Making of... 'Blackwater Dusk'

23rd October 2010

It looks like a pretty straightforward image but making it involved a few challenges. The composition was clear: The boats would provide the foreground interest and the narrowing estuary would act as a leading line into the picture. The problem was that the boats were very close to the pier and I had to balance very (very, very...) close to the edge to get them cosily into the frame.
The next step was to balance the exposure. A hard 0.9 ND graduate filter balanced the sky with the, in most parts, dark foreground. However the brightness values of the reflections on the water were very similar to the ones in the sky, which means they would have been overexposed if I only used the ND grad for the sky. I had two choices: Use an additional soft ND grad or try a polarizer. The soft ND grad would have balanced the exposure but would also have darkened the forest to a degree where most of the detail would have been lost. So I went for the polarizer but used just enough polarization to reduce the reflection enough to avoid blowing the highlights. After a test exposure I compensated by -2/3 steps and all was fine.
Well, almost all... Light was fading rapidly and my exposure time measured in seconds. Usually not a big problem when the camera is on a tripod but here the boats were moving quite a bit. With a 8 second exposure the bopping boats would have been completely blurred... not good. I started with increasing the ISO setting from 100 to 250. I didn't dare increase any more because noise levels would have become to much for my liking. This brought my exposure time down to around 4 seconds... still too long. Next step would be to use a smaller f-stop. For landscapes I usually use around f 20 to gain maximum depth of field. But I also use tilt & shift lenses. This means I can achieve maximum depth of field by tilting the lens and still use a small f-stop. In this case f 10 and my exposure time was down to 1 second.

This was still rather long under the circumstances (as you can see in the 100% crop of one of the blurred exposures above) and I had to make several shots until I got a sharp one.
All this took place during a very busy 30 minutes or so and I was just finished when the light in the sky disappeared. Perfect timing, perfect evening.

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