An Old Log's Glow

The sun hit this log for maybe 5 seconds.

I have been taking photographs this fallen stump off and on for years. I was never happy with the photographs; they lacked one thing or another—color, depth, details, you name it. There was always something different between the log I saw and the photographs I wound up with.

I had some hope that the new Phase One XF camera might do a better job. In my tests comparing it to the Sony, I generally found that it was stronger in all three areas. It has better color saturation; the depth of objects shows up clearly in the 2D images, and it is always rich in details.

As luck would have it, I got lucky; the sun broke through a heavy row of trees when the wind gusted, and a small shaft of sunlight illuminated the richly colored core of the stump. It lasted for about 5 seconds, and it was a 1.6-second exposure. That little bit of luck added the final touch to make me happy at last. :)

Technical info: I had already taken a half dozen shots prior to this one, just trying to get a feel for the composition and the details of the exposure. The first exposure was 1/15th of a second at f/4.5 (maximum aperture for the 240mm lens I used); I was trying to isolate the wood using a narrow zone of focus. But it was so narrow that it didn’t include all of the log, and I did not like that look. Here is roughly what that looks like; the processing is very similar to the above shot.

There is even a bit of sunlight on this version, at the far left. But it’s weaker, and that area doesn’t have as much intrinsic color to it. In addition, although it may not be clear at this scale, while the rocks on the bank are slightly out of focus as desired, parts of the log are not in focus.

I played around like this for a while, and was just not happy—but I was liking the composition and colors enough to think that I might have finally found a setup to photograph the log properly. I also did not like the framing; part of the log at left is hidden outside the frame, and I though that it would be better to lose some of the right -hand portion instead (I could not move further back; I was stopped by some large trees).

I made a rather big change next: I used a much longer exposure and stopped the lens down dramatically: 1.6” seconds, and f/32. That brought everything into focus (at a cost of a moderate blur from diffraction effects, which I corrected with Topaz Sharpen AI software). That was when the lucky beam of sunlight made it through, and that beat all of the other considerations I’d had for how to do this photo. The long exposure stilled the waves in the water, creating a subtle and soft reflection of the log and the sky. The sunbeam literally lit up a key, colorful area of the photo. It wasn’t what I had wanted to do, but it was an idea that worked, plus the lucky lighting.

So there were several interesting photographs in the series, but the one lit by the beam of light is the one I like the best. It just…works.