Landscape photography is not catching a single fleeting human moment such as street photography. Your subject usually does not move and what will make a real difference between a bad, good and extraordinaire picture will depend of you, the photographer but also of the weather and the lighting. You can’t control environmental light but you can be ready to act at the right time, when the light is good.
Usually, it is at the golden hour, either sunrise and little bit before or before, during and after sunset. As of weather, you can check the meteo but even then, they may be mistaken and there can be that 10 seconds sun piercing through the clouds at the exact moment, you just have to be courageous and little bit lucky.
This shot was taken in Patagonia at the very famous Perito Moreno Glacier near Calafate. I had booked the Big Ice Tour, which is a walk of about 4 hours on the glacier and I totally recommend it, one of the best photo opportunity ever! It really feels like being on another planet. Funny fact; that was on April 30th which was the final possible day to do this long hike due to winter arriving. Had I been there just one day after it would have been too late. Very lucky indeed. I wanted to see the glacier first before the hike, in the morning, to take advantage of morning light but as were not very familiar with Argentinian roads and the rental car, we arrived just on time for the hike and had to post pone those pictures after the tour.
Sometimes, a sight will be more impressive from outside far away than inside; the Pyramids, most cathedrals, castles (Castles are so boring from the inside!) but it was not the case for the glacier. The sights were stunning and the pictures directly on the ice were as impressive but I still wanted “that shot” from further away where you could feel all the “grandiose” of the glacier. I wanted to show how it felt, the never ending land of ice in front of you.
So after the tour ended and the little boat ride with the obligatory whisky cooled down with ice from the glacier, it started raining. That was bad news. You’re tired, the light seems horribly dull, dark and useless and it rains. I regretted not waking up early but it was useless, you have to take a decision, you won’t go back there the day after but the car ride to the view of the glacier took another 30 minutes and that meant driving a long way in the dark and the rain to reach the town of El Calafate after. All that for maybe a dark and lifeless picture of the glacier. Well, we took the chance, and the cold.
That is one of the advantage of renting a car and having as much liberty as possible. While the rest of the group was warmly sleeping off or drinking the rest of the whisky comfortably in the bus, we had the chance of driving on a wet road in the dark to go freeze our asses off in the rain, talk about good choices!
Needless to say there was not many people at the observatory and I urged to the bottom of the endless stairs to take pictures of the monster from as close as possible. I knew which picture I wanted and how it would look; the glacier from left to right, the whole of it, with only water in the lower part of the picture. Problem was that when at the bottom of the stair, I was too close to the glacier and even a 17mm on a full frame was not wide enough…I had the water but not the whole glacier and to make things worse it was raining badly and the light was horrible. After taking a couple of shots I noticed that the glacier itself was reflecting light upwards, into the clouds directly above it, giving the impression of glowing…something was definitely happening there! I climbed the stairs again to try to get myself further from it but I now also had all the observatory and forest in the picture. It was one or the other and I still prefer the wider angle from upstairs that make the glacier go forever. Now even the observatory does not bother me as it really gives the idea of how it is to stand there.
A couple of seemingly minor adjustments on Lightroom with filters and exposure allowed me to reach a good exposure overall and I’ve worked a lot with gradient filters to emphasize the idea that light is coming from the glacier. I’ve done that by adding darker filters in the corner and lighter ones in the middle as well as at the bottom to get the details from the trees. It finally was a good idea to risk it in the rain and the cold. Plus, it made the after-hike Argentinian steak even better after. Seriously, their filet mignon is just amazing. Just sip a little Cabernet from Mendoza and with the steak and you seriously can’t ask for anything more in life.
I kept the ISO relatively down but I still wanted an acceptable depth of field, which the 5.6 gave me. I did not have Brian, my tripod, with me (maybe I should have) and 1/400 was more than fast enough to assure me a sharp shot handheld.
Important things to remember if you do not want to read the whole story even though you should
- Aim for the best possible light, sunrise or sunset
- Try to plan according to weather forecast but even if it seems bad, try it!
- Do not pay attention to the speed limits in Patagonia
- Get the picture of what you want in your head before but still…
- Try many different angles
- In the rain, keep your lenses hood on, your lens aimed down when not shooting and shoot quickly to get as little water as possible (you have to wipe it after and it takes time)
- Small aperture (big fstop number) for landscape and large depth of field
- Wide angle lenses are your friends for landscape images
- Keep ISO low for more details
- In post-process, gradient filters are your best friends, use them wisely and accomplish miracles
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