You never know when a new favorite image is coming. I certainly didn’t expect one on this 3-day backpacking trip with my girlfriend and our friends. The mindset I had when I first visited this place six years prior was that the most worthy photo would be a grand sunset mountain shot with wildflowers in the foreground. Given that my interests have moved away from such images since then, I had written it off as at best a fun experience to document this time around—but likely not productive photographically. I left the tripod and telephoto behind, carrying only my camera, a standard zoom lens, and a single battery just in case something crazy happened.
Boy, how wrong I was! I’m glad I hedged my bets with the minimal camera setup. What had in my memory simply been a nice backpacking destination was actually an alpine wonderland ripe for exploration, full of dynamic terrain, crystal-clear water, and interesting trees.
These Seussian characters captured my imagination immediately when I saw the way they were glowing backlit against the shaded hillsides in the evening. I was entranced! I made a few images of this phenomenon, but for now I’m only putting my favorite one online.
A lesson I thought I already learned was reinforced: don’t let preconceptions about a place or about weather/light prospects turn you off to seeing other possibilities. Just as you shouldn’t get tunnel vision for what you think you want to photograph, you also shouldn’t decide ahead of time what you’re not shooting.
Please list any pertinent technical details or techniques:
Canon 5D Mark IV, 24-105mm f/4L, 70mm, f/8, ISO 400, single frame handheld at 1/200s
This was quite annoying to shoot because I had to extend my right hand all the way out to shield my lens from flare, while trying to handhold the composition steadily and fire the shutter using only my left hand and my face for stabilization. This is why I needed such a fast shutter speed - the sun was a bit off to the right so I couldn’t reach my left hand far enough out to shade the lens while keeping it out of frame. My left hand just wasn’t steady enough to both hold the camera and fire the shutter reliably.
I could have done a 10-second timer and braced myself, I suppose. A tripod would have made it easy, but I left it behind for weight reasons being that this was backcountry backpacking. I ended up getting some sharp exposures by shooting a lot of them. I would have liked to get every tree in focus (the rearmost ones and the background are OOF), so I guess shooting f/11 and ISO 800 may have been a better call. At any rate, all the main trees and the foreground are in focus, and I think the OOF background helped to separate the subject.
The processing was pretty simple, just finding the right white balance where the background was cool and the trees were green (not yellow), darkening the exposure, cloning out some distractions, and dodging up the trees a little with a greenish color on a soft light layer through a Lights 2 mask. I also did some color work in the foreground and midground brush to separate hues, so that the green trees would stand out from the late-summer ground cover, giving it more of an early-autumn look.