Who’s the Star?

When it comes to outdoor photography, many photographs have a star subject in them. It could be anything in the scene and often it is something that caught your eye.

Sometimes the star of the photo is obvious and other times it is not. When I find a star to photograph I often look for other features in the landscape that support the star and when those work well, you have a well composed image.

But in today’s digital world, composing and capturing the star and the supporting elements, is only half the process to a great photo. The other half of the process is in the digital darkroom. That is where you complete what you started in the field and that is the case here with this image.

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Scott Lake in the Oregon Cascades is a popular viewpoint for nature photographers. I was up there several times over the last month and captured this image on the first visit in July. We are in a terrible drought so the water was very low. That is of course terrible but also a blessing because this rock is right up close to the shoreline as a result of the low water and makes a great foreground element.

I returned to the same location a week later and the water had dropped leaving the rock in the mud and in my opinion, no longer a great foreground element. When I composed this image, the star of the photo is clearly the mountain and reflection. I moved the camera around a little but found that I liked the rock sitting between the two mountain peaks in the reflection. That felt balanced.

Then I waited for the sun to leave the trees around the lake and hit only the mountains.  The reason was the trees being close to the same brightness as the mountains distracted from it, but as the sun set and left the trees in darkness, the mountain became the stars with a light shining on them and the dark trees now a supporting role in the composition.

I furthered that approach on the computer. The trees had detail in them from a detailed raw file but that detail was of no benefit to my end goal. So I used a Levels Adjustment Layer and pushed the trees to black. A subtle addition of contrast with a Curves layer, a hint of saturation, and finally a weak vignette, all contributed to my goal to make the mountains stand out like a star.

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