This blog post is about this image, how it came about, my thought process and little bit about post-processing that helped me achieve what I wanted:
A Night of a Lost Star
There is a place in Palouse that is recognizable by many photographers who have visited Palouse. It is a tree not far from the Steptoe Butte near a fork of two dirt roads. I’ve photographed it quite a few times myself. Here is the most successful one: Sketch with a Tree and Road. That photograph was made from the Steptoe Butte with a long focal length.
All attempts to make a photograph from the ground level produced rather unremarkable results. The tree alone in a field was a strong anchor in a composition. Curves of hills coming down where creating an interesting shape leading to the tree. And yet resulting photographs were weak. There was not much going on beyond that.
I photographed this tree many-many times, year after year, every time I visited Palouse. I’ve become obsessed with it. I think I might have even seen it in my dreams. I was sure a great photograph was there I just had not found it yet.
This year I thought again of this tree while planning my trip to Palouse. I reflected back and thought of what attracted me – a tree alone in a field, a good anchor for a composition, a good base to work with. That leaded to thinking about painting-like picture.
I went to Palouse with a goal to take as many different photographs of this tree as I could think of, employing various photo impressionism techniques, like multiple exposures, Orton effect, long exposure with camera on a tripod for a movement in grass and tree canopy and long expose while shaking camera in various directions and patterns.
To my delight the tree was fully alive again (note that in earlier photograph linked above half of the tree appeared dead). This made a tree look complete.
I ended up taking 67 photographs of this tree. Out of those I chose the one with multiple exposures (21 exposures to be accurate). What I did not like in multiple exposure image though was that it made tree trunk too fuzzy and soft. I wanted the tree to have a strong trunk to support that canopy. At the same time I did not want to have a sharp trunk as it would not go with the rest of the image. I looked thru the images taken with a long exposure while shaking the camera and found the one with the tree trunk visually strong enough and at the same time with the fuzziness that matched the rest of the picture. Masking out the tree trunk was easy since it was taken in exact same conditions – same luminosity and color.
The other thing that I was looking for during the trip was cloud textures. From my previous experiments – such as Still Life. Tulips – I knew they make a great base texture, making a photograph look like painting. I did not find good cloud textures but what I found on the second day of the trip was this strong cloud that was striking thru the sky like a lightning.
I layered the sky with the cloud over the tree in the field and used blending mode “Multiply” which was equivalent of stacking two slides one on top of another – the same approach as in Orton effect except slides contained completely different images.
The first two things I’ve pre-visualized in my mind. I knew what I wanted the image to look like and was just looking for a way to get that quality. When I overlaid the sky with the cloud and the tree in the field, I realized that this will be a night picture. This was a surprise. I did not think of that but sometimes I tell the picture what I want it to be and sometimes the picture tells to me what it wants to be – this makes it even more interesting.
That meant that I needed to have stars in the sky. The sky just looked to empty for the clear night sky. Being true to the nature of this picture being completely made with photographic material that I captured, I needed to take photo of the night sky with stars. I tried to take photo of the stars from my backyard. That did not work out, there was too much light pollution from city lights. I had to put this image aside until I have an opportunity to take a good photo of the stars.
The wait was burning me. I wanted to share this picture so much, but at the same time I knew it is not finished. Next trip – could not get any photos of the stars, the sky was covered with clouds. Finally, on the next trip I went to Rainier and had clear sky. I took a few photos of the stars. This picture was finally coming to completion! What a joy was that!
There are much more technical details to this picture. There were a lot of detours and dead-ends I ran into – I had to backtrack and start over because the image did not look and feel the way I wanted it. I worked about a month on this image – the most I had spent on a single image.