To hell with blown highlights: the importance of experimentation and working the scene

by Amar Dev Singh

posted Friday, December 13, 2013 at 7:18 PM EDT

Here is a good example why it is so important to work the scene to get the best results from a shoot. We were camped on a 3000m ridge while photographing the majestic peaks of Trishul (7120m) and Nanda Ghunti (6309m) from Brahm Tal in the Garhwal Himalaya. I had just finished a sunrise shoot of the sweeping panorama before us. We spent two night on this ridge. I wrote more about this experience in my last post.

This scene was directly to the east of us and once the sun rose over the ridge it was too bright to shoot in that direction.

Sunrise on Trishul (7120m) and Nanda Ghunti (6309m), Garhwal Himalaya. You should really click here to see a larger version (it's spectacular).

We were in the process of breaking camp and just before I put away my camera gear for the long trek back to civilisation I decided to take a few shots of the camp. The first one was the one below which is a pretty standard documentary shot of the great little campsite we had perched high o the ridge. I say documentary as it faithfully records the position, setting of the camp, time of day and not too much else. What this shot doesn’t show is the massive Himalayan peaks in front of the tent, as shown in the panorama. This is because the sun was rising right over that ridge and I didn’t think I could capture that scene without blowing out all the highlights.

The photographer’s camp on the ridge. We got our water from the snow drift behind our tent. Larger version available here.

I wasn’t satisfied with the result as it wasn’t dramatic or moody enough so I though, ‘What the heck. I’ll shoot straight into the sun and see what I get’. I stepped around to the back of the tent and composed a shot with the tent in the foreground and the mountains in the background. The result blew me away. I didn’t just capture the scene, I captured the mood and the drama of the scene before us.

The photograph was the best shot I got that trip and one of my most successful shots overall. It has been published in a couple of magazines and on a few websites.

Dawn in the Himalayas, Wanderlust Magazine, May 2012. Larger version available here.

If I had stopped shooting earlier when I had taken my intended shot of the panorama and documented the scene of our campsite I would never have captured this much more dramatic image. The photograph of the panorama was planned but this, much more successful photograph, was accidental. A serendipitous result of experimentation and exploring all angles, even one that I wasn’t sure would work.

The lesson I learnt from this experience was to really work the scene, experiment, try every angle, be bold and sometimes shoot straight into the sun. Sometimes you have to say, “To hell with blown highlights!”

Taken on my Nikon D700 and 24-70mm f2.8.

What photography 'rules' have you broken lately?


Amar Dev Singh is a professional photographer specializing in outdoor, adventure and travel photography. He also leads photography tours and expeditions that look pretty incredible. Follow his website or catch him on Google+, Twitter, Facebook and 500px. This post originally appeared here. We happened on Amar's work via PetaPixel.