When I was down at Waterfront Park, the night before last, I was there because I expected some dramatic clouds and colors at sunset due to the thunderstorm that had passed through Louisville an hour or so before sunset. I had consulted my cloud map and it looked promising, based on the wind speeds and direction, for some dramatic skies. I set up my tripod facing west and captured some incredible images of the downtown bridges. The wind was kicking up and the remnants of the storm were scudding across the sky. I happened to turn around to look at the Big Four Bridge where I saw this scene unfolding.
Because the clouds were moving so fast I knew it was futile to try to bracket the shot so I looked at my histogram and started firing test shots. Once I had dialed in a setting that gave me a slightly underexposed histogram I just started firing the camera. I know from experience with scenes such as this that the biggest pitfall I face is too much light in the highlight areas which is why I chose a slight underexposure setting. I shoot almost exclusively in Aperture Priority mode in order to be able to predict and control my depth of field and this evening was no exception. I was using f9.5 and letting the camera choose the shutter speed based on the exposure value I was using. The clouds were moving very fast and I shot around 20-25 frames before they were no longer in a position that I liked.
Once I was back at the studio I started going through the images from this scene and chose this one for the position of the clouds and the way the golden hour light was shining on the bridge. I opened it in Aperture 3 and straightened the horizon before sending it into NIK HDR Efex Pro 2. Once inside NIK HDR Efex Pro 2 I started looking at the various presets and tried the Realistic Deep preset that I like to begin with for most landscape shots. I didn’t particularly like the effect it was having on the clouds so I switched to the Landscape presets where I discovered the preset I felt gave the best results. I then started adjusting the tonal range and structure until I had brought out the detail in both the clouds and the bridge. Once I was satisfied with the basic image I returned it to Aperture 3 where I further enhanced the color using the Vibrancy adjustment, along with the Exposure panel controls, to fine tune the image. Finally I adjusted the sharpness slightly and saved the image.
My point with the title of this post is that too often we photographers are focused on getting a particular image that we have in mind and fail to see the other great opportunities that are around us. As photographers we need to be “present in the moment” in order to capture the mystery and beauty that surrounds us. This whole scene came and went in a matter of minutes and there is no way that I could have foreseen this situation. If I hadn’t taken the time to look back behind myself I would have missed what I think is a dynamic and powerful image.