Sunday, September 25, 2011

High Key

Nature photography has so many rules, all made to be broken. When the sun is high enough that the underside of flying birds is shadowed, the rule is to put away the camera and wait until a couple hours before sunset to take it back out again. Then there is the harsh reflecting light of the water. It's uncomfortable enough to paddle toward the sun and the glaring water, but try to photograph in that direction and it's even more uncomfortable; except when photographing flying cormorants.

I learned quickly that photography from a canoe (or any boat) has more limitations than photography from solid ground. But then, I began to see the possibilities; you know the folksy saying "When handed lemons, make lemonade". For the past 7 years, I have been trying to make lemonade. One thing that is almost always the case is that I am on the water way past those golden hours of morning light, and often paddling well past noon on camping trips through the Everglades. While harsh overhead or side light makes many things less photographable, the very same light makes other things more photographable.

On Biscayne Bay, I have always been attracted to high key scenes. I started experimenting with the possibility of capturing them as I watched cormorants flying past. What is attractive about these birds is how low to the water they fly. Consequently, they reflect. On a calm day, it is a scene that cannot be resisted. Empty space in an image adds impact to the subject, it's as simple as that. So, I started experimenting one day when there was nothing else to photograph. Here's my first attempt, and because it worked for me, I have been attempting these types of shots ever since.

The old sponge farm (the sticks) has become one of my favorite high key subjects. That first became evident when I ran across this scene below, one of my favorites. I got lucky with the line of cormorants in the water.

I also experimented with the mangrove trees that stray into the bay from the main shoreline in one particular area that I paddle. As a result, I can get the trees into a high key light. With their hanging roots, they make interesting designs. For the shot below, I added the water ripples by using my paddle.

I continue attempting to capture flying cormorants, speedy devils they are. But where I've spent a good amount of time this summer is with the cormorants hanging out on the sticks. For these shots I attempt to either isolate one or two, or capture the entire scene, such as this shot. I always attempt to capture these beautiful birds in a wing spread position, but they do not always cooperate.

Capturing these high key images is way too easy. With the sun high enough, cloudy or not, the calm water and the horizon become one. That's what I look for and with that, I meter off the water, compensate about +1 1/3 and start shooting. With the flying birds, I need at least 1/800, so the ISO gets bumped up to 640. When there are several birds, I use f8 to f11. With post processing, it is usually nothing more than some curve work to lighten the lights and darken the darks. Sometimes, a bit of water movement causes ripple reflections and these need to be cloned out, but this is a minor thing.

Enjoy the photos and remember, photography rules are meant to be broken.

1 comment:

  1. What really good shots. Never thought of doing this sort of thing. They have good impact when viewed large. Great work and I look forward to seeing some more like this. I naturally love the bird shots but the single mangrove is very special. Well done.