May 2, 2011 – Recently, I have gone through a necessary mind-set and attitude change to my approach photographically. I went through a stage before of not thinking enough about what I was doing, about what settings I was using. I was neglecting the very basics of photography! The advantages that come with digital had caused me to become lazy, to forget the very basics of what makes up a good exposure, a good photograph and the challenge of capturing the perfect image in camera was lost. I was relying too much on “capture as many frames as possible and one of them should be right”. I was ending up with a lot of junk, and I was losing the motivation and driving factors I had before.
In February of 2011 I decided to buy a 35mm film camera, specifically the Nikon F100. This model is compatible with all the lenses I have, and it made perfect sense to try source it. I managed to find an “as new” conditioned F100 from a friend of a friend, at a very good price. I bought the camera, and found some Velvia 100 film in town to go with it. And so started the shift in approach… Getting back to basics was important to me at this point, and I needed motivation to think more about what I was photographing, to really evaluate the scene thoroughly, the exposure, composition and to make sure everything was perfect before capturing the photograph. Once the film was exposed, nothing could be done to change that. I couldn’t fire off a hundred frames and hope for the perfect image, as the cost of film and processing/scanning would not allow it. It was this “film” approach I needed to develop to an extent with digital. I have never used a film camera before this, and I hoped this small purchase would help me with my digital photography. It did!
Landscape photography is a genre I enjoy very much, and I thrive on the challenge it delivers. Hiking up a mountain, countless hours of scouting for proper location, irregular sleeping patterns, making sure you are in position and set up well before the light peaks is exhilarating. Landscape photography is very tiring, yet very rewarding, and this was the part of my photography that was suffering the most from my lazy attitude. Not lazy in terms of the physical effort required, but more from the point of capturing the images in camera as I mentioned earlier. I relied too much on the bracketing of exposures, waiting to get home and onto the computer to blend the images together to form the final image. This had to stop if I were to advance my abilities! With a purchase of a full set of Lee Filters, this F100 film camera, and after many hours of photographing on the 35mm film format, came the “Revelation of Change”. I had a direct goal now – properly capture a photograph with one frame, with one press of a shutter, and to best eliminate the excess of rubbish I was capturing before. The shift in attitude I needed came to fruition, and motivation was increased ten-fold! My wildlife photography benefitted from this attitude change as well. Looking through the viewfinder is different for me now. Evaluating every aspect of the scene I was neglecting in the past changed. I was now searching the entire frame for things that didn’t belong there, making sure my metering was correct, waiting for the perfect moment to trip the shutter, and capture the moment in all of it’s glory.
A few weeks ago I embarked on a landscape photography weekend with a friend, up into the mountains of the Mpumulanga province in South Africa, to a location overlooking the iconic “Three Rondawels” and “Blyde River Canyon”. A lot of walking, climbing, and scouting was needed as the dynamic landscape of the area had to be explored, making sure of a perfect composition should the light do something special, capturing the essence and beauty of the landscape. We had two nights, with weather conditions less than ideal. Battling heavy winds and mist was the order of the first day and night. We set an alarm every two hours, hoping to wake up to a clear, star-filled night sky, but this didn’t happen at all! Well into our second day the mist was still shrouding our opportunities and motivation, but did eventually give way to breathtaking vistas that afternoon, and we stared in amazement at the epic views as they appeared from the clearing mist. The sky was covered in high clouds, with more heavier, lower clouds rolling in. Could these be the perfect conditions for something dramatic? My goal… capture that one perfect image, with one trip of the shutter.
We set about finding our compositions a few hours before sunset, and set up our equipment after finding a suitable spot. I was amazed by the diversity of plant-life and rock formations on top of these mountains, and together with the valleys below made for a special location and opportunity to hopefully achieve my goal. I found my composition, and the waiting began. The sky was now about 90% covered in cloud, and I knew there was an opportunity for something dramatic should the conditions line up perfectly. Moments before the sun set, the amazing light show began. The sky was far brighter than the foreground and valley below, and I used a combination of a 0.9 hard and 0.9 soft graduated filter to balance my exposure. I metered for the foreground and sky, set my exposure manually and waited to trigger the shutter at the perfect moment. The slight haze in the air helped diffuse the intense light from the sun, keeping the range of light within reach of my Nikon D700’s sensor, coupled with the 16-35 f4 lens. I photographed the amazing light show that followed, and felt a feeling of great reward that evening.
The image below is the result. Everything is as shot. No blending was done, no fancy Photoshop tricks added, only slight adjustment in the RAW convertor to further enhance what was there in front of me at that magical moment. I chose to keep everything as authentic as possible, and I feel this photograph is a true representation of what I saw that day. It’s moments and situations like this that help you grow as a photographer, pushing you onto new levels, raising the bar, and keeping one motivated at slaving away in search of that perfect and special moment. I wont forget that evening in a hurry.
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