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Behind The Shot: Foreground, Background & The Motion Of The Ocean

Sony Artisan Don Smith has been making a living with his camera for the past 40 years. “I started in the newspaper business, then specialized in sport and landscape. I went full-time into landscape photography in 2019 after 28 years as co-team photographer for the NHL’s San Jose Sharks,” says Smith. Now he’s a full-time workshop instructor and stock shooter for Getty Images, teaching workshops both in the United States and around the world. His love for landscape photography began back in his high school years as he grew up near the Monterey Peninsula and was heavily influenced by the work of Ansel Adams and Galen Rowell. He captured this beautiful long exposure landscape while on vacation and we wanted to learn more about it. Keep reading as he shares the story behind this image that he captured with the Sony Alpha 1 and Sony 24-105mm f/4 G lens.

Photo by Don Smith. Sony Alpha 1. Sony 24-105mm f/4 G. 13-sec., f/22, ISO 200

Photo by Don Smith. Sony Alpha 1. Sony 24-105mm f/4 G. 13-sec., f/22, ISO 200

See how Sony Artisan Don Smith created this stunning long exposure image with his Sony Alpha 1 and Sony 24-105mm f/4 G lens.

A Vacation Spot

I captured this image of Pigeon Point Lighthouse while on a getaway with my wife Beri. This lighthouse is located along the San Mateo Coastline approximately 50 miles south of San Francisco, California. She had never visited the lighthouse before and the overcast conditions were perfect for photography. I try to previsualize how I want the scene I am looking at to be in its finished state. It became clear to me after photographing a couple of static images of the water and clouds that the image could come to life with the aid of a Neutral Density filter. I chose the Singh-Ray 10-stop More-Slo to allow for a 13 second exposure. To my surprise, this really enhanced the turquoise coloring in the water. I played with various shutter combinations and in the end, chose this image for my final processing.

Choosing The Best Gear

I shot this image with the Sony Alpha 1 and Sony 24-105mm at 13 seconds, f/22 and ISO 200, Singh-Ray 1- stop Mor-Slo ND Filter. Quite simply, the Sony Alpha 1 is “THE BEST” camera I have ever had the pleasure of using throughout my entire career. It allows me to do everything from capturing fast-moving action to dramatic landscapes. The file that comes off this camera is incredibly sharp with a massive range of tones and colors. 

I chose the Sony 24-105mm f/4 G lens simply because it was the perfect lens for the composition I wanted. Though it is not a “G Master lens” it is incredibly sharp and I use it all the time for my landscape photography! I was on the new Really Right Stuff Travel tripod and used a Singh-Ray 10-stop Mor-Slo Neutral Density filter to allow for movement in the water and clouds. This is a lightweight tripod but I hung my camera bag on it to weigh it down and add extra stability in the wind. (Editor's Note: Learn more about the gear Don Smith uses for landscape photography in his What's In My Bag article.)

Building To The Perfect Shot

I only shoot during the day when conditions are right (normally I like working around the fringes of the day). But due to the clouds and fog mix, it provided a nice soft even light that would have been too contrasty had the sun been out. So for me, this was go-time. I captured this image during July of this year and I was amazed at how active the waves were - there must have been a good swell running which does not happen all that often during the summer months along this section of the California coast. If not for the winter-like wave conditions, I may not have thought of shooting this scene.

To access my shooting location, I scurried down the rocks you see to the left of the frame. I always check the tides via an app on my phone before shooting next to an ocean and I was aware that the tide was going out. Nonetheless, I am always cognizant of a sneaker wave and I always make sure I know where my escape route is. To capture this scene, I was in manual mode (I rarely if ever use auto modes when capturing landscape) and shutter speed was my main concern to capture the motion of the water the way I wanted. In retrospect, I wish I would have dropped my aperture to f/16 and lowered my ISO to 100 as I would have captured a bit sharper frame due to diffraction.

Editing Piece-By-Piece

My editing always starts in Lightroom where I just get the global corrections the way I want and also remove dust spots. From there, I take the image into Photoshop and work almost exclusively with the Tony Kuyper TK8 Panel of luminosity and color masks. This panel allows me to create precision masks based on tones and colors and in-turn, that allows me to work just in the area of the image I desire.

My processing goes step-by-step until I get the image looking just the way I want. For this particular image, I created three masks: one for the sky, one for the landmass and one for the water. I then added what I call “sub-masks”  for the sky to balance it more to the way my eye saw it. 

I rarely add elements to the image that weren't already there, and if I do, I make it known to my audience. In my opinion, there are so many fake images on social media these days that it gives all of us landscape shooters a bad name. I shoot my landscapes in RAW mode because it allows me to get the most colors and tones out of the file. The Sony Alpha 1’s sensor captures an amazing array of both.

See more of Don Smith’s work on his Alpha Universe Profile and on Instagram @don_smith_photography.


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