Mirror Lake Tree SunsetTree silhouette at Mirror Lake State Park, WI. See my blog post on this image: http://www.ernestoruizphotography.com/blog/2017/1/mirror-lake-tree-sunset---behind-the-camera
That Desperate Feeling at Sunset
Some time last year, while driving home from a run to the hardware store, my wife observed that sunsets seem to have turned stressful for me since becoming a photographer. You see, we were witnessing the most jaw-dropping sunset imaginable (at least she was, I was getting glimpses in my rear view mirror while she assured me it wasn't "that great"), and I was kicking myself for missing it. I may or may not have been pouting or groaning... it's hard to recall.
Most of the time I think of photography as a positive force that drives me to get out more and see sunrises that I would have otherwise slept through, and experience sunsets more deeply. But her point is valid; there have been times when I stress over the sunsets that I have missed capturing, while running forgettable errands or simply failing to find a suitable foreground for making an image.
The sunset in the image above was nearly another one of those missed opportunities. "Mirror Lake Tree Sunset" was captured at Mirror Lake State Park in Wisconsin, as we wrapped up our two-day drive from Toronto back to our home in Saint Paul. Driving down Highway 94 that afternoon, I kept watching the clouds and wishing for the perfect subject to appear along the road, knowing that the sky was looking promising for sunset. The unassuming little State Park was a bit of a long shot but I agreed to stop at my wife's insistence. We visited the lake first, but the windy day and sunset angle were not going to help in making a great image there. So the scramble began as we started looking for an alternate location to shoot, just as the colors started appearing in the sky. Sunset colors don't last long, and we seemed hopelessly lost in a grid of rural roads without a proper subject.
"...it seemed desperate and possibly too late to try running through the thick grasses. Besides, who knew what I might step in or trip over on the way?"
Then, after some crazy minutes of speeding along the little roads under the colors, we saw this tree in the distance. Last year, in a similar rush for a foreground subject at sunset, I shot a tree silhouette in Afton that worked out great, so I thought, why not again? The problem was the big field of tall grasses standing between me and the prairie area where I could get a clean shot of the tree.
For what seemed like an hour (but was really probably half a minute) I hesitated, as it seemed desperate and possibly too late to try running through the thick grasses. Besides, who knew what I might step in or trip over on the way? But my wife, knowing me too well, insisted. It can't be that bad, she said, and I would regret not trying. (She may have been pretty wrong about the first thing, but not about the second.) So we parked the car on the side of the road and ran like crazy.
Capturing the Image
The tall "grasses" turned out to be a dense, prickly thicket with uneven terrain. After bushwhacking through the stuff for a few slow and desperate minutes, I (we) got to the clearing with plenty of stuff stuck to our clothes and an especially prickly something that had found its way into my shoe; I was almost hoping on one leg by the end. I quickly mounted my telephoto lens and looked at multiple ways to frame the tree, settling on the off-center composition with lots of sky. I had to set the tripod low, so that the landscape covered other distractions in the distant background. While I missed the colors on the foreground clouds, which had been lit up just a minute earlier, I still like how the dark grey clouds play off against the colors behind them.
"...you could argue that in this image the tree and the sky are both trying to be the star of the show."
I think it works, but it's interesting how different this image is from the previous silhouette that I had shot in Afton, MN. The simpler sky in that image served as a more neutral background for the tree, while you could argue in that in this image the tree and the sky are both trying to be the star of the show.
The image was shot at 88mm, ISO 100 (for a cleaner file), f8.0 aperture (sweet spot for sharpness) and 1/13 second shutter speed (there were no leaves to flap around in the wind).
As we took a more leisurely and careful hike on the way back to the car, my wife admitted to have underestimated just how inconvenient the little trek would be (confession evidenced on the video to the right). It was not until the next day that I realized I had lost both my lens cap and hood for the lens I used; I probably left them sitting in the darkness next to the camera bag in my rush to get in and out of there (and get that thing out of my shoe!). Though the image I captured may not have been that perfect shot I was hoping for while we drove around like mad, it is the shot I got. Best of all, rather than kicking myself over a missed opportunity, I walked away with an image I like and one heck of a memory.
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