I've often written about late evening light and how it can transform a landscape. In fact my first D-Photo article was on exactly that topic. But often, you only get to see the 'final' shot - the one I want to keep and print - without it being put into context with the other shots. It's only when you do this that you begin to see why late evening light is so special for landscape photography.
So while out shooting last night, I thought it would be a good idea to show how an image progresses, according to the lateness of the evening. All images were taken with my 5D, a 17-40mm f4 L lens, on a tripod with a cable release.
The first image has a 6th of a second shutter speed, using an f-stop of f22. There is some nice light - it is dark enough so that the highlights in the sky have been easily retained by the cameras sensor, as has the shadow detail. Not much was done to this in Aperture, except a slight shadow adjustment and saturation boost. Not a bad shot, but the lake isn't 'glassy' enough for my liking. Better wait around a bit longer.
10 minutes later, and this is the result. Exposure is now 6 seconds, at f22. It's getting more like it with the longer exposure for the water - but to me it still isn't 'quite' there. The Canon 5D can shoot at up to a thirty second exposure before going to its 'bulb' setting, and that's about where I aim for with my long exposures. I could go longer, but 30 seconds seems about right for me in terms of colour and water effects.
And here it is. One of my last shots of the evening - taken with a 30 second exposure on f22. It is really very dark now - almost difficult to see the hand in front of the face, but the camera sensor still manages to pick up lots of detail with the long exposure. I love the saturated 'blueness' that this long exposure gives, as well as the silkyness to the water, which is exactly what I'm after. My landscapes tend to have a simple, serene quality to them, and I can get this kind of effect perfectly with long night time exposures.
To me this last image stands head and shoulders above the rest - although others may think there's only subtle changes. They are basically all the same compositionally speaking, but the largest (and most important) difference has to do with the 'mood' they create. The later the light, the longer the exposure, the more mood is conveyed.
The 30 second exposure does take a little more post-processing work though - I did quite a bit of fiddling with shadow, black-point and levels in Aperture before I got this looking how I wanted. Noise is also a factor with a 30 second exposure, even with the 5D shooting on ISO 100. But Noise Ninja cleans it up nicely, and I could probably get away with some noise from the Canon sensor without it effecting the image too negatively.
Anyway, that's how I go about getting some of the best light for landscapes. I'd get up early in the morning and do it too, if I wasn't so damn lazy...