Technique - Sunrise at Laguna Torre / by Glenn Dixon

I scrambled about the crumbling rocks along the shoreline of Laguna Torre just before deybreak. I knew that at any moment the first rays of sun would slam into the mountains. I almost had my background, it was just moments away. But what about the foreground? I spotted these stranded icebergs on the shore and setup my camera fairly close to the ground. It was then my story revealed itself. It was a tale of waters voyage through this spectacular landscape. Water would fall from these lenticular clouds in the form of snow. From snow the water would, over time compact into glacial ice. The glacial ice would eventually break free and float out into the lonely lagoon. Occasionally that ice would become stranded on shore, washed in with the fluctuating tides. There the sun would sculpt the ice into magnificent forms before returning it to the sky once more through evaporation. I want to take a moment to share the technical and artistic decisions behind this photograph with you. Please skip this section if you just like viewing photographs. Additional stories and preceding photographs can be found in the sister article: The gift of Laguna Torre

Shutter Speed: 76.3 seconds. I wish there was some higher order thinking process involved in selecting a 76.3 second shutter speed. 76.3 sounds awfully precise and scientific. Not at all characteristic of the primal and instinctive calling of a purist’s art form. Is it perhaps the cold logical functionality of modernism? Surely not! The truth is I set my shutter speed to “bulb” and used a remote cable release to hold the shutter open. Nothing more romantic than that. I do not own a digital cable release that allows you to preselect exposure times with a digital display. I just had a guess based off a few test exposures and sheer impatience. The goal was to leave the shutter open for long enough, rendering the water and icebergs in the middle ground with a sense of motion and subtle fluidity. Achieving this would allow a wonderful conceptual contrast between the fluent middle ground and the rigid foreground and backgrounds.

Focal Length: 30mm. I wanted to strike balance between the perspective a wide angle lens provides, ie greatly exaggerating diagonal lines and space, and the apparent compression of a telephoto lens. If the choice of lens was too wide, the mountain peaks would be too small in the frame. If the lens was too long the foreground would loose it’s sweeping presence and strong geometric elements. The choice of 30mm afforded a sweeping foreground while maintaining adequate physical presence in the dramatically lit mountain peaks.

Aperture: f14. F14 gave me enough depth of field while still maintaining significant sharpness throughout the scene. If I had my time again I might have pushed it to f16 or above to slightly increase the perceivable sharpness of the distant mountains.

Manual focus. Set 1/3 of the way into the scene somewhere near the waters edge.

ISO: 200. This is as low as my camera goes, minimising the amount of noise during the long exposure.

Filters: Lee “Big Stopper” 10 stop neutral density filter and a Lee 0.6 hard edge graduated neutral density filter. Stacked using Lee’s filter holder system. The “Big Stopper” reduced the amount of light entering the lens by 10 stops, allowing much longer exposure times. The graduated filter was used to reduce the dynamic range between the direct spot light on the mountains and the significantly darker foreground lit by reflected light.

Last but no means least ingredient on the list: A very sturdy tripod and a closed eyepiece (prevents light from leaking in through the viewfinder).

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