It takes a lot of patience to be a photographer. Unless you are shooting inanimate objects like food, business products or other static items, you have to have patience if you are going to be a successful photographer. This is especially true if you are shooting wild animals and landscapes. I never knew how much patience I could have for something until I started diligently working on my photography.

It’s pretty easy to understand why shooting wild animals requires patience. You have to wait for the subject to do something that is worth photographing in order to have a distinctive image. Wild animals don’t pose, and they certainly never listen to me when I ask them to do something (right Donna?). You might think that they would want to become famous and have themselves immortalized in a photograph. But you would be wrong. They rarely cooperate and it takes hours of patience in the field to get the image you may have been imagining in your mind.

Landscapes require patience too, but not for the same reason. Sure, trees, rocks, lakes and other objects don’t move like a wild animal does. But landscapes are all about the light. Light and shadows define a landscape. Yes, you have to have a compelling composition, but without the right light and shadows, all you have is a dull snapshot. It’s all about the light.

On Christmas eve, I set out to capture a sunrise. I had no idea what God had in store for that morning. Would there be any clouds? Would it be windy? Would the composition I wanted to shoot be boring?

To shoot a sunrise, you have to be setup and ready BEFORE the sun rises. You can’t just pull up to a place, hop out of the car, snap a few shots and drive off with a prize-winning photograph. OK…some people can do that, but that’s the hard way to do it. The really hard way. So part of the patience is proper preparation. You have to know where you’re going; know what time you need to be there; know your gear; be able to set it up in the dark and know the weather well enough to make sure you’re safe. Photography isn’t just point, click and print (right Nancy?). Below are a series of images I took on Christmas eve morning to illustrate my point. Click any image to view larger. All images are straight out of the camera with no post processing.

Once you have arrived and setup your gear, you have to get the settings in your camera correct. There is no camera that will properly set the aperture, shutter speed and ISO with the sun shining right down the barrel of the lens. You have to do this yourself, take a few test shots to make sure everything is correct, and then you wait. Patience.

Ready for nature's show.  Patience
Ready for nature’s show.

But there are environmental factors that I can’t control, such as a motorboat that drove right through my composition. Here you can see the wake left behind by the boat. Fortunately I wasn’t yet at the critical point of the sunrise and I had time for the water to settle down.

A boat ripples the otherwise glassy water.  Patience
A boat ripples the otherwise glassy water.

As the sun continues to rise, I can see there are several things working in my favor. First, the wind is coming from the northwest, so the water in my composition is as smooth as glass. Second, there are good clouds in the sky. A cloudless sky doesn’t work well for sunrises. But there are also bad clouds that don’t work well either. You certainly don’t want a large thunderhead popping up on the horizon right where the sun will rise. In this image, there are some clouds on the low horizon, but they don’t form a solid layer to block the sun. Notice how the light is beginning to highlight the bottom of the clouds. Light and shadows.

There are some clouds on the horizon, but it looks promising.  Patience
There are some clouds on the horizon, but it looks promising.

Finally the sun peeks through. But it isn’t yet at the altitude that I need for the complete composition I want.

The sun peeks through, but it's not high enough yet for what I want.  Patience
The sun peeks through, but it’s not high enough yet for what I want.

A minute or so later, the clouds have moved in to block the sun, completely ruining the composition. OK…it’s not completely ruined, but it isn’t what I was looking for. Although, I do like the sun beams visible underneath the clouds, but they aren’t pronounced enough to be of any consequence.

Foiled by another layer of low clouds.  Patience
Foiled by another layer of low clouds.

Finally, the sun breaks through again and casts the right amount of light on the composition and the bottom of the clouds for the shot that I want.

Now everything starts to come together.  Patience
Now everything starts to come together.

So, now I’ve captured my sunrise image, but I’m not done yet. This image is too dark. I’ve done the hard work of getting up way before dawn, driving to my destination, getting my gear ready and taking the image that I ultimately want. But this image above isn’t what I want to end up with. Instead, I want to use my post-processing software to take this image and create what my eyes actually saw that morning.

The camera does a great job of capturing an image, but it can’t capture the dynamic range of light and color that the human eye can see. So it needs a little help. To give it help, I actually captured 3 images and combined them together on my PC. The first image captured is the one above. The second image is exactly 2 stops of light darker than the first. The third image is 2 stops of light lighter than the first. By combining all three images together, the computer uses the dark areas and light areas in the second and third images to come up with a finished product.

This image is what I actually saw that morning. It was a beautiful way to spend my Christmas eve morning.

Christmas Eve Morning  Patience
Christmas Eve Morning

For me, this was well worth the effort to capture this image. I hope you agree. If you look closely, you will notice a couple of differences between the last two images. As I mentioned, all but the last image was posted here straight out of the camera with no post processing. Obviously the last image had post processing in order to combine the 3 bracketed images together. This image was shot from the Max Brewer Causeway in Titusville, Florida looking southeast. The view from this vantage point in this direction includes the buildings at the Kennedy Space Center on Cape Canaveral. While the space center is several miles away, the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) can be seen from quite a distance. It is a huge building that absolutely dominates any view of the space center. So in the final image, I removed the VAB and also a small stick that was sticking out of the water.

You will also notice in the last image that the rocks in the foreground are no longer black. That’s what the addition of the extra images does for the image. The dark areas become highlighted and the light areas become somewhat darker. The rocks were not dark silhouettes that morning as there was light shining on them and bouncing off other structures to light them up. But the camera can’t see that properly when the exposure is set based on the rising sun. If I set the exposure for the rocks, then the sky becomes a white glob with no details. If I set the exposure based on the sky, then the rocks become dark silhouettes with no detail. By combining the light and dark images with a perfectly exposed image, the post processing software is able to accurately produce the scene before me.

It’s all about the light. Light and shadows.

1 Comment

  • Donna Faylo

    June 2, 2013 at 4:54 pm

    Michael, this is GREAT; and I hear ya re: the birds just don’t listen! They won’t pose on the perches we want them to, will they? NO! “Wouldn’t it be nice if some bird would sit nicely on this tree branch”. Tee hee hee!