Sunday, June 29, 2008

One step closer....

Over the past 2 years, I've strived to improve my photography. There was always something about landscape photos that I never got right... I could never produce a landscape photo that had any kind of... feeling it in. Not even gorgeous sunsets or sun rises out in Death Valley... I guess the photos never told a story, there was no connection. People always say you have to "feel" the environment, and love for what you are photographing to produce powerful images. While I certainly enjoyed all the beautiful vistas I've seen... I still wasn't able to quite capture the mood of the scene. This is one reason landscape photography has never been my favorite....
So a few weeks ago I was up in Mountain View for a training course and decided to go out on a photo walk with some friends after work one day. They picked Half Moon bay saying the cloud cover of the coast will provide stunning sunsets, and who can say no to that. I had my doubts as we headed out... the cloud cover looked really thick over the ocean and I figured we wouldn't see much of anything. We made a few quick stops along the way on PCH. I didn't get much out of those stops, a few so so images, but mostly I wasn't feeling very inspired. I did, however, get a nice portrait of myself by one of my friends, an heroic portrait as he calls it.
From Photo Walk at San Gregorio State Beach

We made our final stop at San Gregorio state beach, just south of Half Moon Bay. The sun was quickly descending towards the horizon by this point and we really only had about 10 mins to get ready before the "golden hour". Since both of my companions shoot RAW, I decided to start shooting RAW for some of the photos as well, figured I'd give it another try. Most of my previous RAW photos turned out well, I just didn't have the time (or desire) to do that much post processing to play around with the RAW files. Heck, how often do I get to come to Half Moon Bay to view a potentially stunning sunset? Almost never right... time to bite the bullet and shoot RAW :).

While the sun hasn't quite gotten to the horizon yet, it was behind a thick layer of clouds (but it was perfectly clear overhead) so I figured I'd change the white balance to tungsten or fluorescent to give the clear part of the sky a nice deep blue look. A lot of the beach goers have packed up and started going home when I snapped this shot
From Photo Walk at San Gregorio State Beach

This was shot in RAW so I did a little bit of post on it, making the blue stand out a bit more. I really like the story of this photo... and how lonely it feels. Just a lone silhouette along the beach, walking home. From a more technical perspective, I am not sure if I should have cropped out the log on the bottom. The original photo actually had even more space along the bottom and top and I wanted to crop it a little so its tighter and focus on the silhouette more. I didn't want to cut out the logs because I was worried the composition would become too symmetrical and too boring, but as it stands now, the log is a little distracting so maybe it would be best to cut it out but keep rule of thirds or something. I think I just didn't want to cut out the bottom because I like the color of the water reflection.

From Photo Walk at San Gregorio State Beach

This was also shot in RAW. I set the picture style to "landscape" (Canon thing) and it seemed to really add more punch to the blue. I also manually adjusted the RGB a little and added more contrast. The end result looks very post processed, almost "flickr" like I think. But at the same time, I love the darkness and the texture of the clouds, adds a bit of drama to the photo. The blue feel also makes it feel that much more surreal. I'm usually not much on post processing, but I really like the result for this photo.

From Photo Walk at San Gregorio State Beach

In addition to playing with RAW, I actually gave HDR a try. I've never been a big fan of HDR... almost thought it was "fake"... but it definitely can produce stunning images. At this point, the sunset was just so amazing... the sun was right on the horizon where the clouds were a bit thinner and made the entire horizon bright yellow/orange. The wind swept the clouds towards land creating long beautiful strands. It also thinned the clouds just enough for the sun to light up patches of the sky... the lagoon in front of me was perfectly still forming this beautiful mirror reflecting all the beauty above. It was such a serene and breath-taking view... I just thought what the heck... I have to try HDR now. The dynamic range in the scene wasn't that great, but HDR could certainly help enhance the details in both the sky and the darker reflection. I hope the end result doesn't look too fake... I honestly can't tell anymore since this is all I can remember... in my mind's eye, the sunset really just looked like that and was really THAT stunning and dramatic.

I finally felt like I'm one step closer in the search for the perfect photo... one step closer in taking photos that evoke some kind of emotional response. It is unfortunate that I used HDR to make that step, but it's all part of the learning process. As long as I don't depend on HDR, it should be fine :). The journey is just beginning and I have the rest of my life to explore photography and hopefully find that one shot I can define myself with... that one perfect shot.