Chasing the sunset across the sky can be daunting. It is a race you can never win. I sped down the back roads of western North Dakota in July, my eyes desperately scanning for a suitable foreground element, as the sun receded in defiance. I am going to have to make something from nothing, I thought.
Flying along the gravel road, I topped an hill, glared into the failing sun and realized it was now or never. I skidded to a stop, grabbed a tripod and sprinted into the wheat field. I waded the tall grain until I knew that could compose the scene without the road which runs along the left edge of the frame. There wasn’t even the slightest breath of wind so I knew HDR was a definite possibility-maybe a necessity. I placed the tripod and composed the shot.
Interlude: Gear List
- Manfrotto Carbon Fiber Tripod
- Canon 5DMKII
- Canon EF24-105 F4L @ 40MM
- Canon Remote Release
- My Feverish Mind
Knowing I had still conditions, I set for an HDR exposure allowing my Canon to auto-bracket by 2 stops over and under. The lens was set at F8.0 for the sharpest image possible. The 40 MM focal length allowed just enough depth of field. ISO was set to 200 and the shutter speed was metered at 1/250th second. A test exposure using my HDR Bracketing Strategy told me I was 2/3 stops hot. I dialed it back to –2/3 EV and set the drive to burst mode.
Aside from making certain the road at left was out of frame, (which by the way it wasn’t-forgot about the 90 something % viewfinder), I decided to minimize the sky. The only clouds were low and distant and really not a factor in the image. I needed the sun for impact but there was no need for megapixels of empty blue so I angled the camera downward. This shot would have to be about the texture of the wheat. I fired the three-shot set.
The images were brought into Lightroom and were zeroed back to untouched RAW files. Camera Profile was applied. Lens Profile was also applied. I synced the White Balance to Daylight to get a warm glow. The darkest exposure was dialed back on recovery until the blown area became the round ball of the sun. Off to Photomatix for HDR processing. Back to Lightroom for a final touchup and crop. The crop removed some dead sky at top and some intruding roadway on the left. The image was finished.
Overall, the image came out much better than I expected. Standing in the wheat field that summer evening, I tried to visualize my shot-making the best of my conditions and timing. In my desperation to get anything out of this sunset, I found something special.
Rikk Flohr © 2010