It is funny how inspiration strikes when you’re not looking for it.

I took the following photo on a local walking trial. I’ve walked that trail several dozen times now. When I walk it in the morning the rising sun shines through the trees. I’ve taken a few janky videos of it, but nothing serious. I never walk the trail with my camera bag, so I just use my cell phone most of the time.

I love walking it in freezing temps – it hardens up the mud, and I love wearing a hoodie with the hood up when I walk, which means the temps have to be cold, else I overheat. Friday evening, just before bed, I was thinking about the next day and how I was looking forward to hitting up the trail: how it was going to be well below freezing, and mostly sunny, so the sunlight in the trees will be excellent. Suddenly this image here formed in my brain, fully baked, with the mist, light, location. Everything.

5 minutes later I had my camera bag packed, and waiting by the door so I wouldn’t forget it the next day for my hike.

This image is the result:

Everything in this post above this line was copied from my blog post about the experience, and also in my Facebook post when I posted this image. You may now be asking yourself why I am repeating it here as well. If you already like my work and follow me, you’ve see those words already. The answer is, I am going to reveal a behind the scenes peak of what went into getting this shot

This shot breaks down into several things. Location, manipulating the light source, the model and its supports, and having a source for the mist.

Location, location, location

As the intro text stated, this was taken along a hiking trail near my house (wesstern North Carolina, right where the mountains start). It is a shared use mountain bike path that winds up and down hills and valleys for several miles through a wonderfully varied woodland. What is critical with this shot was finding a part of the trail that looked decent as a background, and also faced east. Why east? Astrophysics, of course!

The light source

In my head this shot was going to have a really nice light flare, and there is nothing better than a sun that is close to the horizon to get those flares. Not to mention, using the sun means I don’t have to lug a bunch of lights along 4 miles of windy trail. The need for a light flare means the sun must be behind the model. I know from experience that the morning sun is visible from several sections of those trails, and that the sun rises in the east… hence, I needed an eastern facing section of trail.

The problem with shooting into the sun is that everything you put in front of it is going to be very, very dark. The camera can only capture so much dynamic range of light, and the sun is always going to dominate that range. The best solution I have found for this is to use a reflector to bounce the sun back onto the subject, thereby using the sun against itself. Take that, sun!

As a bonus, the backlight from the sun will make the mist really pop.

I do tend to use HDR to take backlit shots like this. HDR, or High Dynamic Range, is a method of taking several shots at different exposures (I normally do 3, one at the base exposure, one 2 stops under exposed, and another 2 stops over exposed). These shots are then combined in post-processing to get an image with a higher dynamic range than the camera can do by itself – this ensures both the shadows, highlights, and mid-tones get properly exposed.

Dealing with the model

The figure is a Hot Toys Boba Fett. Often I can keep these figures pretty stable by standing them up on their own, however I wanted this Fett to be in a walking post, which is inherently unstable. To keep him upright I used a Platypod Ultra base, with a gooseneck and clamp attachment. I don’t know why I never thought about doing this before, but I tossed some leaves onto the Platypod to disguise it – that way, no need to remove it in Photoshop later. Work smarter, not harder!

The Mist

It was, annoyingly, a very dry day. That is great for the hiking part, but rather dull from the photography perspective. I love a good shot with mist in it. The way the particles suspended in the air capture and disperse the light just puts me right into my happy place. This is why I have made it a habit of carrying around a can of Atmosphere Aerosol. It is, essentially, a smoke machine in a can. To get the effect above I held the can in one hand, and help my finger over the camera trigger in the other. I squirt in a bit of mist, wait a half second for it to dissipate throughout the frame, then take the photo. There is a bit of a trial and error involved to get the perfect shot, but with some practice, and a smidge of luck, I can normally get what I want.

Then all that is left is to pack everything back up, finish the hike, and head home to combine the shots using HDR, and polish it off with some subtle post processing.

I made a video of my process if you want to see some of the nitty gritty details. It is here:

Final Thoughts

What made this shot possible was being prepared when inspiration struck. The old Boy Scout motto of being prepared is very appropriate here. Not just being prepared to deal with problems that may come up, but also being prepared to act when inspiration strikes. As artists inspiration can come at any time. However it ois not the inspiration, but what we do with it, that turns an idea into art.

Be prepared. Also, always be packing Atmosphere Aerosol.