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Behind The Shot: David Hsia - Art of Visuals

Behind The Shot: David Hsia - Art of Visuals

How did you achieve this shot?

This was taken during sunrise in Canmore, Alberta when I was visiting Banff National Park several months ago. My friend and I were driving to a spot we had scouted the day before, but were running late as we had overslept. As we were driving on the freeway we noticed that what looked like a very subpar sky suddenly broke open with fantastic color. We could also see that the clouds had quite a bit of movement. We obviously didn’t want to lose the window and knew that before long the soft light would give way to harsh rays, so we were scrambling to get off the freeway. We decided to just pull over and run across the highway and try to get what we could. I didn’t bring my tripod since I wanted to be quick as we were scurrying across the four lanes or pavement. Luckily, I had a midrange lens on so just started shooting handheld.

What camera did you use?

I took this photo using my main camera, a Nikon D750. It’s a well-balanced camera in my opinion and lets me shoot everything from landscapes to wildlife and everything in between with fairly good results across the board.

What settings and why did you use those settings?

This was taken with my 24-85 mm lens. I shot it at 50 mm at a shutter speed of 1/60, which is getting really close to my ability to handhold and still get a sharp shot at that focal length. Anything slower, and I would have had to use a tripod or risk some blur due to handshake. It was f/11, ISO100 with VR enabled.

Did you use a tripod?

I prefer to use a tripod whenever I can for any landscape shot to ensure the most sharpness I can achieve. It’s one of those variables that you have good control over if you take the time. Unfortunately, this situation didn’t allow it since I was striving to just get the best shot I could without an optimal load out.

What mountain range is this, and why did you decide to photograph it?

These are the Three Sisters, located in Canmore, Alberta, Canada. I actually didn’t have any intention of photographing it when I did, but really nice light changed the situation for the better that morning.

How did you decide on your location for the photo?

To be honest, this was a handheld shot taken on the side of the freeway without a tripod. My friend and I were coming back from another location and literally saw the sky opening up with fantastic light, so we decided to park the car right where we were and try to grab a decent shot.

Is this the picture you set out to make that day? If not, how does it differ from what you had pre-visualized?

The morning this was taken, we were actually leaving our scouted location a bit early as the light was terrible and we were a bit frustrated. On our way home, we were driving on the road and saw clouds opening up above the Three Sisters and knew our luck had changed for the better, but we had to act quickly. So no, it was definitely NOT the photo we set out to capture that morning, but it worked out rather well I’d say.

The clouds look dramatic. What was the weather like, and how did that influence your photo?

There wasn’t much wind that morning from what I can recall, but I do remember that the clouds were moving rather quickly. The light coming through the opening in the sky was brilliant, and I wanted to take the best shot I could where I was since I didn’t have a lot of faith that the light would hold up for very long.

Was this shot at dusk or dawn? Which do you like better?

This was a sunrise shot taken well after the sun had come up. The clouds were thick and diffused the light nicely, and I was lucky to end up with a photo that wasn’t overexposed considering what the light conditions could have been like. Personally, I prefer sunrise shoots as I’m an early bird, and there’s always fewer people around in the mornings. Cold weather and a thermos of coffee aren’t bad things to have on a morning shoot either.

What was the most difficult part of making this photo?

Just the voice in my head that was telling me to get into a better position, knowing that the clouds and the light could disappear if I didn’t take what I had at the moment. I also tend to shoot a lot with a tripod, so handholding this on the side of the freeway with cars whizzing by was a bit unnerving.

If you could change one thing about it, what would it be?

I would’ve liked to have been at a higher elevation or significantly closer so that I wouldn’t have had to deal with all the foreground elements that are obscuring things in the original shot. Luckily, there’s enough detail even when cropped for this shot to hold up nicely.

Why do you take pictures?

For me, it’s all about freezing that special moment in time. I look forward to trying to recreate what I felt, what I saw, and enhancing a bit through the editing process. Being able to create an image that represents a moment and serves as a means of creative expression is where it’s at for me. Being able to share it with others is icing on the cake.

What did you edit with? How long did the edit take you?

I edited this in Adobe Lightroom and Color Efex Pro 4, part of my standard workflow. I primarily adjusted contrast, white balance, highlights, shadows, and selective sharpening. There wasn’t too much editing required for this photo ... it probably took me about 20-30 minutes.

Do you have any advice?

It’s always good to envision the shot you want and even better when you can get it. But often times there’s a lot of value in things NOT going according to plan and forcing you to play by a different set of rules. Just because you don’t get the shot you intended doesn’t mean it’s any worse ... it’s just different.

Follow David Hsia on Instagram @Syntax_error

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