Photo Insight – David Noton – Bali
June 8, 2011
David Noton explains how he combined colour, light and composition to create this picturesque image of rice fields and looming volcanoes in
One of the foremost travel and landscape photographers working today, David Noton tirelessly travels the world in search of new challenges, which he shares with you here
This image shows storm clouds clearing over the volcanic peak of Gunung Anung and the surrounding rice fields at dawn near Ubud in Bali, Indonesia. Capturing this image was a real exercise in persistence. I had travelled to Bali during the rainy season and it was much wetter than I had envisaged. I took this image from the roof of the hotel I was staying in and I kept going back to this spot at dawn day after day. In fact, this shot came together on the very last day of my trip.
I decided to have one last attempt to nail the shot that I had in my mind on the day I was due to fly out. It had been raining overnight and there were heavy clouds in the sky. My initial thoughts were not overly positive, but towards the west I could see a gap in the clouds. I realised that if the timing of that gap coincided with the first light of day I could be in luck. As it happened, the clouds parted and the sky retained that wonderful moody quality that makes this composition ? in particular, the shape of the cloud hovering above the volcano. The sky evolved just as the first light illuminated the luscious green fields and thankfully it all came together. You could say that it was down to luck, but I had been working on this picture for two weeks! I always think it?s better to go on a trip and come back with one picture that you are really happy with rather than hundreds of mediocre images.
In this image I wanted to include all the elements that shout ?Bali? ? the rice fields, the palm trees and the volcanoes in the distance. Finding the location is, in my view, the hardest part of any trip. This is what takes time. Once you?ve found a good location, it?s madness to move on without making the most of it. I had found this location early on in the trip, although at the time I couldn?t see the volcanoes as they were shrouded in cloud. I knew they were there from the map. When I found this location I knew it was a good one ? I just needed to wait for the right light.
I don?t subscribe to the notion of blasting exposures in the hope that something will work, and I didn?t actually shoot many images in this particular location. Sometimes the light will get better and you?ll keep taking exposures as it improves. At other times the light is right for a short period of time and that was what happened when this image came together.
Clouds and dramatic skies will make or break a landscape. You have to ensure that your exposure is correct so you can retain detail in the brighter part of the clouds. To capture the clouds you could use a fast shutter speed, but you could also go the other way and use a neutral density filter to slow your exposure right down and capture the movement of the streaking clouds.
I used my Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II with a 24-70mm lens, and if my memory serves me correctly I believe I was working towards the longer focal length, which gave a fairly natural perspective with a good balance between foreground and background. I used a polariser to bring out the sky. This also helped to saturate the colours of the vegetation. The scene is perfectly sidelit, so the polariser was able to operate to its optimum ability.
Working in aperture priority mode and using evaluative metering, I was constantly checking the exposure by looking at the histogram display, watching especially to make sure the highlights weren?t burnt out.
I used an aperture of f/8. I tend to stop down to the smallest aperture of the lens only if I really need that depth of field. There is a penalty to be paid for stopping right down as you can start to sacrifice lens performance. If it?s possible to work in the sweet spot of the lens, at a mid-range aperture, then I?ll do that.
The crucial elements in the composition include the little hut in the bottom right-hand corner of the picture. This falls on the intersection of the line of thirds, which is a harmonious place in the composition. If I?d framed the image so the hut was central, it would have unbalanced the composition. Indeed, this picture conforms pretty well to the Rule of Thirds. The main volcano is about a third of the way into the image, so overall it?s a pleasing, balanced composition.
In an image like this I want people to look at the scene and to know this is Bali even if they haven?t been there. To me, this image says ?Bali?. All the elements are there. On any trip I like to come back with a range of pictures ? from picturesque views like this to portraits and detail shots. You can put the best images together to create a photo essay to represent what you saw and felt about a place.
David Noton?s new book Full Frame, priced £25 and published by David & Charles, is now available. It follows David?s journey to ten different locations around the world and gives invaluable insight into his approach and working methods. To see more images by David visit www.davidnoton.com
David Noton was speaking to Gemma Padley