Sagey Meadow Sunrise +Alt

Edit: Here’s a different frame/composition for comparison. No streak, but still emphasizing first light. also a 4-image focus stack

Preston and I had just finished photographing a glorious field of Lupine in this high alpine meadow on Sonora Pass. I was quite crispy chilly for an August morning - at 27deg. Ok, that’s mildly cold for us Californians…

The sun was just crossing the horizon as I passed this scene. You know my affection for meadows and grasses so I had to make a few images for a 4-image focus stack. Had to work quickly as the light was changing real fast.

I hoped to create the sense of the sun just hitting the meadow, and so against my better judgement have left the top edge a little on the hot side to help emphasize perhaps where the sun was coming in.

Your thoughts, comments and suggestions of course most welcome.

You may only download this image to demonstrate post-processing techniques.

What technical feedback would you like if any?

Very curious about the processing here; color/WB, saturation, color of the sage, etc.

What artistic feedback would you like if any?

What could I do to emphasize/create that beam of sunshine striking the grasses at first light? Oh, the reason why a narrow path is being projected is because the sun was rising through a small group of pines and so the sun wasn’t hitting all parts of the scene yet.

Pertinent technical details or techniques:

(If this is a composite, etc. please be honest with your techniques to help others learn)

4-image focus stack. Nikon D800E, Nik 28-300mm @72mm f/10 1/30 iso 400
Numerous layers, dodging, burning, color/sat, etc. small crop from original

The first thing that struck me about this image, Lon, is it’s religious symbolism. I wonder if others will have the same reaction to it (without reading my comment). Sunlight in the form of a cross? How else could you interpret that? Since I basically see Christianity in a positive way, I can make the connection between it and light.

On the technical side - I would burn the bright sunlight at the very top I think.

For me, I think this would be more effective without the streak of light. I love the rich shades of greens and blues and the shapes of the sage and grasses. I find the streak detracts from that.

Lon, I know I’m usually in for an enjoyable time when one of your meadow images pops up, and this time is no exception. First off, I love the concept of showing the light streaks here, that contrast so nicely with the cool sage in the shadows. This is a somewhat usual color palette, but it works well for me, I think the color of the sage contributes significantly to the mood of the image. I could see going a little warmer on the highlights in the grass if you wanted to accentuate that more.

From a composition standpoint, I like that you included the light area at the top, showing the source of light. I think some of the, twigs branches at the very bottom are a minor distraction and would consider cropping some of it away.

While I like this as presented, I could see carefully adding some contrast to accentuate the light streaks, by warming and dodging the highlights, and gently burning the shadows (done via Luminosity Mask selections). But I definitely would retain the light at the top of the image and not burn it down. I took a stab at this in a rework, including a crop from the bottom (and left to maintain aspect ratio, though I could see doing bottom only too). These D&B changes are subtle, but i think do a good job of teasing more light out of the streaks.

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In your original, Lon, I can see the reasoning behind Harley’s comment. I think Ed’s tweaks are the ticket here, though.

I really like the concept, and it has been well realized. The detail is excellent.

Just a note about the weather: I have been visiting this area for 45 years, and this was the chilliest morning I have experienced there in August, especially on a sunny morning. The elevation of this meadow is about 9,400’. We also had quite a bit of wind on the first two days, and the temperatures were well below normal for August.

Thanks for the comments so far folks. Definitely a mix of reactions, which I take as a good thing - thought provoking perhaps.

Igor, thanks for the comment and reaction. Very interesting too because when processing I originally was emphasizing the “cross,” although to be honest I saw more of an “X” and didn’t relate to the religious symbolism - although it’s pretty clear - perhaps in a way like sun beams, often referred to as “God’s rays…” Alas, I was following the first light beam diagonal across the frame and deliberately downplayed any light or brightness in the grasses that didn’t fall in that path. I’m quite analytical most of the time and I thought the sun wouldn’t strike both horizontally and vertically in the frame… so I processed that way.

Thanks Harley! I can get that. Especially since the streak/beam of light isn’t really uniform or appear “straight.” I wish now I had caught the area before the sun. But there’s always next year…

@Ed_McGuirk, thank you so much for the suggestions and taking the time to make some edits. I really like and appreciate your results. In fact if/when I re-work this I will be keeping yours in mind!

Thanks @Preston_Birdwell for chiming in as well. I know I sent you off for some sunshine and warm coffee while I played with this comp…


I did manage another comp from the immediate area. This had sunlight in it as well, but no streak. I’m wondering if this works any better or if no sun would have been the ticket. I agree with you that the shades of blue/green/cyan are quite lovely and I think deserve a closer look next time… :smile:

I’ll post the alternate in original thread. Thanks!

Wonderful textures and sharpness across the image, Lon. I like the first especially, with the streak of light both a neat compositional feature and something suggestive of the fall of light. Nothing wrong with the second though !