April 26, 2012 3 Comments
Fitz Roy Sunrise
Most landscape photographers have heard of the ‘alpenglow’, ‘alpine glow’ or the ‘golden hour’. It’s generally meant to describe sunlight before sunrise or after sunset, the light coming from below the horizon and being reflected off airborne snow, water or ice particles in the atmosphere. Photographers like it because the light bounced back to earth is strongly coloured and looks great in photographs.
While you can get an alpenglow anywhere, it seems to have its strongest manifestation in alpine regions. Indeed, when I think of Patagonia, I recall images of towering peaks photographed in dramatic lighting with rich reds and oranges. Or perhaps it was just my diet of National Geographic magazines that gave me this impression.
I camped out in the foothills of Monte Fitz Roy in Patagonia for a few nights, hoping to see the mountains lit by the alpenglow in the early morning. I would have preferred the evening alpenglow because then I could sleep in, but sunset wasn’t going to be much use because the mountains would be backlit.
Luck didn’t seem to be on our side when I went to bed that night. It was overcast and drizzling, so unless something dramatic happened, we were in for a drab and grey morning.
The alarm woke me at an ungodly hour. I was travelling with Darren Leal and a group of photographers, and Darren had in mind a location called Duck Lake from which we could photograph Monte Fitz Roy. As I stepped out of my tent, I looked towards the sky, hoping to see stars, but there were none. In fact, the cloud seemed thicker and heavier, if anything.
Even though our viewpoint was only a kilometre or so away, you never know what the weather is going to do and dawn was still an hour away. We grabbed our cameras and tripods and headed along the trail.
From time to time I’d look skyward, hoping against hope for a miracle, but there were no stars to be seen and, after a while, I lost interest. Maybe the following morning would be better. I concentrated on the path ahead which was becoming rougher and more difficult, my torch-light leading the way.
About ten minutes later, I saw a strange light on the ground in the distance. It was a most unusual shape and it took me a little while to work out what it was: the lake. Even better, the light was the clear blue sky being reflected off its glassy surface.
The weather had changed overnight, clearing completely and so the cloud I had seen in camp was a band of rising mist or low cloud. As the light grew stronger, the mountain range began to glow above and in the lake. We had clear weather, all we needed now was the alpenglow to come.
We did get a little alpenglow that morning, but it wasn’t like the photos I had seen in National Geographic all those years ago. Interestingly, we got some great colour at sunrise, but the pre-dawn remained silvery.
Despite this, I love the soft light at this time of the day and, with a little help from Capture One, I was able to bring the colour out.
The original file (above) shows how the camera recorded the scene. I was using a Canon EOS 1Ds Mark II, rated at ISO 800, using a 100mm Macro lens. There are lots of lovely details in the rock faces and the rising cloud bank seems perfectly positioned – I couldn’t have asked for a better morning.
What I noticed was that there is already a good deal of red and orange in the mountain rock faces, so by increasing the colour saturation in the file, I’m able to create my own alpenglow. However, using the saturation slider alone was not the solution as you can see below.
When using the saturation slider alone, not only are the reds and yellows enhanced, so are the blues of the sky. The effect looks a little unnatural. What I want to do is increase the colour saturation in the reds and yellows without touching the blues.
This is where Capture One Pro can help. Using the Advanced Colour Editor tool, I used the Pick Color Correction tool to select the colours on the mountain face. I then increased the Smoothness to include similar colours, and then increased the Saturation slider to bring the mountain side to life.
Sometimes I will select two or three similar colours and increase the saturation of all three, but to a lesser extent individually. This produces a similar strength, but it is spread over a wider range of colours and looks a little more natural.
Peter Eastway is a professional photographer and photography magazine editor based in Sydney, Australia. To see more of his photography, visit http://www.petereastway.com/. Peter also offers an online Landscape Photography MasterClass. Details can be found at http://www.betterphotography.com/.