Sheep at Sunset_Latrabjarg_Iceland

Sheep lit with beautiful rim lighting on the Latrabjarg cliffs in western IcelandCanon 5D Mark II camera and Canon 70-200mm f4 L series lens and Canon 1.4x Extender. Exposure Details: 1/200 second @ f11 ISO 400 280mm.

This image was made at Latrabjarg, a major puffin site on the west coast of Iceland. There are said to be between 8 to 10 million puffins in Iceland - not bad for a country with a human population of around 320,000. The sun was setting and, with almost all of the tourists and other serious photographers gone, it was time to leave the puffins in peace.

I was making my way down the steep hill, adjacent to the massive cliffs on which the puffins perch, when I noticed some sheep grazing on the hillside off to the other side. I probably spent 15-20 minutes photographing members of the flock, both individually and in small groups. I feel I made some strong images of one or more sheep grazing against a distant cliff face in the background. In this case, one of the last images I made for the day, I noticed a group of sheep moving out of the wind into a shallow, grassy depression on the hillside.

I was attracted by the strong rim lighting that highlighted the rounded shape of the sheep against the very dark surroundings. This was an extremely high contrast scene with all but the brightly lit areas of the sheep in deep shade. I deliberately underexposed, probably the only time I have done so with a digital camera. This approach allowed me to hold onto a lot of the delicate highlight detail and also provided me with the minimum shutter speed required to bring a sense of sharpness to the most important moving sheep.

It did, however, result in a dark image with little shadow detail. Lifting the shadows out during processing would have created significant artefacts (e.g. noise). So, just as they drew me to the scene at the time, the success of the picture would be dependant on the rim lighting and the shape of the sheep against the dark surroundings.

I employed Adobe Lightroom 3 for basic processing and Adobe Photoshop CS5 to apply a rich sepia-like tone to the image. I'm happy with the mood achieved.   

Photographing moving subject matter, hand-held with a telephoto lens, around dusk is never easy. All decisions relating to technique, composition and timing had to be made within just a few short seconds before the sheep turned and moved out into less desirable surroundings. Given the low light levels, extreme contrast and moving subject matter I'm quite happy with the final result from my visit to Latrabjarg.

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Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru