I love wheat fields. The intense greens of newly planted spring wheat turn to gold by the first part of July, and the fields often glow intensely in the late afternoon sun. I drive past this field everyday on the way to work. For the better part of a month the field has treated me, rain or shine, with an agrarian display of newly planted sprouts that have grown to mature stalks. Late last week the farmer arrived with a massive John Deere combine to cut the field, and bale the wheat into tightly coiled rolls. The cutting process is quite precise as the combine cuts a blade-wide swath through the field leaving a short stubble at ground level, and a golden dust that dissipates in the wind. The final result yields a field full of round bales of compacted wheat stalks, seemingly ordered in composition, yet randomly placed. If you have ever attempted to photograph a field of baled wheat you will already know that it is a difficult proposition. A field of rolled wheat bales is a delight to the eye, but it simply does not translate well through the lens of a camera. Once out in the field the chaos of bale placement, the placement ultimately the product of several factors including where the combine starts to cut and the length of the field, is revealed. And so the struggle to make order out of chaos becomes the challenge. The random deposit of the bales by the combine is usually never right for the image. I find myself wanting to rearrange them for the camera. If I could just roll them around I am sure I could come up with a more engaging composition. Something linear. Or perhaps a more hierarchical arrangement–largest to smallest for that sense of perspective. Maybe roll several together for a family portrait. But none of this is possible. The bales weigh quite a lot and rolling them through the stubble is a difficult proposition. And after all what is the point of that anyway. The challenge, as with all things photographic, is finding the composition. The solution is to get in amongst the bails. Walk around them. Hear the crunch of the stubble under you feet. Smell the freshness of the wheat after a soaking rain. The key to success is to "work the image". I spent nearly three hours in this field walking from one end to the other. Camera in hand, and off the tripod, I studied compositions in the viewfinder. I moved in close. I stepped back. I changed focal length. I got up close and I got low. Finally, as civil twilight approached, I made this exposure. It was my last of the day. Here I found some sense of the order I was seeking–an image that hopefully says something about the field, the bales of wheat, the sky, and the sense of light. I like the linear lines from the cut stalks, the way the baled wheat seemed to line up, and the nifty sky that appeared right on cue. But I also liked that bale that seemed to defy the others. Do you see it? It is the one in the middle that is slightly askew and facing a different direction. That bale is the one that is "outstanding in the field". It took me a long afternoon to see it but I guess I like the way that little guy rolls.
Image Data: Nikon D800e, Nikkor 14-24mm, f2.8 at 14mm. Image exposed at ISO 50 at f13 for 1 second. To bring out the clouds I used a Fotodiox Slimline CPL specifically created for the Nikon 14-24.
A Brief Note on the Processing: I was hoping for one of those killer sunsets. I had pre-visioned red clouds hanging over the golden wheat. It started but died quickly. The clouds were nice but the light went a bit flat. So I knew that a black and white conversion would most likely be my direction when developing the file. The conversion was made in LR5.5 with final finishing in PS CC.