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Finally, a winter photography day

Thursday 5 January 2012

I just came back from 5 great days up at the family cottage – great days for family and down time, absolutely lousy for photography. Dull grey skies, bitter cold followed by rain but with no snow to “clean” things up. So today I went out to try and make up for it. I figured that after the cold night we’ve had, there might be some interesting ice up around the small limestone gorge around through which the

Eramosa River, Everton, Ontario

Eramosa River passes at Everton. There wasn’t, but here’s what I came up with over a period of 70 minutes or so.

The first photograph is of the general area I was working in. Dull green cedars, dull rock, dull sky, but dynamic water. So I de-emphasized the sky and composed and shot knowing I would be turning everything into black and white. What I found, as the afternoon progressed, was that my journey started with the obvious and gradually morphed into the abstract. The more time I spent looking, the more I began to see.

So here is the obvious – a small waterfall, but a wonderful dynamic created by the rushing river below the waterfall. I wanted to keep the birch on the right side as it provided a sense of depth so I knew I would need at least ƒ8, probably ƒ11. Also, due to the brightness of the “white” water, I would also need to increase my exposure to +1 stop above “normal” (using exposure compensation).

Eramosa River, Everton, Ontario; photo by Terry McDonald

Eramosa River, Everton, Ontario

However, with these settings at ISO 100 my shutter speed was only 1/15th – too fast to really capture the swirling movement of the water. Adding an NDx8 and my polarizer slowed the shutter speed to 1 second at ƒ11 and, at ƒ16, 2 seconds. As it turned out, ƒ/11 was enough depth-of-field. The concern with ƒ16 and small sensors is that diffraction will reduce sharpness, so ƒ11 was used for most shots. However, a 2-second exposure produced the best water patterns, so I used ƒ16 knowing that stinger capture sharpening would be needed . One thing I’ve learned about moving water shots is that the patterns in the water are different with each exposure. I ended up exposing 8 frames before I had one with a pattern I was satisfied with. I photographed the same scene to produce a square composition – one that I am equally pleased with.

In Lightroom,  I converted the raw file to B&W then used the basic controls to bring out the contrast between white water, dark water, white snow and dark rock. I ended up toning down the snow in the  bottom right using a graduated mask and increased the brightness of the birch using a adjustment brush. Lastly, I worked with an adjustment brush at 50% flow to build up some of the exposure and contrast in the water flowing downstream.

This is a very pleasing image for me, given the dull day. Using increased contrast, I was able to extract from the flat lighting a three-dimensional dynamic image portraying the beauty hidden by the initial dullness.

Eramosa River, Everton, Ontario; by Terry McDonald

Eramosa River, Everton, Ontario

With the “grand scene” finished, I began looking at some of the details. I worked on capturing that great flow of water. In this case, I kept the photo in colour and, in fact, increased the saturation significantly (100% – a first time for everything!). I found the increase in saturation gives the water and the flowing streams of white greater depth – a three dimensionality below the water that added to the three dimensionality across the water and from upstream to downstream. After a few ‘sketches”, I determined that a 2-second exposure gave the most dynamic water pattern, so set the aperture to ƒ14 accordingly. This is in combination with ISO 100, a polarizing filter, an NDx8 filter and +2 exposure compensation.

Eramosa River, Everton, Ontario; photo by Terry McDonald

Eramosa River, Everton, Ontario

For about half the time I spent there, I worked on another small waterfall downstream of the original. In this case, I was looking down on it from above, and became intrigued with the interplay of water and ice, foreground and background. The water seemed to disappear into a nothingness. I had a terrible time with some cedars that kept creeping into the bottom of the frame and some snow that was on the rock in the upper right. This made composition critical. I could have cropped them out, but I would rather make full use of the sensor and spend a few extra minutes nailing down precise composition. Originally, I composed this a horizontal photograph due to the right left movement of the water. While it “works”, when I changed to vertical, everything seemed to fall together more precisely due to the natural shapes and lines in the image.

Again, a 2-second exposure gave the most dynamic water pattern, so I adjusted the aperture to ƒ8 along with the polarizer, NDx8 and an exposure compensation of +1.3 stops. In Lightroom, the raw file was converted to B&W and additional contrast was added to the water and the ice. Exposure was carefully controlled so as not to lose detail in the bright lower left. Finally, I added a split tone preset I created called “Subtle Sepia” which I find adds depth and life to the otherwise quite grey-looking scene.

Everton is a place I will return to throughout the winter. I must thank Alan Norsworthy’s Flickr page for introducing me to this photographic gem. There are many more wonderful images here awaiting just the right snow, ice and light.

For more on Winter Photography, sign up for one of my Winter Nature Workshops in Guelph on January 21st and in Dundas (near Hamilton) on January 28th. To learn more about Lightroom, attend the Introductory Lightroom workshop on February 18th followed by Advanced Lightroom on the 25th – both in Guelph. More information can be found on the Workshop page of my website: luxborealis.com

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