How I Got the Shot - Rocher Percé

This is the first post of a separate category on my new blog; How I Got the Shot. I will explain the story behind some of my shots and what was the technique and equipment being used to get such results. I'll try to keep it quick and simple but by all means, do give me some comments of what you would like. I would also love to know which pictures you would like to learn more about.

These posts will be sometimes in English, sometimes in French but I am considering always translating in both languages, would it be more accommodating for you?

Without any further talking, I will begin this new category with a picture from my homeland, Quebec!

The Rocher Percé in all its morning beauty, want to know How I Got the Shot?

The Rocher Percé in all its morning beauty, want to know How I Got the Shot?

First of all, I must admit something that I am not very proud of as a photographer. It is really hard for me to wake up early to catch sunrise. I know it’s very important but I’m just terrible at waking up. I’ve tried everything, 7 alarm clocks at 5 min interval, death metal music as an alarm but nothing! If I don’t have someone somewhere waiting for me and forcing me to wake up, well I’m in trouble.

This is why I am even more proud of this shot, I woke up super early, all by myself! This shot is taken in Percé in the province of Quebec in the Gaspesie region, which is the home region of my family, mother side. I have seen this famous Rocher Percé (pierced rocked) many times but I never had “the picture” I wanted, that is with a rising sun and a red sky. 

As the sun is setting in the valley on the other side, it creates a rather dull light on the rock and the interesting one really is at sunrise. I checked online at what time would be sunrise next morning and it was due at 4h15 so I dutifully set my alarm at 4h and prepared everything.

What it looked like from behind the lens. That pretty chap holding the camera is Brian the Tripod, from 3 Legged Thing, good stuff.

Tripod plate attached to the camera, second most used lens attached, cards cleaned, batteries ready, everything good to go so I just had to grab my stuff and run 3 minutes. Always prepare your gear before and know where you will be shooting. Don’t go organizing your things in a rush in the dark for then running around everywhere, trying to find a good angle frenetically while the light is getting good. You don’t want that, especially if you couldn’t grab a coffee beforehand. If you can get a coffee, I strongly urge you to as it will greatly improve your photographic skills.

I take the opportunity to express my deepest thanks to the girl that was having a cold and coughing non- stop the whole night in the dorm room. At 3h30 in the morning, 30 minutes before my alarm clock, tired of not being able to sleep, I looked outside and saw the sky was a deep red. That was earlier than schedule but I hurried up, took my stuff and ran to the docks.

I quickly began to frame with the 70-200mm but as it was too narrow I switched back to the 24-70mm. That’s a trick I use sometimes, I knew I would shoot more with the wider angle but still had the 70-200 mounted on the camera for the first shot. I knew I wanted at least a couple of shots with a longer focal so I start with this one, to have it done at the beginning and keep the 24-70 the rest of the time after instead of switching twice. It gave me an image with a different angle than usual, illustrating the contrast between the huge and dark wall of rock and the deepness of the red of the clouds.

Also note that it is always better to have clouds instead of an empty sky for dramatic sunset and sunrises as clouds are a mean of absorbing and reflecting light and colors, not only adding texture to the picture but better saturation. 

At the actual sunrise, light was already fading and becoming ordinary.

If I had not woken up before sunrise, I would only have gotten this thing of a picture

As I was shooting, fishermen boats were going to work and I made sure my shutter speed was quick enough to be able to see them in the picture but not so fast as it would give the impression of movement. By the time I was done shooting 10+ pictures, it was 4:00 and the sun was almost fully risen and the light was now a very casual whitish yellow. If I had woken up at 4:00 like intended and started shooting at 4:15, sunrise, I would have had boring, bland casual light pictures.  This is the important point; if you do not have the chance to have someone coughing in your dorm room, set your alarm early enough to be able to arrive on the scene at least 30 minutes before sunrise. All of this, after having scouted the location and prepared your gear the day before.

Both shots are taken at the lowest possible ISO to retain as much details as possible while keeping the shutter speed long enough to have a smooth water and clouds. I took a larger aperture on the first one to have a faster shutter speed to get the boat and I just wanted a longer time on the second one to have as much color as possible. 

Technical details to remember;

  •    Long shutter speed, tripod, cable release or timer
  •    Low ISO for high details
  •   Small aperture for large depth of field and longer exposure time (smoother water and richer colors)

Not so technical details to remember;

  •           Wake up early for best light, way before the sunrise official time
  •           Scout the location the day before so you don’t have to find a good spot while in the dark
  •           Good coffee = good pictures; great coffee = great pictures