Behind the Shot: January

by | Nov 25, 2014 | Stories & Expeditions | 0 comments

I wonder, sometimes, about the stories behind those “wow” shots we see so commonly displayed in calendars these days. Grant it, not all “calendar” shots are “wow” shots, but having put together my own calendars for about 5 years now, it’s almost habitual to wonder about the truly magnificent ones, letting my mind wander to those far away places contemplating what it must have taken to get that “perfect shot” and ponder just how much of it was real and how much of it was Photoshopped.

Ever wondered these things about the Lenspiration calendars? Instead of letting you stay in obscurity this year, let me satisfy your curiosity with an insiders look into exactly what did happen behind each shot, and just how much I edited the pictures before putting them into the calendar. I remember shooting each one as vividly as if it was yesterday, so why not tell about them?! Maybe you’ll learn something along the way too, especially if you’re a photographer.

2015_Lenspiration 1Jan

January 2015 – Passage to the Sea

Turnagain Arm, Alaska

The short version, as stated in the back of the calendar, prefaces the story perfectly: “Not every day is a picturesque day. And the day this shot was taken certainly didn’t start out picturesque. It was overcast and rainy all day long, like most days of that trip to Alaska. But even after I had given up hope . . .”

Ever have dreary days? Well, it was sort of a dreary day for me. The shot below was taken on the southern end of the Turnagain Arm, right before sunset. I remember sitting in the truck with my host family, the Roberts, thinking “There sure ain’t no chance for a sunset tonight.” The thick cloud cover didn’t look exactly pretty or “stormy-looking” either, which always makes for interesting shots; the only thing I saw them doing was making the mountains look “milky”.

3170_Chugach National Forest-Alaska-USA_Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 70 mm, 1-40 sec at f - 4.0, ISO 800

But it doesn’t do any good to let your circumstances control you; so I wasn’t disappointed. It’s a choice to rejoice. Make the most of it, right? So we pulled off the highway to see what we could see of Portage Glacier. Glaciers look pretty cool on cloudy days, I’d heard. But right as we turned off, Mrs. Roberts pointed out the window and said something about the sky turning pink. That meant the presence of sunlight! We turned around quickly and started down the highway toward a position where we could actually see the sun setting. And sure enough, the sun was actually popping through the clouds . . . behind a mountain. I snapped this shot from the car window as we raced to a better vantage point.

3179_Chugach National Forest-Alaska-USA_Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 105 mm, 1-40 sec at f - 4.0, ISO 800

Finally, we rounded the bend just as the pink was starting to fade. There were no pull offs. (When I returned to that very same spot a year later, I checked to see if we could have pulled off on any official pull offs. There were none for a stretch of several miles.) Though it may not have been the safest thing to do, Mr. Roberts put on his flashers and pulled off the road as far as was possible. (Thinking back to it, I think I remember seeing several other cars ahead of us pulled off too, so that made me feel better.) I jumped out, crossed the road (carefully!) and hopped over the guardrail to get a clear view of the awesome scene closing in front of me.

My first shot was quite underexposed. Each of the following shots are unedited to give you a feeling for what my shots really looked like in those 6 short minutes of color. I was shooting in RAW so I did add a default adjustment to them to replicate original JPG captures.

3180_Chugach National Forest-Alaska-USA_Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 105 mm, 1-13 sec at f - 16, ISO 800

It was very soon after that I shot what I didn’t know would later be the cover image for the 2015 Lenspiration calendar. This is unedited.

3182_Chugach National Forest-Alaska-USA_Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 47 mm, 1-10 sec at f - 8.0, ISO 800-2

It is very natural to zoom in and forget about the rest of your surroundings when there’s something exciting happening and you don’t have much time to think. That’s the way a lot of my next shots looked like.

3183_Chugach National Forest-Alaska-USA_Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 105 mm, 1-50 sec at f - 8.0, ISO 800

Realizing this tendency, I went to the other extreme, to try to capture the interesting shape of the mountains on the left.

3199_Chugach National Forest-Alaska-USA_Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 24 mm, 1-10 sec at f - 5.0, ISO 800

In so doing, I forgot all about keeping my horizon level! Looking at the shot, I didn’t like the foreground blurry rocks and determined there wasn’t enough light to shoot handheld with an aperture narrow enough to get them in focus. There was no time to set up a tripod, so I abandoned the composition idea and tried something vertical.

3203_Chugach National Forest-Alaska-USA_Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 24 mm, 1-25 sec at f - 5.0, ISO 800

When there’s a scene in front of me that I like, I almost always try both orientations. If I naturally go horizontal for a scene, I try to find a vertical composition too. If I naturally go vertical, I try to find a horizontal composition as well. Turns out, I really liked this scene going vertical, so I got back down on my stomach (oh it was so muddy! the tide was going out evidently) to try a more dynamic perspective.

3216_Chugach National Forest-Alaska-USA_Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 24 mm, 1-20 sec at f - 5.0, ISO 800

I don’t think I like this one as much—there’s not as much “shape” to the foreground shore—but I do like how it incorporates a little more depth.

By this time, there wasn’t much light left to shoot. It had only been about 6 minutes, and all in all I shot 48 frames. I felt I had done the best I could, and even a little more, having experimented with multiple perspectives and positions. We hopped back in the truck and removed ourselves from our precarious spot on the side of the road, scrolling through pictures on our cameras and rejoicing in the Lord for providing a spectacular sunset even when I least expected it.

You can buy one, two or just a few of my 2015 calendars on the Staddonfamily Store for $10 each. Or you can get free shipping plus quantity discounts as low as $5 each on the Lenspiration Store. Thanks for your help in promoting a Creationist worldview in the world of photography!


And oh! I almost forgot to include the part about post-processing. I didn’t need to edit this shot much at all. What is printed is as close as you can get with ink to what I saw in reality. It really doesn’t do it justice though. There’s nothing like being there in person. But I do remember there was more pink in the sky, so I took the liberty to move the hue toward magenta a bit, as you can see in the Before and After.


3182_Chugach National Forest-Alaska-USA_Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 47 mm, 1-10 sec at f - 8.0, ISO 800-2



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  1. » Blog Archive » Adventures of a Landscape Photographer - […] January: Finding a beautiful shot despite rain and clouds all day. […]

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