AUG 2011 IMAGE OF THE MONTH - THE LONGEST GRAVEYARD
CONTINUED FROM E-LETTER #12
This months Images of the Month is about two different images that convey the same moods and emotions but in very different, but similar ways.
For almost 10 years I had envisioned a specific image of the Oregon Trail wagon ruts. They were carved into the isolated Eastern Oregon landscape between 1845 and 1860. Approximately 50,000 wagons, carrying about 350,000 pioneers, made that 2,000 mile journey. The Oregon Trail is often called the Longest Graveyard because of the approximately 30,000 deaths along the trail. The dead were usually buried in the trail to hide the presence of the graves from looters, vandals and varmints. There was approximately one death for every 100 yards along the Oregon Trail.
This month I chose to include two images instead of the customary single Image of the Month. I had always imagined the final image would be B&W to best depict the raw beauty of such a lonely, harsh landscape.
In the end, I came away with two images that seemed to portray the mood and emotion of what the pioneers must have seen and felt. In the end each image captured that mood and portrayed those emotions while in significant contrast to each other. This experience, in fact this learning moment, is really what this months Image of the Month article is about.
The sepia B&W certainly conveys the emotion I experienced while working on this project. The wagon ruts seemingly going to infinity must have been what the pioneers saw and thought about week after week as they traveled the 2,000 miles to Oregon. It must have seemed that it would never end. This image was captured shortly after sundown with a mostly overcast sky highlighted with small sun breaks on the distant horizon.
I choose a fairly low vantage point with a modified Near/Far composition while paying close attention to the angle of the road and the compositional component it brought to the overall scene. I purposely placed the imagined end of the road in the upper right Power Point of the image. My thought was to let the viewer imagine a subject, where there really was none. Sometimes an imagined point is more powerful than trying to place a tree, or building or ??. Simply let the viewer come to their own conclusion. The composition in this image is strong enough to carry the entire message and keep the viewer engaged in the scene. Most enter in the lower left and follow the diminishing lines of the wagon ruts to the horizon, then to the highlights in the sky and then back to the left bottom corner to repeat the journey through time.
Because of the subdued light level I was able to capture the entire scene with a single exposure by simply paying close attention to my histogram to ensure the entire tonal range fell within the white and black points of my meter.
The utilization of Sepia B&W was the perfect choice for this scene. The landscape is drab, dreary and lonely. B&W carries that burden with ease.
The second image was shot in the early morning several days before the B&W image. The clouds were of significant importance simply in the way they fell into place as I watched the morning light fall across the landscape. This image was captured in the same area as the B&W view except with a little higher orientation with the camera and a wider angle lens.
As the scene unfolded I was drawn to the repetition created by the clouds in relation to the wagon ruts. In this scene color seemed to really add to the mood of the image. The almost perfect focal point of the wagon ruts with the clouds seemed to be one of natures sign posts showing the way to the new lives that awaited the pioneers.
I rarely place my horizons in the middle of an image. Its one of those compositional rules that usually does not work too well in that it divides the subject matter, equally, between foreground and background. In this case I felt that was exactly what the scene needed. It was a little like looking at the water swirling around the drain in a sink.............it was the focal point, and the wagon ruts and the sky were joined in the middle.
The wider angle lens allowed me to create a vertical pano crop thereby balancing the lower half with the upper half of this lonely beautiful scene.
When I shot this image I had to be very careful with my exposure. A lot of photographers don't recognize that allowing their camera to work on automatic will usually end up with the clouds in the scene being over exposed by at least two to three stops. There is a lot of dark in the foreground that will fool your meter on an auto setting.
To get it right I quickly shot two or three images, on manual, of just the sky, and closely checked my histogram to make sure I was able to retain detail in the brightest cloud in the scene. I then did the same with the foreground and then selected an exposure on Manual that preserved the whites in the clouds and barely held the shadows as well. I was able to shoot this scene with a single frame with a RAW capture, of course.
Later in the lab I did a RAW conversion of the master image paying very close attention to JUST THE FOREGROUND. Then, I did a second RAW Conversion with adjustments specifically focused on the horizon and sky.
This gave me two master files to work with. One for the lower half of the scene and one for the upper half of the scene. Both from the single original RAW capture.
I then merged the two files together, made some minor adjustments and corrections, sharpened just a little and the image was finished.
The detail in the wagon ruts, sagebrush, hills and sky all served to complete the image that demonstrated the feelings, senses and emotion I was looking for in this remote and memorable area. "by the way, without those clouds...this is an image that likely would never have seen the light of day".
When it all comes together it really works. So, in the end you have two very different images, shot two very different ways, processed differently yet both do a very nice job of conveying the feelings and emotions of this trail of hardship, sadness, lonelyness, fear, joy and accomplishment. Thank you for taking this journey with me..................Vern