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I’m always amazed at how light can make the same places I’ve visited and photographed over and over again look and feel completely different. And while that’s a rarer experience the more you do visit a location, it doesn’t make that place any less attractive in my mind.

This spot on the Hudson is a prime example, and I’m often hesitant to visit thinking I’ve made all the possible images I can. Once again I was proved wrong, and I left with that familiar smile on my face that acknowledged how silly it is to try and predict nature, or assume anything at all about what might happen. As usual, patience was the deciding factor.

The morning started off dreary and gray, and I figured I’d just get out to see what the autumn colors looked like. When I reached this rocky perch after a very short hike, I could see warm patches of light starting to appear in the sky, and as they became stronger, I could also see their effect on the landscape – that beautiful warm glow on foliage and vegetation. This was almost an hour after sunrise, so I wasn’t thinking about the time, but focusing on what was actually happening in front of me. (You can photograph after the golden hour, contrary to what so many others suggest is not worth the time.)

Once I saw I had an opportunity because of the great light, I tried to create a composition that took advantage of the many layers already in the scene. The foreground rock I was standing on, the forested area in front and below it, the river, the mountains. But what attracted me the most was the dramatic sky, with big dark clouds breaking to reveal lighter clouds and blue sky towards the east. Dividing the image in “layers” like this adds depth, and allows the eye to move through the image easily without any distractions. While I tried a few shots without the foreground rock, it certainly added a textural and dimensional component that expanded the image to my liking, like a musical composition building in layers.

I exposed for the sky, making sure not to clip any highlights whatsoever. I could see the cloud textures easily, and so wanted to make sure I captured them completely – they would be the key to adding the drama and feeling I wanted to convey. I used a 12mm lens on my Olympus E-M1, no filters, and shot at f/11 to make sure I had plenty of depth of field. I focused about 8’ in front of the lens, to make sure I had good detail on the foreground and background mountains.


Original raw image in Lightroom


Adjustment brush used to mask the sky – I adjusted exposure, highlights, and clarity. Graduated filter does not work here since I have too many contours in the mountains to work around. 

Processing in Lightroom was straight forward, where I darkened the sky to bring back the drama and mood I wanted to convey. A little extra contrast and clarity help the textures become more significant, and I used some light dodging and burning to help add separation between the different layers.

Hope that helps, and please feel free to leave your questions and comments below.

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This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Robert, you are so right. I live on a small island in northern Lake Michigan, and while we are blessed with a variety of landscapes, vegetation, both sunrises and sunsets over the water, with both sandy and rocky shorelines and sand dunes, numerous old farm fields and homesteads, it is a finite area where real change – forest succession, shifting dunes, the 20-year high/low water level cycle of the lake – happens slowly, yet the daily, if not hourly, changes in the light can be astounding and dramatic and invite return visits to numerous locations because, simply put, they are never the same place. It’s our challenge as photographers to recognize that, to try our best to capture it, and, ultimately, to share it with others. Thanks for all your sharing here.

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