“Autumn Dawn – Eastern Sierra Nevada (2023)” by David Hoffman

This image was shot at dawn on October 21, 2023.

I’m quite familiar with the locale and had scouted this scene the evening before to see how the combination of the stages of leaf color and of leaf drop were affecting the specific spot I had in mind. I photographed this scene that evening, at dusk, but a combination of high winds and remote shutter release problems made for unfavorable conditions for the slow shutter speeds that were necessary, even with the use of an ISO that was higher than I would have preferred. Since I knew from photographing in the area in prior years that I quite liked shooting there in the early dawn light, and since the air would likely be still at dawn, I decided to make this my first image of the next morning.

At dawn the next morning, I set up for essentially the same composition, now with still air and with remote shutter release problems addressed. Since the composition that I had in mind was a fairly tight crop of a steep hillside viewed from across a wide ravine, a focal length of 300mm was required. To ensure that I didn’t lose any of the fine texture in the scene due to the limited depth of field with the 300mm focal length, I decided to take three shots, bracketed for focus, which would be merged later in Photoshop. Again, given my desire for texture provided by fine detail, I took steps to ensure the highest possible image quality in the exposures that would be combined to create the final image. The camera was mounted on a heavy-duty tripod with an equally heavy-duty ball head. In order to avoid the loss of detail to diffraction, a moderate aperture of f/10 was used, along with an ISO of 200. Given the low light of dawn, the resulting shutter speed was 0.5 seconds for each of the three exposures. In order to reduce the possibility of a loss of resolution to shutter vibration, the camera was set to live view and the shutter to the electronic first curtain. The use of live view on the camera also allowed for digital zooming into the scene, allowing real-time monitoring of any camera shake created by even moderate breezes. A remote shutter release was used to initiate the exposure when the enlarged live view image on the LCD screen became still.

What do you think are the TWO most impactful features that make your image a good photograph? Don’t be shy!

The two features that were especially important to me for this particular image were simplicity and elegance. The wider scene, looking across the ravine, was beautiful as it was but complicated as a composition. I would go on to shoot some wider compositions, but for this shot, I wanted an image that, despite tremendous amounts of detail, would be almost minimalist. In framing the scene such that the result was a simple, nearly minimalist image, I sought to bring forward the lovely elegance of the vertical elements of the forest. Also contributing to both the simplicity and the elegance was the very limited palette of hues in the scene.

If you could make this photo again, what would be the ONE thing you would like to do better or different?

As noted above, the final image really is a dawn reshoot of the previous evening’s test shots. As it happened, I was pretty happy with the test shots, except for the problems caused by the winds at dusk. The reshoot did allow me to refine the composition somewhat compared to the previous evening, as, at dawn, I wasn’t facing the rapid loss of available light.

David Hoffman shared this photograph in the FRAMES Facebook Group.


David Hoffman, Springville, California, USA


Equipment and settings

Canon 5D Mark IV, Canon EF100-400 f/4.5-5/6L IS II USM at 300mm
f10, 0.5 second, ISO 200, manual exposure

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Comments (1):

  1. Greg

    December 7, 2023 at 10:10

    Very well composed photograph, and great article.
    Also thanks for giving me a little insight behind the scenes! It is good to read such things.
    Wishing to David more amazing photographs!
    All the best!
    Greg from Hungary


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