It woke me long before dawn, a rumble and boom off in the distance. I wasn’t sure whether a car had crashed out on the road or it was weather-related; I turned my head to better hear what might be when the second boom and a flash filled the bedroom. It was 4:30 a.m. and all was still, but off to the east a storm was rolling in.
I quietly got dressed and grabbed coffee and headed out the door. It’s about a 20 minute drive to my closest preferred shooting spot and it’s always a gamble: you don’t know if your decision to get up and go photo hunting will yield anything or not (in this way, I suppose it’s a lot like any other type of hunting). What I DO know is that staying in bed WON’T.
It wasn’t raining yet but off to the east an impressive storm was shaping up in the early gloom.
I set up and began experimenting. This is a part of the photographic process that I find most interesting and creative: besides composition, what exposure combination will yield the most interesting results? Lightning was flashing sporadically, which would dramatically alter exposure time; the rest of the scene needed something else, though. I began with a 2 minute exposure at f4, ISO 50, my slowest setting. It was just starting to sprinkle, and I used the extra ball cap to cover my camera on the tripod.
Two-minute exposures give you a lot of time to consider your next move. You can fiddle with your smart phone, checking email, or you can walk around and look for a more interesting angle. There’s a little gazebo that I’ve never successfully photographed, and this was my starting point: how to combine it with the water and the lightning storm. I worked with this for about 10 mintutes (4 attempts) before repositioning myself at the water’s edge.
By now the wind had picked up and I needed the umbrella and chamois cloth to keep working. (You can actually wipe your lens front off during a long exposure without negatively affecting the result. Actually, it improves things, since without it the water droplets will create big problems in your final photograph.)
Here the drama was in the cloud structure: big, billowing layers, one on top of another, dark and ominous. By now it was just starting to truly be light and the exposure times needed to change. I shortened the time to 1’20” and closed the lens aperture down to f6.3 for the next few tries, hoping to get lucky with the lightning flashes. In the meantime, mosquitoes were feasting on my ankles in the near-dark. I had forgotten the repellant.
But not to worry, because now the rain was about to get serious: the wind strengthened and I headed for the car just as the sky let loose with a true downpour.
And so it goes. There’s a lot of the mundane in the art-making process, no? This story is pretty typical of what I work through when out shooting: composition, exposure, adjustments, another experiment. There are no rules; it’s always a fresh learning experience. I suppose that’s why I never tire of the process.
Hi, I’m Andrew Boyd, a.k.a. The Discerning Photographer, and I hope this post has been interesting and informative. Please leave me a comment about it, let me know what you’d like to see more of on the site! You can also sign up for email delivery of all future articles or my RSS feed. Or subscribe to our Facebook page or our Twitter feed. Thanks!–DiscerningPhotog