We live in the wide brown country yes? Well, not everywhere. There are the most amazing variants of colour and texture in the Australian Landscape waiting for us to see them and capture for our enjoyment.
Everyone says to shoot in the golden hour right? Do you know what they mean by that? It is the brief time after dawn which lasts until the sun starts to climb into the sky and again just before and often just after sunset.
Shooting during the golden hour gives you brighter stronger colours with deeper reds and yellows and because the sun isn't right up there the contrast between the ground and the sky is low enough that your sensor can capture both without washing out (over exposing) the sky or dark ground (underexposing). Poor exposure loses information in the image. You end up with pure whites (RGB values maxed out at 255, 255, 255) or pure blacks (0, 0, 0) which almost never really occur in nature. The effect this has is to rob the magic from your image by reducing the contrast and giving us unnatural colours.
The image below is a semi rural scene right on the outskirts of Melbourne's eastern suburbs in Rowville.
Even when we shoot at this time within a couple of hours of sunrise the sun climbs high into the sky. As it climbs it becomes harder for your sensor to cope with the contrast in brightness between ground and sky. While the image above it certainly acceptable it doesn't have much punch. It's a nice image of a grassy swampy field with some farm land in the background. It's nice to look at but it doesn't really capture the attention even though it is properly exposed and the composition follows thirds and has some nice variation from front to back.
So what can you do about it? Well you could post process the crap out of it and bring down the sky and maybe you could improve it. You could probably add some clarity and improve the contrast with your sliders... or you could do what perhaps should have been done in the first place. Add a polarising filter and a graduated neutral density filter to tone down the sky. So many people think I'll just fix it in post. Don't. Your life is too short so why waste it and sometimes you can't. Spend a few seconds and bung on some filters instead of sitting frustrated at the computer for half an hour on the image, unless of course you like doing that!
What a difference between these two images. They're shot one after the other and with a slight delay as I put the polariser and the ND8 filter into my filter holder. They are the same f/stop they're both shot at f/11. This one at 1/25th of a second and the other at 1/40th. The two filters reduced the light so much the shutter had to stay open longer to compensate.
The two filters together have deepened all of the colours and made the sky more of a spectacle improving the tonal range of the image dramatically. The greens and browns of the foreground have been enhanced. The field grasses in the background have better greens and the trees are green instead of grey and the sky has taken on a wonderful deep blue. Overall there is much more contrast between the two images.
The real story comes from the histograms as seen on the camera back (you do look don't you?) and within my file catalogue manager of choice Lightroom. The first image shows quite a flat set of colours without reaching that magic 18% saturation on a lot of the graph. Both the darker (left) and brighter (right) areas have issues with the darker space being unrepresented and the brighter area of the sky to the right being strongly over saturated in the whites. The second histogram is for the second image and shows good saturation right across the board reaching or exceeding that magic 18% in most of the channels. It has cut back on the white in the image to almost nothing but the blacks now have representation and the other peaks are much stronger in all channels but especially reds.
As always, feel free to comment constructively. I'm always happy to hear from you, especially now that Blogger comments are visible on g+ we can really interact and have a conversation. If you've got a question, please ask because others probably have the same one.