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Let’s get technical
First, the technical aspects of these photos of Schrock Lake at Sharon Woods Park. Both made with the DJI Mini 3 Pro drone on auto exposure.
The photo at top was made Thursday, September 28 at about 4:20 in the afternoon looking southwest towards an approaching rain storm.
Exposure Compensation 0.0
This photo was made October 2 at 8:25 about an hour after sunrise looking east.
Exposure Compensation -1.7
What separates these two photos of the same subject on different days? Why is the top photo so much less striking than the second photo?
Discount the different directions the drone camera is facing. That’s not important.
Both were processed in Photoshop from DNG RAW files made with the drone.
The second photo was underexposed by 1.7 stops to keep from overexposing the sun and not so dark as to lose detail in the darkened shadows. DNG RAW files have great detail at both extremes but there are limits to what a drone sensor can resolve. That’s why the sun is white with no detail.
It’s also more difficult to shoot a series of varied exposures to create an HDR single image although I’ve done that in the past. Just not this time.
The major difference
I knew as I was shooting the top photo that it was unique only in its angle.
The Metro Park system recently began to allow drone flights in most of its parks after requesting permission from the ranger on site. Launching from the Schrock Lake parking lot gave me more time to explore possibilities than having to launch outside the park requiring more drain on the battery getting to and from the shooting location making for a shorter shooting time.
My primary interest for this flight was the goldenrod in the prairie.
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That aspect was relatively successful. One of those photos made My Final Photo for the day although it also could have benefited from the major difference in the photos from those two days.
The lake was a secondary choice and I shot it mainly to look for better angles for more photos at another time.
Shadows and sunlight
When I checked the forecast for that Monday morning I remembered Schrock Lake thinking the fog in early morning light would be an interesting element to use in both drone and grand-level views.
The ground-level photos weren’t as good as I’d wanted but the idea remains in my list of possibilities. The fog wasn’t dense enough for my liking. That was fortunate for the drone photos.
The drone photo with the long, dark shadows falling directly toward the bottom of the frame and looking directly into the sun made the morning photo exceptionally effective.
One of the defining moments for someone to call themselves a photographer is when they begin to understand how light is the most defining element in a photograph. Even if all the other elements are perfect - shutter speed, f-stop, exposure, timing - light has to be perfect to gather the other elements into being important.
Light becomes the subject, the object of study. Learn light and you’ll be a better photographer.