David Noton's Room With a View

April 21, 2009 | Mark Goldstein | Photography Techniques | Comment | |

First Dusk

As the day wore on ominous clouds started to build over the Drakensberg. Now the sun is setting, I think, but it has long since been lost behind the towering clouds. It doesn’t look hopeful, nature may impose an evening off whatever my good intentions. So I sit on the deck, contemplating the Meaning of Life, watching the dusk settle. Thunder can be heard to the west, and the odd flash of lightning flickers over the mountains. Just in case I’ve the camera ready on my Giotto, but I do have to admit I have a Glenlivet in hand, ice clinking, and the brai is lit. Oh dear, my cover as an intrepid roving photographer is well and truly blown with this one, isn’t it?

The colour temperature of the ambient light is soaring as the light fades, giving the scene a cool, threatening mood. Clouds are rolling off the escarpment, marbling and swirling; this is starting to look good. The one theme that has been a feature of this trip is the African skies, full of drama and endlessly variable. I frame the composition to emphasise the anger of the heavens. On my Canon 1Ds mkIII I have the 14mm f2.8 lens. On this super wide lens with its sensuously curved front element I can’t use filters. With no light on the valley their is too much of a contrast range to handle in one exposure so I’ll have to do two. Apart from that there’s no great technique to this shot, the drama of the sky does it all. As always the camera’s white balance is resolutely set to daylight. That is of course largely irrelevant, as I’m shooting RAW. All that will effect is the display on the Canon’s monitor and the colour temperarure that the image is imported into my Capture One 4 Pro RAW conversion software at. Generally speaking I hardly ever alter the colour balance of a landscape. If the light is warm and golden I want it to record as such, and if, as is the case tonight, I’m under dark threatening skies the high colour temperatures are all part of the mood. The last thing I want to do is start to fiddle with Mother Nature, she doesn’t take kindly to it. I also feel a duty and a need to remain faithful to her; my images must be essentially real. No matter how striking an image is if the viewer perceives it to be a lie the impact is lost. All of my work behind the camera and back in the digital darkroom is geared to recording the extremes of her ever-changing moods.

David Noton's Room With a View

14mm lens, 0.3 sec @ f8, ISO 100

For just a few minutes the sky is a textured canvas of anger, blue and swirled, absolutely beautiful in its elemental simplicity. I shoot various compositions vertically and horizontally, Wendy’s next to me clicking away on her G9. Shoot, check exposures, think. I sweep my eye from corner to corner of the frame. Go tighter or wider? Don’t ponse about too much; this light will be gone in a matter of seconds. But what a bonus; Africa just keeps delivering the unexpected.

Afterwards I scroll through the shoot, the ice has melted in my whisky but I’m buzzing. Look at those skies! No one will believe this image isn’t an example of the Black Arts of Photoshop manipulation or HDR Wizardry.

First Dawn

David Noton's Room With a View

24-70mm lens @ 60mm, 1/8 sec @ f11, ISO 100, polarising filter

My body clock rings its usual alarm before the first glimmer lights up the eastern horizon and I’m up and sat with a coffee watching dawn break over the Drakensberg. It’s clear as a bell, no cloud, no mist, no mood, but it’s a dramatic, epic view; I could sit here for days just looking at it. In fact, that’s exactly what I am going to do. Photographically this dawn isn’t making me squeak, the absence of cloud means there’s no twilight effects. So I sit, and wait for the light. Eventually the first direct sunlight starts painting the landscape, creeping down into the valley. I have to wait what seems an eternity until the trees below are bathed in light, and with each passing minute the light loses its soft warm quality. With a few clouds bubbling up over the escarpment I finally expose. I’ve the 24-70mm f2.8 L lens on. It is predictably my most used lens; versatile and sharp as a bell. I used to use all prime lenses, being distrustful of zooms. But a long hard look at my working practices in a rare moment of perception revealed just how much time I was spending bent over my Lowepro changing optics and fiddling with filter rings just when the light was at its best. I’m exposing now with a polariser saturating the colour, but I’m not squeaking. I have perfect side lighting on the scene with crystal clarity after the nights rain, but it’s kind of boring compared to last night’s dramatics.

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