Juggling cats on Maui
Facing West, Molokai from West Maui, Hawaii
Canon EOS 5D Mark III
Coordinating all of the rapidly changing exposure and composition variables sometimes feels like juggling cats (thankfully without the bloodshed). The difficulty is compounded by the unfortunate need to simultaneously process input from two sides of the brain (creative and logical) that don’t often play well together.
For me an image usually starts with a feeling or connection, not just the scene’s now, but also for its what-might-be. Using that seed, a general idea for a composition emerges. Next, I evaluate the scene’s exposure, depth, and motion variables, and how to best manage them with my camera’s aperture, shutter, and ISO settings. Usually compromises are required, as one need usually contradicts another (see “cat juggling,” above). And finally, when I think everything’s in place, I return to my creative instincts and allow my intuitive side to actually click the shutter—that is, it has to feel right. Often this is a multi-click process requiring multiple frames, with analysis and refinement in between, each frame informing the next until I’m satisfied.
Below is a summary of my mental process as I tried to turn this beautiful Maui sunset into a photograph. Its genesis came long before the final click (and the beautiful color that made this moment special).
- Hmmm—beautiful scene, with real potential for sunset color -> Wander around a bit in search of a foreground to go with the Pacific sunset.
- Love these pools—would love to balance them with the setting sun and Molokai in the distance -> If I stand here, this long pool creates a nice diagonal pointing toward Molokai, and connecting the background pool on the left with the sun creates a corresponding (balancing) diagonal in the other direction.
- Don’t want to cut Molokai off -> Definitely need the 17-40.
- But if I go too far right with my composition, I crowd the sun and cut off part of the reflective pool on the left -> Go super-wide with the 17-40.
- Don’t want to go all the way out to 17mm and risk losing sharpness at the corners -> 20mm will work.
- Yeah, I think I can do something with this composition -> Set up the tripod.
- Lots of dynamic range here -> Time for the Singh-Ray graduated neutral density filters. Three soft? Horizon still too bright. Two hard? Maybe. Three reverse? Even better. Will deal with disguising the GND transition in Photoshop.
- Need to be sharp from front to back -> Small aperture, but not so small that diffraction or softness (lenses tend to be less sharp at their extreme apertures) is a problem. Hmmm, at this wide focal length (20mm) my hyperfocal app says f11 will give me “acceptable” sharpness. To increase my margin for error I stop down to f16 because I know from experience, at f16 on my camera, diffraction and lens softness will be tolerable.
- But there’s only one plane of perfect sharpness, so even at f16, I need to make sure the perfectly sharp plane is in my foreground -> Live-view focus on the small rock jutting diagonally near the front of the large pool at my feet.
- Great sunset color reflecting in the background pool -> With my polarizer, dial reflections up. But…
- Love the green translucence of the foreground pool -> Dial reflections down.
- Sigh -> Find middle point with the polarizer.
- My GND darkens the clouds on the right too much -> Will need to dodge in Photoshop, but dodging could expose noise—make sure ISO is 100 despite the fading light.
- Without direct sunlight, these black rocks are sure dark -> Push exposure (increase shutter speed because aperture and ISO are already decided) as far to the right (in the histogram) as possible.
- The timing of the waves completely changes the image -> Monitor the waves’ break and action; time exposures for the desired effect.
- At 3.2 seconds the motion blur in the waves creates a nice, dynamic texture, but be careful that the waves don’t overrun the foreground pool -> Wait for a large wave to break on the farthest rocks, pause for a second, then click. (If my shutter speed had been too long for the desired wave effect, I’d have bumped my ISO and dealt with the noise in processing.)
- The setting sun is a ticking clock leaving only a small window when everything comes together -> Expose too soon and the sun blows out and the color fades; expose too late and the sun is gone (tick, tick, tick…).
- Click, review, adjust, repeat until satisfied (or time’s up).
- Move on to another scene and start over.
Join me in a future Hawaii photo workshop
A Hawaii gallery
Click an image for a closer look, and a slide show. Refresh your screen to reorder the display.
Heavenly Fire, Milky Way and the Kilauea Caldera, Hawaii
Orchids, Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden, Hawaii
Raindrops, Orchid in Lava Tree State Park, Hawaii
Dawn, Puna Coast, Hawaii
Pacific Sunrise, Laupahoehoe Point, Hawaii
Earth and Sky, Kilauea Caldera, Hawaii
Day’s End, Ke’e Beach, Hawaii
Clouds at Sunrise, Kauai, Hawaii
Akaka Fall, Akaka Falls State Park, Hawaii
Hawaii Sunrise, Puna Coast, Big Island
Fire on High, Kilauea and Milky Way, Hawaii
Hawaii Big Island Waterfalls and Volcanoes photo workshop
Maui Tropical Paradise photo workshop