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Saturday, January 23, 2016

Prairie Light

Here comes the sun  (encroaching sunrise, November 2015).

Dear Readers,

Isn't it surprising how the plainest of statements and the briefest of moments can make a lasting impression on our lives? The longer we live, the more meaning some memories take on, becoming the permanent mile-markers or snap-shots in time that continue to shed light on our journey. Truth is, any seemingly inconsequential encounter can inadvertently plant a seed, open our minds to new possibilities, introduce us to something new (usually something that's right under our noses), enhance our powers of observation, or make us more aware of what's around us ... what's in us ... and what's been given to us. For instance, sometime last year I read advice from a photographer who wrote that instead of focusing on objects, we should instead focus on taking pictures of the light, e.g. choosing the camera settings that will best capture the light in the frame rather than the objects.

The lighting effect in this photo looking out from the front stoop of our old farmhouse is due to the time of day (sunrise) and atmospheric conditions of frozen fog or hoar-frost (note how it  covers the tree branches, February 2010).
That comment stuck with me (and if I ever find that link again, I'll share it). I guess one way I come close to doing that is when I take pictures of subjects that are more ethereal to begin with such as clouds, sky, and mist. Such subjects are (usually) far away and less defined; since they are not "solid," they can be challenging for automatic cameras (and everyday photographers, like me) to meter and focus on correctly to bring out their magic. This is especially true in low-light conditions which are when these subjects tend to be at their most dramatic, e.g. dawn and dusk (or as photographers tend to say, the golden hour and the blue hour).

November sunset behind our garage (2015)
In our little corner of the prairie, we get some absolutely glorious sunrises and sunsets. These are especially evident during the late fall and winter months, from November through March. It's taken me a while to realize why that is. During the long days the sun's daily trajectory moves way north on our horizon, starting behind our neighbors' grove of trees in the east and ending behind our outbuildings in the west. While billowing summer skies make spectacular subjects, sunrises and sunsets tend to be problematic because there is no unobstructed view of those points on the horizon. Any pictures of summer sunrises or sunsets tend to be "flanked" by buildings, hidden by trees, and obstructed by telephone poles and cell towers. That's not to say you can't sometimes get a good shot especially if the trees act as a light filter or the silhouette of their branches and leaves gracefully frame the composition.

One of my all-time favorites - the sun rising behind the Jacksons' barn (December 2007)
During the short days the sun's trajectory moves far south on our horizon, starting on the open prairie behind the neighbors' barn and ending behind our horse pasture. Simply put, the sunrise and sunset are much more visible during late fall and winter in our neck of the woods. Amazing that it's taken me ten years of living here to finally reach that conclusion, lol! Anyway, during winter when nature's sounds and colors fade away, don't forget to look upward! :)

Following are some scenes of the the winter prairie that I hope you will enjoy.

Another favorite, our neighbor's barn against the horizon just before sunrise (February 2011)

Beautifully-lit clouds mark a dramatic January sunrise (2015).

Sunrise, sunset - the front of the house and the sky beyond pick up the delicate colors of dawn (left, 2006); the house stands in silhouette against a dusky western sky which still shows traces of the sunset (right, 2007).

Frosty and snowy sunrises (January - March, various years)

Colors of the dawn (2015)

This December sunset after a rainy day was captured with an iphone (December 2015).

Sunsets over the pasture: the two left photos and the top right one were taken this December past (2015). I have a special fondness for the photo in the bottom right-hand corner because it marks the very first dramatic sunset that I witnessed from this old farmhouse (November 2005) - this is the one that got me started looking upward. ;) Even though we had moved only a mile down the road to this new location, I had never seen such views of the horizon from our previous site.

Winter sleigh ride 2011
I'll close with a different take on prairie light, the fact that on short, gloomy days, it can seem non-existent. One bitterly cold and windy winter morning Bonnie and her friend Tony hitched the mules and went for a sleigh ride in the field behind our house. The sky was dark gray making for very low light (see photo on left). The white balance and exposure settings on the camera were also all wrong, but this is where Photoshop comes in handy! To bring in more blue, I composited this photo with one of a blue sky with white clouds and then worked with masks, levels, and blending modes (Stephanie Laird style) to shed more light on this subject (see below).

While far from perfect, this composited scene brings out some very nice detail that was concealed in the original photo and that helps to tell the story of a brusque winter sleigh ride.

Wishing you all a cozy, warm winter and don't forget to look upward - sunrises and sunsets are free!


Photo collages were done with the Atlantas App for Windows 8 and 10

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

GREAT stuff, Jeanne! ;) :D LOVE your photos & the article is special, too. :D