From the Clouds


Behind the Scenes of this Photo

Taken from a viewpoint of Cerro Torre on the trail to Laguna Torre in Los Glaciares National Park in Argentina, on March 8, 2017

The weather in Patagonia is notoriously fickle. Clear skies give way to thunderous downpours and vice versa. While spending a few days in the charming town of El Chalten in Argentina I was hoping for the latter. We’d seen rain, rain, and more rain. On this particular day the forecast showed the rain breaking up in the afternoon, and so I planned an overnight trip to Laguna Torre, one of the most famous spots in Los Glaciares National Park. 11 am came and the rain was till falling. Noon, and still the rain persisted. 1 pm, and the rain continued. Eventually I began to run out of daylight and so decided to start the hike regardless of the weather and packed up my backpack and camera equipment. I hit the trail exactly 2 hours before sunset with intermittent splatters of raining squelching down out of the sky.

The hike to Laguna Torre is just about 9 km, or around 6 miles. I knew I could hike that distance in two hours but it would be a hustle. Thankfully the trail is relatively flat and at low elevation, which meant I could cruise. The more I hiked the more the clouds broke up, and about halfway along the trail I came to a vista which provided a dramatic view of Cerro Torre, one of the most iconic peaks in the world. The broken clouds allowed sunlight to filter through, creating a dreamlike atmosphere through which the peak poked its craggy head. After snapping a handful of shots I set off down the trail and did reach the lake before sunset. Though by that point the clouds had come in thicker and rain was once again falling. I didn’t see Cerro Torre for the rest of the trip, making me happy I’d stopped when it was rising from the clouds.

Key Learning tip:

One of the difficulties I faced when creating this photo was the lighting. The scene was back lit, the clouds were incredibly bright, and the forest was quite dark by comparison. The challenge was to find an exposure that would allow me to hold detail in the both sky and the forest.

When faced with a scene that has extreme dynamic range (lots of bright highlights and deep shadows), you have a couple of options. I believe the easiest approach is to focus on maintaining detail in your highlights. My workflow 99% of the time in this situation is to continue to darken my exposure until my histogram and highlight warning (“blinkies”) shows no blown out highlights.

I know that my digital sensor will pick up tons of detail in the shadows even if it doesn’t show it on playback. Nevertheless it will be possible to recover those shadow details in post much more easily than it would be to recover blown highlights.

For this photo, you can see what the raw image looked like when I captured it in the field. I prioritized maintaining detail in my bright clouds. As a result the scene is very dark, and parts of the forest almost look black. But once I brought the raw file into Lightroom I was able to recover an incredible amount of shadow information in order to show details throughout the scene.

See more beautiful Argentina photos here.

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4 replies
  1. Donna
    Donna says:

    Incredible! Masterful! The perspective looks like you are in heaven looking down—lol.

    You are a fabulous teacher! I am slowly making my way through your Epic Landscape course (mod 3 of 10) taking all opportunity to practice with my new mirrorless. Thanks for sharing your work, much appreciated! -d

  2. Mark Muller
    Mark Muller says:

    Hi Josh
    Great post!
    You said there are a couple of options for high contrast scenes like this. I assume the other one (not mentioned) is HDR/multiple exposure, exposing for the highlights in one and a second (or more) image for shadows? Do you ever choose multiple exposure over your preferred way to expose for the highlights? I prefer your way too, just curious about when HDR might be chosen instead.
    Thanks for a super helpful post.

    • Josh Cripps
      Josh Cripps says:

      Hey Mark,

      You got it: you can do multiple exposures and blend, shoot with a grad ND, or do the method described here. I do the multiple exposure method whenever the dynamic range of the scene exceeds what I can capture with the camera. But with these new sensors that almost never happens unless the sun itself is in the frame.

      Hope that helps!



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