Behind the Image: Glowing Home

Glowing Home - SUP at Two Jack Lake, Banff National Park. Photo by Paul Zizka Photography.
Glowing Home – SUP at Two Jack Lake, Banff National Park. Photo by Paul Zizka Photography.

Here is another example of combining two cool things to hopefully get something cooler than the sum of its parts.

I love to photograph people who are truly passionate about what they do. I don’t mind if my subjects are not the best in the world at what they’re doing. I just love documenting people doing what they enjoy most. (Although I gotta say – Sue, shown here, is pretty amazing at stand up paddleboarding!).

I’ve worked with Sue extensively on a SUP series over the last year or so. She has everything I look for in a model. She is dedicated to her craft. She is an overall awesome person. She knows what it takes to get good images and she is willing to stick it out and put herself through a lot to make an image happen.

The conversation eventually leading to this shot went something like:

Me: “Hey, Sue, you know that Milky Way shot we’ve been wanting to take? I think the conditions will be ideal tonight. The Milky Way will be in the right spot. They’re calling for very little wind. And we’re nearly guaranteed a clear night.”

Sue: “Perfect. I’m in. Meet you there after work. ” (typical Sue response)

Me: “There’s only one thing. The shot can’t happen until at least 3 AM because that’s when the galaxy shows up beside Mount Rundle.”

Sue: “No problem.”

Yeah, that’s how keen Sue is.

After shooting the northern lights for a bit at neighbouring Lake Minnewanka, I met Sue around 1 AM on the shore of Two Jack Lake. We wanted to allow plenty of time to take test shots and iron out any wrinkles that might get in the way of our image.

Having tried such images a few times before, and being aware of some of the associated technical struggles, we had come prepared: milk crates, anchors, accessory lights, etc. were all part of the arsenal.

While Sue inflated her paddleboard, I walked around and took some high ISO test shots as I tried to find a composition that matched as closely as possible the vision I had for this image. Often the problem with those images is that the far shoreline “cuts off” the head of your subject, i.e. there is unwanted merging happening, and the only way to counter that is to shoot from a spot that is slightly higher than your subject. Thankfully, there are plenty of those spots along Two Jack Lake.

Another limiting factor in terms of composition is that on a moonless night, I was pretty much forced to use a fast prime less, hence I did not have the luxury of zooming in or out.

Yet another thing to keep in mind as I scouted compositions was that I was almost certain a vertical orientation would work better, simply because I had a lot to fit in from foreground to background: Sue and her board, iconic Mount Rundle, and ideally a good chunk of the Milky Way.

One last thing that helped narrow down options is that in such a vertical composition, it would make sense that Rundle would be in the top-right quadrant in order to make room for the Milky Way, and that the reflection of the Milky Way would occupy a good portion of the bottom left quadrant, leaving only one option in terms of where to put Sue: the bottom right quadrant. Hopefully, that all makes sense from the image! This is all because I did not want any of the key elements of the image to overlap.

So, once I had considered all those constraints, it became more obvious what the composition “had” to be.

Then, the main technical difficulty with this image is keeping my subject sharp. Because I knew I would have to push the settings to the limit for this image (moonless night…) I knew that I would be looking at a 10-second exposure at least, possibly even 30. So asking Sue to simply keep her board still was just not an option. Hence the milk crates, which we stacked, and then proceeded to place the paddleboard right on top.

We got Sue back onto the water when the Milky Way started to creep into the frame. Then I asked Sue to try several different body positions. Eventually, I felt like having her facing towards where the Milky Way meets the mountain led to a more dynamic image, an image that drew you in a little more. After doing a few straight up silhouette shots, I went back into the water (wearing waders) to place a “SplashLight” between the top Milky crate and the paddleboard, just to see what underwater lighting would look like. even though adjustments were obviously required, I was thrilled about the potential when I saw the first test shot on the LCD. I loved the surreal feel of the underglow, and also loved how you could see details at the bottom of the lake. It took about 15 times of going back and forth between the board and the camera before I felt everything looked just right. The end shot is a slight blend of two exposures, just to avoid blown out areas around Sue.

We had committed about three hours to one image but were both ecstatic about the results.
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