Last month as winter was just beginning to pick up here and there, I made my way to West Virginia to photograph during a day of light snow showers. Surprisingly, the snow, as well as some ice, had begun to accumulate in the higher elevations of Dolly Sods. To get to the top of the plateau requires a drive up a steep dirt forest road, or, in snowier conditions, a hike with snowshoes. I decided to make the attempt to drive up. The snow began to pile up as I gained elevation. A dusting turned into an inch. An inch turned into a few inches. Traction was iffy but doable, as long as I didn't stop. I was committed! Eventually reaching the top, I was greeted with stiff winds and freezing temperatures. It was brutal, but I donned my parka and hopped out of the car. The beauty overcame most of the discomfort, and how beautiful it was. As clouds whipped overhead, sunlight penetrated and darted across the distant mountain ridges. Every rock and crevice was coated in a thick layer of ice. Snow dust whipped and whirled around. Satisfied with my images, I headed back to the car to brew some hot coffee and cook some Ramen.
About the Image: In the field, I decided to take multiple exposures of this composition. One image was exposed brighter for a proper exposure of the foreground, and the other a bit darker for the sky. This is standard practice for me when shooting landscapes with a wide dynamic range. Once home, I layer both images together in Photoshop and then mask out the sky to merge the two images together while keeping the best parts of both. This accomplishes the same thing as a graduated neutral density filter, but I like that I have more control over the process and can achieve a seamless transition along the horizon. As I began processing this image, however, I realized that the clouds were moving so quickly that the sunbeam had moved quite a bit in the few seconds between my two exposures. I didn't want the light on the land to be in a different area than the sunbeam stretching into the sky, so I had to figure out another way to process the image. I achieved that by creating a copy of one of the files, and then pushing the exposure of that copy by a stop and a half. Then, bringing both the copy with the brighter exposure, and the original into Photoshop, I was able to blend as I normally would have if I had two exposures. Perhaps a graduated neutral density would have been better in this case with the fast moving clouds, but this method also worked just fine. It's all about having the right tools in your toolbox!