Saturday, October 30, 2010

Getting Back to my Roots

Canon 30D
Canon EF 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6
Focal Length 34mm
Shutter Speed 1/20, 1/50, and 1/125
Aperture f/4.5
ISO 125

Friday was a very long day. I had several meetings set-up for potential clients spread across three counties. What's more I wasn't bright enough to plan my visits in a logical manner. As such, I was in Chicago Heights for my last meeting, practically looking at Indiana right around the time rush hour starts...on a Friday evening. It wasn't looking good for a pleasant trip home. The good news is that my route could conceivably take me by the Morton Arboretum! Now we're talking! So off I went in search of some peace after a hectic day of mostly driving. This boy needed to stretch his legs. His dogs were barking!

Those of you unfamiliar with the Morton Arboretum only need to know one thing: stop what ever you're doing and go there now. I mean it. Go now. It's just a stunning place, both for it's simplicity and it's humble grandeur. Every time I go I reconnect with Ma Earth and that is something I cherish. There are four things in life I always consistently return to: music, photography, reading, and just being outdoors. This place feeds my soul.

Knowing I might be able to swing by I packed my camera and a full 10GB of memory knowing how pissed off I'd be if I ran out. I arrived just in time to enjoy that delicious late afternoon sunshine. I literally snapped 630 pics as I wandered the conifer walk, circled Lake Marmo on the West side, and stumbled upon Schulenberg Prairie, a new find for me. I just cannot put into words how this kind of place affects me. It's why photography is such an important and vital art form and why I'm so in love with it. Words just can't do what a good photograph can.

This photo was taken on the banks of Lake Mormo. The tree is a Freeman Maple, which is a crossbreed of Silver and Red Maple. The roots are just fantastic and the way the branches fall over the water just captivated me. I took 3 exposures with HDR editing in mind. The tricky part is that my tripod is kaput forcing me to do my best at holding very still whilst my camera gets three exposures. It helps tremendously that the light was sufficient. If the day were cloudy I probably would have been out of luck.

So why did I think HDR with this shot? Couldn't I have gotten a good shot without fancy software? The answer to that question is yes, I could have gotten a good shot without HDR. I've posted an edited shot here that is a single exposure. The facts of this setting are the dark shadows potentially clipping the details in the roots and the bright highlights of the reflected water potentially clipping the highlight details. The range from darkest to lightest is just extremely wide. And that's exactly what happened in the single exposure - clipped shadows and highlights (I'll admit, I edited a little extreme to emphasize the point). So why shoot with an eye towards HDR? It's just a better representation of what I'm seeing at that moment. And that is a key point.

There are some that rail against HDR photography, stating it looks fake or dreamlike. And indeed it can look fake and dreamlike. Some even prefer it that way. I would venture to state is can actually make a photo (particularly a landscape) more realistic. That is to say more like what the photographer is seeing when the shot(s) is taken. This is what I'm after and I'm fairly satisfied with the results on this one. Make no mistake, I struggle with making these shots look real. Ask Brandi. She's functioned as foil to my recklessness (Thanks B! I need it!). But I continue to learn when to push it and when to back off the "fixes." In the end, all I want is a photo that conveys the emotion of the scene. This shot does that for me.

My connection to Brandi's adorable faces are the ringlets of hair framing the little one's face. These roots remind me of those ringlets. And I was struck by the symmetry exhibited as the root comes up to kiss the reflection, similar to the girls leaning into each other.

I've posted several other HDR shots on our Flickr page. Check them out and leave a comment. I'd love to hear what you all think. In the meantime, your assignment is to go to the Morton Arboretum ASAP. If you need company, I'll be there.



  1. Beautiful shot! I love the reflection in the water. I have to admit I am one that is a little bit hesitant to use HDR because of what you had said. That and I won't spend lots of time in front of a computer to manipulate a picture haha. I'm just not patient enough. But I love the results you have gotten with HDR. I have not been to the Morton Aboretum yet, it has been on my "to see" list forever and I just have never gotten out there. Definately need to figure out a way to visit.

  2. That is so beautiful. I have no idea what HDR is/does in a technical sense, but I continually find myself attracted to shots where I later find out it was used. Time to go investigate! Thank you for the inspiration and great work!

  3. Scott,
    All I can say is WOW! This is stunning! Great composition and treatment or not it has it all. Way to be a true artist.
    The list of things to learn about and buy is getting longer... I have been reading my camera manual page by page. I still have tons to learn and I'm finally realizing just a few things that may help.
    Thanks again for sharing some awesome work and Keep shootin DUDE!

  4. I play keyboards. 15 years ago there was a lot of debate regarding the use of the synthesizer and sequencing software and whether or not it allowed inferior artists the ability to "sound like pros". My feeling? Give Bach two months on a sequencer and me two months. You'll be able to tell the difference.

  5. @BigDan what a great analogy. Sounds like the Nikon class is worth going to. I'm going to put it on my 'list'.

    Y'all, I have to tell your its horrible, terrible, awful being the recipient of Scott's HDR castaways. I only do it to protect all of you.
    Is anyone believing me? Didn't think so.
    Beautiful job Scott. The HDR really plays and takes the photo up a notch compared to the photo on flickr.

  6. I play keyboards too Dan so your analogy is perfect for me! Thanks! That made my day. And thanks to everyone else for your comments.

  7. @amanda - You can download the program I use for free. The only caveat is that you will have their watermark on any images edited until you pay the $99. If you decide to purchase, look for a coupon from one of the tutorials listed on their website. Have fun and let me know if I can help in any way!