UPAA Blog 2020-21 #12 - 1/3/21 (photos and text by Matt Cashore)

Matt Cashore is senior university photographer at Notre Dame, a 1994 graduate of Notre Dame and has been photographing Notre Dame as a student photographer, freelancer or staff member for 30 years. His Campus Environment category photo "Misty Merry Christmas" was voted Best in Show in the December 2020 Monthly Image Competition. The MIC Q&A is a monthly feature on the UPAA blog to learn more about the thought and craft behind the UPAA's contest-winning images.

Tech stuff? What camera, lens, exposure, lighting, gadgets, gizmos, etc.?

•Nikon Z7

•24-70 f2.8S @24mm

•13sec f5 ISO64

•2-frame stitched image

How did you have an opportunity to make this photo? Planned? Self-Assigned? Something else?

You can listen to me yammer at length about campus scenics and my methods and thinking in this UPAA webinar from April 2020.

The short version is that there are 4 main factors:

•A ‘can’t-turn-it-off’ drive to make photos of Notre Dame. Work hours or not, if I’m in town I’m watching the weather, clouds, light, stars, moon, etc. in anticipation of a chance to "chase the magic."

•A golden dome...(right?!?) It looks striking in any season, light, or weather. (The challenge, though, is being ready for those fleeting moments when it's not just pretty, but extraordinary.)

•Proximity to campus

•A spouse who approves of dropping everything in pursuit of fleeting meteorological phenomena

So even though it was the first day of our staff Thanksgiving break I kept an eye on the weather throughout the day. Over dinner I decided the potential was there for some campus fog scenics and off I went. These days I almost always have a backpack handy with a Z6 or Z7 with a 24-70 2.8S zoom and a 135mm f2 and that’s what I took with me.

It was 45 minutes from leaving home to returning.

Any unique logistics in making the photo? What sort of post processing (or not)?

I’ve been doing this job in some or another capacity for 30 years. Have I shot fog before? Yep. Puddles? Yep. Fog and puddles? Yep.

"Puddles and fog...over the years...got all them puddles...comin' outta my ears..."

On the one hand I’m repeating myself. On the other hand it’s never exactly the same and one of my flaws/assets (depending on what I might have just done to antagonize my bosses) is that I always want to see if there’s a better version of a photo to be made.

So yeah…”Hello puddle, hello fog…we meet again. What’s new?”

At first I thought the reflection was a natural vertical, but then the Christmas lights caught my eye and I tried a horizontal to include the tree. Unfortunately a 24mm wasn’t quite wide enough and just cut off the top of the Dome. Needed to be somewhere 18-20mm to get everything I wanted in the frame. But I didn’t have any wider lenses on me so I improvised and decided to stitch two frames to get the extra top and bottom room I needed. The built-in Adobe Camera Raw stitching tool handled it easily.

The straight-from-camera raw files of the top half, bottom half, and the stitched, toned final photo. 

The slider goes to 100? Then I'll slide it to 100. But what if it went to...11?

Fog being...well, foggy...means there's going to be a loss of sharpness and contrast. Also, the the outdoor sidewalk lighting was really bright and drawing the eye away from the Dome. As Nate Edwards says: "Be the director of your image," and make sure viewers look where you want them to look, which usually means the brightest, sharpest thing in the frame. So the post processing was aimed at boosting the overall crispness of the building as well as maximizing dynamic range to brighten the building and push down the distraction of the sidewalk lighting. Shooting at ISO 64 gave me a lot of room to go nuts and not worry about noise or other digital muckety-muck. You can see in the ACR develop panel that the shadows are boosted and highlights pulled back as far as the sliders go. My ‘secret sauce’ in landscape photos is the dehaze filter. It seems to add just the perfect amount of contrast and sharpness for any landscape photo—day, night, sunny, cloudy, whatever…and in this photo it especially helped the clarity and contrast of the reflection. I’ve also found that dehaze often adds a blue cast to the sky and I thought that helped the mood of this photo so I left that alone.

You chose this image as one of your 5 best of the month, and UPAA chose it as the best of everyone’s best of the month…What do you think makes it stand out?

I edited and uploaded 5 photos from my quick trip to campus that night and initially I didn’t choose this as one of my favorites. One of our campus magazine editors saw it on our Photoshelter site and published it as their ‘Photo of the Week’ feature and the response both on social media and in print sales was enthusiastic. 

My selects from my quick lap around campus. I did a panoramic of the entire main quad (far right frame) which at first was my favorite of the batch.

I suspect the Christmas lights make this one stand out more than some of the other similar ‘Dome in fog’ photos I’ve made over the years.

I began participating in the MIC in 2013 and I’ve had more than a few occasions where a photo that was applauded by the ND community landed with a thud in the MIC. I waffled slightly about picking this photo vs another photo from that evening as a MIC entry but ultimately decided to let peer pressure be my guide and it worked this time.

What (if anything) would you do differently if you could re-shoot this today?

I’d have had thrown my 14-30Z lens in my backpack (not like it weighs a lot!) on my way out the door and made the photo in a single frame instead of a stitch.

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“The fog of illusion, the fog of confusion is hanging all over the world.” -Van Morrison | Email editor Matt Cashore with feedback, articles or article suggestions, mcashore@nd.edu. Follow UPAA on Instagram, too!