When the Elements Decide
Article and Photographs by Rob Gray
Sometimes your exposure time is determined, not by technical
or aesthetic requirements, but by nature.
I had just finished photographing Dawn Sentinel when something
caught my eye. At the bottom of a cove, a few hundred metres away,
shining like a beacon, was this slab of rock. Naturally I couldn't
see any details, but I could see the potential so I packed as
quickly as possible and made haste along the cliff top, searching
for a way down.
Before long I found a Pandanus-filled gully and executed a semi-controlled,
on-the-bum, slide down the gully, emerging just a few metres from
The bottom of the cove was totally in shade, while the far cliff
was bathed in light. The slab reflected the light from the cliff,
this is what gave the contrast to the scene. However the sun was
gaining height rapidly and the effect would vanish before long.
Setting up the camera to take the photo I realised why the rock
remained so wet. A wave broke nearby, swamping my feet and the
rock and drenching the camera with spray. This would complicate
I use a change bag as a focusing cloth and, in situations like
this, I drape the change bag over the camera to protect it. For
this photo I would only be able look through the camera to check
composition, depth of field etc. during the periods between waves.
Normally I use a combination of camera movements and a small
aperture to obtain maximum depth of field. The trade-off being
a very long exposure. I realised that this would not be an option
here because I didn't want a wave intruding during the actual
I would have to time the waves to find the longest time between
them, this would determine my exposure. I did this and decided
that they occurred every 13 seconds so I selected an exposure
time of ten seconds and exposed two negatives.
With one photo "in the bag" I did what I should have
done in the first place. Thought about the image.
In the rush to get a shot I had lined up on the first composition
that looked reasonable. The trouble is I had totally missed what
attracted me to the scene in the first place; the bright reflection
from the slab.
Let's try again.
Changing the camera's position slightly moved the reflection
from a narrow band on the slab's leading edge to a full-on glow
covering the entire top. That's better.
Now let's think about colour. Remember that the slab and its
surroundings are totally in the shade, in predominately blue light.
The reflection however is coming from a rock face bathed in bright
sunlight, this light is yellow in nature. An orange filter will
increase the contrast between the two by blocking much more of
the blue light than the yellow.
I added an orange filter, adjusted my exposure by two stops to
allow for the light adsorbed by the filter, and reshot.
Returning to base I dismantled the camera, washed off the salt
water and dried the parts in the sun. This is one of the beauties
of a simple camera, it is almost unaffected by nasties like salt
water and can largely be fixed in the field with simple tools.
Of course the same does not apply to lenses, I try to be more
careful with them.
You can see more of Rob's
work at the following websites:
- Rob Gray