Behind the photo: Gale force winds

In the Behind the photo series, landscape photographer Harmen Piekema takes you on a journey. We will discuss why and how I took a particular photo. For this weeks story, I’ve chosen one of my favorite photos taken on my recent Lofoten trip, a long-exposure pano, consisting of 4 images, of a very beautiful mountain range! The reason I like that photo so much is because it is a mixture of technique, determination and pure luck. This day started at a different location however.

I hope this gives you an idea of the conditions I was working with that day. I love this type of weather but it makes photography rather hard. Tamron SP 70-200 f/2.8 G2 @ 70 mm | f/9 | 1/40 sec | ISO 400 with NiSi Medium GND8 & Landscape CPL.

Why a pano?

I knew right away I wanted to make a panoramic image. These mountains just ask for it, don’t they! But all jokes aside, the best way to show the enormous size of these mountains is by adding foreground elements to the scene. But with a mountain range of this size, that would mean using a wide angle lens. This in turn would make the mountains look small (because of the perspective). Therefore, I opted for my Tamron 70-200 G2 lens. In retrospect, I could have done perfectly fine with the 24-70 (both images are taken at 70 and 74 mm), which would have made life much easier, but I got carried away by the moment!

By using a longer focal length, I was able to capture both the foreground and the background in a way we would perceive it with our own eyes (more or less). The downside of this method however is that you won’t be able to get it all in one image. You have to make a pano, that is the only option.

The first image

At my first location, I wanted to emphasize the stormy weather. Beautiful big clouds and snow showers moved in- and out of the scene in quick succession. The wind was blowing at gale force, and the waves were pumping like crazy. To me, this is what the Arctic is all about! Raw and untamed! There was so much movement in the water, that I still had to time these shots quite well. If the waves got too high, they were too prominent, causing too much whitewater. As a matter of fact, once in a while a was surrounded by water, floating around the boulder I was standing on. By choosing a shutterspeed of 1/40th of a second, I was able to get a sense of movement but not blur-out the details.

In these situations it might sound obvious, but you need a solid and sturdy tripod that is up to the task. You don’t want your tripod to be blown over or start to shake in the wind. I am using a Gitzo Mountaineer, which is a dream when working in these conditions. In this cold you’ll probably be wearing thick gloves, and thanks to the large ballhead you don’t need to take them off when making adjustments.

When taking panoramic images, it is really important to level your tripod! This helps you to avoid loosing pixels around the edges after stitching. It is also smart to compose a bit wider than you normally would. This way, you’ll get a bit more room for error.

This is what the Arctic is all about! Raw and untamed! Tamron SP 70-200 f/2.8 G2 @ 70 mm | f/9 | 1/40 sec | ISO 400 with NiSi medium GND8 + Landscape CPL.

The second image

With one image in the bank, I wanted a direct view on the mountains without the obstruction of the shoreline towards the left. In a few hours the sun would set and because there were so many openings in the fast moving clouds, there was a big chance of an epic sunset. With this in mind, I drove off to a location were this was possible. I still wanted a bit of the shoreline in my foreground but not as prominent as before.

While with the first image, I really loved the strong movement in the water, now it became a burden. Therefore I needed to slow things down. All the waves made the water look messy and distracting. Thus, I used a NiSi 3-stop neutral density filter. Thanks to this filter, I was able to get an exposure time of 15 seconds. There was a downside to this practice however. The wind was picking up even more and this made it really though to keep the camera free from shaking. Even more so, because of the long lens and the enormous (150 mm) filter system. I kept my determination, and used my body to shield the camera from the wind.

With a timer of 10 seconds, I had enough time to get into position and to be sure that the camera no longer vibrated.  As the sky became more beautiful and beautiful, the wind became stronger and stronger. In the end it was impossible to prevent the camera from shaking, so I stopped, but I was pretty sure I had the image I had in mind!

Using Lightroom, I stitched four long-exposure images, into one large panoramic photo. Tamron SP 70-200 f/2.8 G2 @ 74 mm | f/11 | 15 sec | ISO 100 with NiSi medium GND8 + Landscape CPL + ND8 (3-stop).

The final edit

At home I stitched the 4 photos using Lightroom, I did this with two series of images. One for the immediate foreground (the light on the rocks was so beautiful) and one for the sea, the mountains and sky. I blended those together into one huge panoramic image using Photoshop.

Thanks for reading

Thank you very much for reading! If you like my photography, please follow me on Instagram @harmenpiekema and Facebook. Please check out my YouTube channel to see behind the scene vlogs, learn how to use certain gear and follow me on my adventures. If you want an image as a signed limited edition print, check out my webshop. Your support means a lot!

If after reading this post you would like to see the behind the scenes video:

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