When I ventured into White Pocket last spring, one of the areas that caught my immediate attention was these unique sandstone ridges on the ground. They appeared to me like an amphitheater from another planet. I started to work on it as soon as I arrived there. This area slopes towards east, it became obvious to me that the best time to photograph here is at early morning when the sun just lights up the sandstone. After trying various compositions, I determined my favorite angle – shooting the scene with a vertical towards north so that the sandstone ridges lead to the hills at distance.
I arrived at the scene every morning before sunrise. However, I was facing the common dilemma in landscape photography – the light. For three days, the sky towards north was featureless. My composition will not work without an interesting sky because that is where these ridges lead viewer’s attention to. So, I decided to camp one more night before I give up and go back home. The fourth morning when I got out of the tent, the sky was so cloudy that I could not see the stars. But I still hiked in there, even knowing the chance of a good sunrise is slim.
The magic happened at sunrise. The cloud at east opened a narrow gap to let the sun lit up whole sky. I was there, and ready. No need to think about composition and camera settings. I knew exactly what to do. I quickly took a few shots with various exposure compensations. Five minutes later, the light faded away and never returned.
Two exposures that were used for the final image were taken with 16mm, f16, iso200, one with 1/8 second exposure for the foreground, and the other with 1/32 second for the sky.
I loaded both images into two separate layers in Photoshop, with the darker exposure at bottom and the brighter exposure on top. I carefully selected the sky of top layer and deleted it, then merged two images together. More post processing was done to enhance the color and contrast. The result is exactly what I hoped for. The light and composition came together. The light adds warm glow to the sandstone, while the ridges lead attention to the sky.
So, tips of the day are:
In an uncertain or high contrast light condition, always take several pictures with various exposure settings to capture the entire range of light. Memory is cheap but opportunity is priceless.
Don’t give up too easily. The last moment at scene might turn out to be the best moment. But when the moment comes, you better be ready.