic Range Processing

November 29th, 2008

High Dynamic Range or HDR has become a standard and often used tool when I’m in the field.  For example, a few weeks ago when I was shooting sunrises in Bryce Canyon we would arrive well before sunrise.  Generally I would start shooting when it was light enough to get a good exposure at 30 second, ISO 100 and f/16.  That’s a good 20 to 30 minutes before the sun peeks over the horizon.  In that wonderful pre-sunrise light the dynamic range is very low, maybe a total of four or five stops.  There is no need for HDR because under those circumstances I can get a good 8 and if I want 9 stops of dynamic range from my sensor.

But as soon as the sun is above the horizon all that changes.  The dynamic range jumps to at least 8 stops, probably more.  (I don’t take the time to scintifically measure the dynamic range because things happen so fast in those first few minutes.)  I don’t want to take any chances with that incredible light so I switch to HDR, just for insurance if nothing else.

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