Everything’s better with butter

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People often struggle with landscape photography. They visit all of the iconic locations, take tons of photographs but never really capture the scene. They fail for a variety of reasons but more often than not it’s the light. The single most important thing that you can ever learn about landscape photography is that the quality of the light is far more important than the scene.

Most, but certainly not all, successful landscape images are taken within an hour of sunrise/sunset. The reason is simple: the warmness and softness of the light. Near sunrise and sunset the light of the sun is arrives at a very low angle. That low angle requires that the light travel through much more of our atmosphere before reaching the scene. Like the cheesy sunglass advertisements, our atmosphere is nature’s “Blue Blocker.” With much of the blue wavelengths being filtered out by our air, the light takes on a warm reddish hue. The warmness of the light makes just about any scene better.  It’s a lot like cooking with butter; just about everything tastes better when fried in butter.

I shot this shortly after sunrise near [wikipop]Mono Lake[/wikipop]’s south tufa area. I liked how the light was just hitting the tips of the grasses and just barely kissing the small tufa mounds. Just as important as the warmness of the light was the fact that it was coming from the side. Side light can be very effective at adding depth and texture to a scene.

The mechanics of this shot aren’t anything unusual. I started by setting my tripod at it’s lowest level. I was using my Canon 24-70 f/2.8L at it’s widest position: 24mm. I set the aperture at f/11 to give me adequate depth of field which resulted in an exposure of 1/6th of a second at ISO 100.  The sky, even shortly after sunrise, was already several stops brighter than my foreground so I used a 2 stop, soft edged, graduated neutral density filter to bring it down.


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