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Blending Exposures

Blending Exposures

The Quiraing, part of the Trotternish peninsula on the north east of the Isle of Skye in Scotland, is a spectacular location; an ideal paradise for landscape photographers. Even if you are not a photographer, just standing on the cliffs watching a spectacular sunrise during a freezing cold winter’s morning, is enough to take your breath away.

This is an area that has been created by a series of vast landslides, probably going back thousands or even millions of years. Some sections of the landslide are still active, as evidenced by the need for regular repairs to the local road. The geology of the Trotternish peninsula consists of Jurassic sediments, clays, shale and sandstones overlaid by thick lava flows. Perhaps it is not surprising that I keep imagining dinosaurs appearing from the sides of the hills.

Parts of the distinctive landscape have earned particular names. The Needle is a jagged 120 ft. (37 m) high landmark pinnacle. North west of it is The Table, a flat grassy area which has slipped down from the summit plateau. South west is the Prison, a pyramidal rocky peak which can look like a medieval keep when viewed from the right angle.

Usually, humility and insignificance are the two words that come to my mind, as I feel like a tiny speck of dust when standing in the middle of this vast and awe inspiring landscape.

If all this is not enough to leave you awestruck, you just need to extend your view across the water towards the Torridon Hills and the mountains of Wester Ross on the north part of Scotland’s mainland.

As I have always been lured by this scarred land and not just the open views, I wanted to record this brutal, desolate, yet mesmerising landscape from a different point of view and with great veracity, just as I had envisioned many times in the past. To achieve this, I had to be there to witness a glorious sunrise with very little or no clouds in the sky; one of those sunrises where the only colour you can see on the horizon is the pre-glow of the rising sun.

The plan

I like planning most of my photography, whenever possible, so this concept also had to be planned. But the problem is how to plan a sunrise in Scotland, a country infamous for its unpredictable weather patterns? Nevertheless, the concept was planned; all I had to do was to wait for a break in the weather. At some point during August 2012, the weather forecast was very promising and, indeed, was one of those occasions when it was accurate.

All my gear was checked and packed and off I went to the Isle of Skye. I spent the evening by the little fishing village of Elgol and, after a very interesting sunset, headed to my pre-planned destination, the Quiraing. The idea was to sleep in the back of the vehicle and wake up very early for the walk and preparations.

The alarm was set for 03:00, but I woke up ten minutes beforehand. Panic engulfed me as I noticed that there was colour on the horizon already and wondered if I had overslept. I checked my watch and, indeed, it was before 03:00. I realised that this was going to be one of those glorious mornings where the colour stays on the horizon for ages.

In 15 minutes I was ready and on location, but with no time to relax as the colour was intensifying. I set up the gear to the pre-visualised composition and ran through my usual technical tests. All was fine, apart from a little problem with the exposure. No matter what I tried and what filters I used, I just could not get the exposure right, as the dynamic range (exposure difference) between land and sky was massive.

Old school

I belong to the old school of photographers; I do my best to capture the image in-camera – as best as I can anyway – and not spend hours processing in Photoshop. However, this time something had to give. My decision was to blend exposures in Lightroom: this seemed to be the only way to capture the image as it was pre-visualised. I made five different exposures, making sure I had covered highlights and shadows, and then used Lightroom's blending feature . This returned an exposure that was extremely close to the image witnessed through my eyes that morning. With a minimal amount of processing of that file I accomplished one of my projects with great success; the final image was exactly what I aimed to achieve.

Am I an old school photographer? Of course I am. Do I keep an open mind when it comes to new technology that can help me create my envisioned images? Of course I do.

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Blending Exposures • The Quiraing, Isle of Skye, Scotland

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