The making of a landscape image – Floating Crumbs

By Mel Sinclair (One Stop Photo Workshops tutor for Brisbane)

Jokulsarlon, Iceland, September 14 2012
Jokulsarlon, Iceland, September 14 2012

“How lucky are you right now?” my alter ego spoke to me in disbelief.

“Seriously! Shake your head, bat your eyelids, yes kiddo, this is real, you are really standing at the edge of a glacial lagoon on the other side of the world!”

There has to be something said for consciousness when, as a landscape photographer, you’re standing in front of a scene like this. A little over a year ago, I was standing at the foot of the 25km-round Jokulsarlon lagoon in southern Iceland at sunrise. I was 15,873km from home and 11 days into a 21-day trip of a lifetime.

Let me take you back to this morning. Despite it being ‘autumn’ in Iceland, it was remarkably cold for a Queenslander such as myself! Average daily maximum was about 10 degrees, colder with wind chill. Sunrise took, on average, about an hour or two to complete – it was slow and graceful like a ballerina, with the colours and flare to match. The beauty was a welcome distraction from the fact that, despite my 3-4 layers of clothing, I still could not feel my hands or toes. Thank goodness for remote releases!

Depending on the month, in Iceland the sun never sets. In September however, we had “normal” (as defined by Australian sunrise/sunset times for winter) sunrise times, but they lasted longer due to the country’s proximity to the Arctic Circle. We had about a 2-3 hour sunrise, with the best of the light happening about an hour into the rise when the sky turned pink and reflected beautifully over the lagoon.

In a location such as this, where you’re the tourist in a far and foreign land, taking as many exposures as possible becomes something of a habit. Bracketing to 3 or 5 stops, depending on the location, was a necessity. Three stops required -1, 0, +1 and 5 stops required -2, -1, 0, +1, +2 to ensure I had accounted for all light situations. Combined with the power of shooting RAW, I have a great depth of choice when it comes to the post-processing.

You don’t have the chance to go back and re-take the shot – all the ice changes day to day. This composition wouldn’t have been there even an hour or two after I took it. That’s the intricate beauty of Jokulsarlon, it’s ever-changing.

So what have I done to this image to get it in its current state?

First things first, in Lightroom I cleaned up any dust bunnies and made sure that the image was straight and the horizon was level. I recovered any outstanding highlights to make sure the image was within acceptable ranges of exposure. I then took it into some third-party plugin software, Nik Viveza 2, where I did spot adjustments to different parts of the image. Typical adjustments are different from what you’d get in Photoshop or even lightroom. A spot adjustment in Nik Viveza 2 is about playing with 10 different sliders: – Brightness, Contrast, Saturation, Structure, Shadow, Warmth, Red, Green, Blue and Hue. Depending on where you drop the point, the effects are different. You can add so much drama to a scene, but beware of the noise! I’d love to show you one day the dramatic difference that this program can make to an image!

I love the things I am capable of doing in the Nik suite, and count it as a must-have for any serious landscape photographer. Because this was an individual adjustment, there is no hard-and-fast recipe. It relies on your keen sense of what’s right for an image – and yes, you can go overboard, it’s up to you ;)

For me, Iceland was the trip that changed my photography. It changed me for the better, it (seemed) to put me on the map. I learnt so much about myself and my style of image taking in those 3 weeks. It was a trip that didn’t come cheaply, but it was worth every cent after all.

It took 3 days of flying to get there. I had 20 days on the ground with fellow photographer and friend, Josh Robertson.

Be guaranteed that I’m going back in 2014. Bigger, better, and well equipped.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *