Photograph of the Week: Sunset in Grand Canyon…

I know, I know…I haven’t done a Photograph of the Week in a long time.  Everything blog-related was pretty much put on hold while I was recovering from my busted foot.  Now that I can get around a little bit I feel more motivated to post AND I actually have a few things to post about.  So, to kick things off again I wanted to post a collection of pictures from my recent trip to Grand Canyon National Park showing four consecutive days of Sunset in Grand Canyon.

First Sunset: Bedrock City, Arizona…

Somehow, there’s always a lot to do the day of a trip.  Without fail, it seems like I’m overwhelmed with last minute random chores to get done when we are trying to get out of town.  Another reason why flexibility is the overriding theme to all my travel plans.  We didn’t make it all the way to the Grand Canyon on the first day and decided to stop for the night in Bedrock City just outside of Williams.  This was a fun, spontaneous decision that felt much more adventurous than the local KOA.  That first night we set up the teardrop, busted out the camp stove and made dinner as the sun was bearing down on the horizon.  While dinner was cooking, I grabbed the camera and snapped off a few shots of the sunset.

first night sunset- Sunset in Grand Canyon

Nikon D300 w/ 24-105 Lens – f6.3 – 1/160sec – ISO 200 – 35mm

 

Second Sunset: The Watchtower…

We camped at Desert View Campground, about 28 miles east of the main entrance to the park and Grand Canyon Village.  After driving through the main section and seeing what kind of circus Mather Campground is I was really happy we had made the decision to check out Desert View.  It’s a first-come-first-served campground so timing is key if you’re going to find a spot.  We got lucky and managed to grab what I believe was the best spot in the campground.  That first night in Grand Canyon we decided to check out the sunset view from The Watchtower, which is only a quarter mile or so from camp.  We hiked along the rim a ways to stake out a spot away from the crowds.  As sunset approached we still had a sporadic groups of tourists jockeying for a spot along the rim to snap shots of the sunset with their cell phones.

I set up on a promontory that got me out enough to be able to shoot the sunset without the tourists in the frame (I know, I keep saying “tourist” like I wasn’t one…hehe).  We waited…and waited…I was looking for a nice show.  There were nice clouds in the sky, the canyon was clear, visibility was great…we just needed the light to break through.  It never really happened.  That first night was a bust and the sunset fizzled out like a match that burned itself out.  The images for that night were more moody, with subtle light in the clouds and a misty stacked silhouette of purple canyon walls.

Watch Tower Sunset Day 1- Sunset in Grand Canyon

Nikon D300 w/ 10-24 Lens – f29 – 1.3sec – ISO 320 – 22mm

 

Third Sunset: Return to The Watchtower…

We tried to take it easy for the second day in the canyon, I didn’t want to overwork my busted foot since I was just getting used to walking again.  We got up early that day and got to shoot the sunrise at from the cliffs at Desert View just a short walk from camp.  That night I wanted to get back to The Watchtower for sunset, I felt robbed the night before.  It is a great vantage point and the canyon view from there made for great photos but the show the night before was weak.  I wanted another shot at it and the sky was shaping up to have a lot of potential.

We came out a little later than the night before, it had been cold and windy the first night and we waited for a long time with nothing much to show for it.  Arriving later meant I lost my spot though, as it had been taken over by a large group of Asian tourists.  We hiked further down the trail looking for a quiet spot to set up and found a great little overlook.  That night the sun cooperated and gave us a little more of the display I was looking for.  My expectations were high, so even with a “nice” sunset I felt like the canyon was holding back.  We would have one more shot after this, but I was still happy with at least a couple of the sunset images we got that night.  My wife was shooting the D70s with the 24-105 lens and had much better luck since she could get in tighter on the scene we had that night.

Watchtower Sunset Day 2- Sunset in Grand Canyon

Nikon D300 w/ 10-24 Lens – f4.2 – 1/40sec – ISO 320 – 19mm

 

Last Sunset: ShoShone Point…

We got the inside scoop about Shoshone Point from one of the Park Rangers working at The Watchtower.  He gave us clear directions and told us it was the perfect short, easy hike that I could do with my limited mobility and would give us a stellar view of The Canyon for sunset.  He added that Shoshone Point is one of his personal favorite vantage points on the South Rim and it is never crowded.  Sounded like the perfect spot!  What he didn’t tell us is that the location is available for events and we got there just as a full blown wedding was wrapping up.  The bridal party had taken over the point for wedding photos!

Luckily they wrapped up before sunset and everyone headed out leaving the point to Merelyn and I.  Shortly after that we were joined by an eccentric local photographer that seemed to be happy to have some folks to talk to.  We sat and waited.  Things were shaping up nicely but you never know, the clouds move one way or another and can blow the whole thing.  Then the show started and for the next 40 minutes or so I hopped and shuffled all over the point shooting the changes in The Canyon as the light moved.  The sun cast intense rays across The Canyon catching corners and edges and making for some dramatic shooting.  I shot with the wide-angle and my wife shot with the 24-105 and we both captured some great stuff.

Shoshone Point- Sunset in Grand Canyon

Nikon D300 w/ 10-24 Lens – f22 – 1/15sec – ISO 320 – 10mm

 

When the Sun finally did drop behind the cliff the color in the sky changed completely and I dropped the exposure a little.  I had promised Merelyn we wouldn’t stay too long so we wouldn’t be hiking back to the truck in the dark, but I couldn’t leave the sunset before it was done and it had more story to tell.  Our photographer friend was there to the bitter end shooting a time-lapse of the sunset, so as the last of the viable shots for me slipped away we said goodbye and headed back down the dark trail to the truck.  Luckily it wasn’t much of a hike back and we did just fine.

Shoshone Point- Sunset in the Canyon

Nikon D300 w/ 10-24 Lens – f/14 – 1/5sec – ISO 320 – 10mm

 

Prints of any of these shots and more from my Grand Canyon trip can be ordered from the Wilderness Dave Photography Gallery site.

Photograph of the Week: Graduated Filtering…

My wife and I recently visited California to see some friends and family.  We spent Saturday afternoon driving down the coast from Monterey through Big Sur on the scenic Highway 1.  We stopped several times along the way to hike, take pictures and get riddled with Poison Oak (not so much fun).  As the afternoon wore on the fog got thick and it looked like the sunset would be a bust.  I had been hoping to get a nice coastal sunset in this scenic area but nothing is guaranteed in nature.

A little over an hour before true sunset, the sun started to break through the clouds and offer a little pre-sunset drama.  We quickly pulled off the highway at a scenic overlook and I hopped out with the tripod to grab a few shots of the light display.  This was going to be a narrow window and a slightly challenging shot.

I knew I would be looking to shoot a sunset along the coast and had been trying to get myself a nice Neutral Density Graduated Filter for the job.  This would allow me to shoot a little slower to expose the darker ocean and maybe even get some motion blur without over exposing the sky.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get the filter I wanted before the trip.  So I would have to get the shot and figure it out later.

Photograph of the Week: The RAW shot…

Photograph of the Week - Big Sur cliffs RAW

The challenge is balancing the exposure.  You don’t want to overexpose the sky so that the clouds and light still holds detail.  But at the same time you don’t want to underexpose the landscape (ocean) and risk losing detail there either.  Since the clouds only broke in a small part of the sky the entire shot would be very dark except for the light shining through the clouds.  I managed to get a couple of images that struck the balance between exposures allowing me to process them as if I were working with a real filter.

Photograph of the Week: Processing in Lightroom…

Photograph of the Week - Big Sur Lightroom

The first thing I did was adjust the exposure so the darker areas were exposed properly.  This blew out the light in the sky and the glow of the clouds but I’d fix that later.  Once the exposure was corrected I did my usual work of pulling shadows and creating deeper blacks to add depth.  I then pushed on the Clarity and Vibrance to create sharper contrast and pull more vivid color.  Color would be important but I didn’t want to oversaturate the image, so I only made a slight adjustment to the Saturation.

This got me away from a very gray and underexposed image, but the sky was now over exposed.  I applied a Gradient Filter to the top of the image allowing me to adjust the sky without effecting the ocean and landscape.  With the filter in place I was able to bring the exposure of the sky back down a couple of steps where it was more natural and the detail returned.  I still had a very gray sky so I pushed the Temp setting slightly toward the cooler side.  The result gave me a better setting for the warm light that was pouring through the clouds.

I finished my adjustments by pushing the Sharpness as far as I dared, then smoothing the noise by increasing the Luminance.  This is something I’ve been doing on almost every image because it allows me to get crisp detail and sharp edges with almost no noise at all.

Photograph of the Week: Magic from Color Efex Pro…

Photograph of the Week - Big Sur Sunset Final

I tried to keep it simple in Color Efex Pro.  I just wanted a little warmth to the light and maybe a little sharper detail.  I started by applying the basic Brilliance/Warmth filter which gives a nice warm glow to the light in the image, but won’t overly warm the cooler colors.  Then I wanted to punch the light in the sky up a little, so I applied the Skylight filter and the Sunlight filter.  Both of those seem only to enhance existing light in an image without doing too much to mid tones and shadows.  These filters also seemed to bring some luminosity and warms to the reflected light on the ocean surface.

I finished off my adjustments by adding another Graduated Neutral Density Filter to the image creating more contrast in the cloudy sky.  Graduated filters in both Lightroom and Color Efex Pro allowed me to balance out the exposure on a very unbalanced scene.  I can’t wait to get a real physical Neutral Density Filter so I can try some other tricks.

Once the adjusted TIFF file was back in Lightroom I increased the Sharpness and Luminosity again, kinda just to see what would happen. It gave the image a very painterly quality, but on such a small scale it’s hard to see without blowing it up.  But enlarged, the image has no noise and very clean edges, the textures also came in super clean.  I might start doing this final step regularly.

Specifications:

  • This image was shot on a Nikon D300 with a Nikon Nikkor 10-24mm lens.
  • Exp: 1/20 sec, F/22, ISO-200, 10mm.
  • Originally shot in RAW format and processed in Adobe Lightroom and finished in NIK Color Efex Pro 4.

This image and images from this set are available at my Virtual Gallery for download or to order prints.  Please visit.

Photograph of the Week: Subtle Coloring…

My camera was in the shop.  My D300 and wide angle lens had to go in for deep cleaning after my recent trip to Zion.  It needed it.  It just so happened that while my Nikon was having a spa weekend, there were wondrous things taking place at my neighbor’s house.

I have been working on a collection of photographs of Cacti in Bloom, taking advantage of what is expected to be a unusually showy season for cactus around Southern Arizona.  Some of the shots I can get from the trail, but there are many varieties concentrated in private yards around town.  I have a couple of neighbors who have nice collections and I’ve been watching them for blooms.  One particular neighbor has a couple of nice Easter Lily Cactus specimens in his yard which produce a gorgeous bloom.  I watched and waited, studied the light and took note of the best times to shoot so I’d be ready when the flowers came in.

Then they arrived.  Tall trumpet shaped flutes stood tall and opened wide revealing beautiful, delicate pinkish-purple petals.  The blooms came during the night, and were boldly welcoming the sunrise the next day.  As the sun climbed, it cast it’s rays toward the flowers and they seemed to glow with the morning light.  I walked over several times that morning to watch, to study…but my camera was in the shop.  Damn it!

Thinking I would get my camera back soon, I watched the flowers all day.  It could make for a dramatic sunset shot if the light was right.  This was an exciting prospect.  As the day wore on I anxiously waited for my camera, I even considered taking shots with the D70 but felt that wasn’t going to cut it.  Late in the afternoon I still hadn’t heard from the camera shop and disaster struck.  The beautiful blooms were wilting.  The flowers closed and drooped in a tired, spent surrender to the midday heat.  There would be no sunset shots, maybe no shots at all if this cactus didn’t have the resources to bloom again this season.

My camera returned from it’s luxurious spa treatment the next day, but there was nothing to shoot.  But I kept my eyes on the cactus and eventually it bloomed again.  This time even bigger and better.  I caught them in the morning again and quickly scrambled to collect my gear and run to the neighbor’s house to catch it early while the light was still nice.  I took a series of shots, most with the tripod…but a few required me to contort myself into odd positions with my head and hands precariously close to other cacti in the yard.  I was really happy with the results.

Photograph of the Week: Adjustments in Lightroom

I’ve asked around and it seems that people really do like the “process” side of the Photograph of the Week just as much as the story side, so I’ll walk through the process a little more on this one to show how I treated the image.  I shoot in RAW on my Nikon so I can work the fine details in Lightroom.  Shooting RAW generally delivers a very dull image as it essentially ignores basic camera settings that would normally apply to tiff or jpg images (no in-camera processing for white balance, hue, tone and sharpening are applied to the NEF file).  It’s a digital negative, and requires processing (developing) just like film would.

Photograph of the Week - Easter Lily - RAW Image

You can see the RAW image for this shot is dark, flat and doesn’t have any vibrance of color to it.  One of the first things I do in my developing process is to create contrast and depth by reducing the Shadows and increasing the Blacks.  I will then adjust the Clarity setting for the image and see if I need to fine tune Shadows, Highlights, Blacks or Whites to balance the image.  Once I’ve got those basics dialed in I play with the Vibrance and Saturation settings if needed.  Sometimes, these don’t need to be adjusted but I will often boost at least the Vibrance setting which works well to bring out the glow of morning or evening light.

On most images, there isn’t much else I have to do.  In the case of this photo, I didn’t touch anything else except the Sharpness (I always push for heightened sharpness in landscape images).  With all of that dialed in I had a really nice, sharp, clean, colorful image.

Photograph of the Week - Easter Lily - Lightroom Image

Photograph of the Week: Finishing in Color Efex Pro

I recently started playing with the Nik Software plugins for Lightroom.  These were recommended to me by Moab based photographer Bret Edge who has talked about his workflow using Nik Plugins on his blog.

In order to edit the file in any of the plugins it must export to a TIFF file.  Then it opens in the selected plugin allowing you to make your fine adjustments.  I opened this file in Color Efex Pro to drop a couple of filters on it and create some subtle enhancements.  I played with a few things, but I created a nice recipe that worked for this set of images.

I wanted a couple of subtle adjustments, nothing too dramatic since I was really happy with everything I did in Lightroom.  Anything too heavy would overpower and ruin the image.  But I wanted to help boost the “sunrise glow” the morning had and I felt like I wanted to slightly adjust the color to bring out the flower’s natural hue.

I started with the Reflector Efex filter giving the highlights a soft golden glow, fine tuning the settings to keep it subtle.  Then I dropped a purple graduated Bi-Color Filter over the whole image setting the opacity very low.  This solidified the pinks but also further softened the glow from the Reflector Efex by giving the golden highlights an extra dose of purple color.  I toyed with tonal contrast, but dropped it as it seemed to create too harsh of an effect.  Then looked at what the Detail Extractor would do and ultimately left it out as well.

In the end, I feel like I managed to develop an image that highlights the delicate beauty of the bloom and really creates the feeling of a warm sunrise.

Photograph of the Week - Easter Lily - Final Image

 

Specifications:

  • This image was shot on a Nikon D300 with a Nikon Nikkor 24-120mm lens.
  • Exp: 1/160, F/6.3, ISO-200, 45mm.
  • Originally shot in RAW format and processed in Adobe Lightroom and finished in NIK Color Efex Pro 4.

Here’s the full Cacti in Bloom Gallery 

Cacti in Bloom – Images by David Creech

Photograph of the Week: Entering Zion…

I’ve spent the last two days editing and fine tuning photographs from this weekend’s trip to Zion National Park.  I’m very tired, but it’s been incredibly rewarding.  I feel like I have some great images in spite of being overwhelmed by the enormity of such a small park.

I tried not to approach my visit to this park with any specific photographic goals.  Normally I research a location before I visit so that I can figure out which shots have been overdone, which iconic features are “must see”, or if sunrise or sunset are better times to shoot.  With Zion I let all of that go and figured I would simply drive to the park and see what there was to see.  I even resisted the urge to purchase a map of the park before my visit.

I chose to drive in from the lonely east side of Zion.  Coming from Phoenix, the route up through Northern Arizona and across Southern Utah seemed more adventurous and intriguing than zooming along major highways through Las Vegas.  This route meant less traffic and rare views of the Colorado River, Marble Canyon and the Kaibab Plateau.  It also meant there were no lines to get into the park.  The east entrance was eerily quiet.

As soon as I entered Zion, my truck slowed to a crawl.  I’m sure there were the obligatory posted speed limits, but they were unnecessary as it is impossible to drive through Zion without slowing to look at the dramatic scenery.  I don’t think I was inside the park boundary for more than five minutes before I was wheeling my grumbling truck to a dusty pullout and clawing at my camera equipment.  My truck left idling restlessly with the rear door thrown open, I scrambled up a loose, sandy slope to capture my first shots of Zion National Park.

Entering Zion National Park

Entering Zion National Park

Entering Zion National Park

I was not alone, other vehicles were strewn at random angles in haste as eager photographers abandoned their cars, trucks and rented RVs to point their lenses toward a dramatic, alien landscape.  I pushed on, stopping here and there, but forcing myself toward camp.

My adventure was just getting started and I had a partner-in-crime for the weekend that I had yet to meet.

 

To see more of my images from Zion National Park visit my gallery.

Photograph of the Week: Working the details…

Back in December, I shot up to Sedona to catch the first snow of the season.  It was a truly amazing day trip that resulted in some really beautiful shots.  The day was just perfect for photography.  The sunrise was bright and clean, the low wispy clouds clung to the base of the mountains and everything had a dusting of snow and frost.  Sedona photography at it’s best and we took advantage of it.

One of my favorite shots from the trip was not one of the spectacular sunrise directly, or one of the iconic rock features.  It was a simple shot, just north of the Bell Rock feature.  It was sort of a quiet moment for me in the frantic shooting that morning.  We had been scampering around since the sun first crested the horizon, dashing about to catch different angles while we had the window of opportunity.  Then I took a moment…just to take it all in.  It was a beautiful moment and I smiled at the pure, simple pleasure of being there.

As I took in my surroundings I turned away from the sunrise, something I hadn’t done yet, and there was this whole amazing scene behind me bathed in a warm glow.  I took a couple of short steps to frame a few branches from a nearby tree into the shot.  Shortly after that, I resumed my frantic shooting to grab what I could before the day pushed on.

Shooting in low light (sunrise/sunset) can be difficult.  The low angle light creates high contrast and vibrant colors but can be difficult to show without some “dark room” adjustments.  Our eyes do a much better job of working with high contrast than the camera does, so to get a photograph that mimics the experience it can take a little work.  For me, the biggest thing is to bring the shadows forward so that we can see what is hidden there.  To do this (in Lightroom) I push light into the shadows, then immediately increase the Black to restore contrast.  Increasing the clarity will also help bring detail out of the shadows and create contrast.  I rarely have to adjust the contrast directly as the shadow and clarity adjustments do it for me.

The problem with boosting light into the shadows is that you can lose detail in the highlighted areas.  In this piece, the low clouds on the right became a white blob, but by playing with adjustments to the Highlights I was able to get the detail back.  I don’t always boost the Saturation because it’s very easy to get a photograph that looks unnatural.  However, adjusting the Vibrance setting (especially in sunrise/sunset shots) will bring out the vivid colors that make low light shooting so fun.

Photograph of the Week - Original

At this point in the editing process Lightroom lets you fine tune the saturation and hue by color.  I don’t play with this often as it will also easily create a look that is unnatural and “over processed”.  But in some cases (like Red Rock country) where the colors can become either muted or oversaturated depending on the natural light, I will use these tools to push and pull to recreate what the scene felt like.

You can see from the original shot that the details are all there.  The light is much more subtle and the shadows disguise much of the section of trees in the middle.  You also don’t get the feel of the sunrise which was much more vivid in person.

The last thing I do once I have the colors and shadows adjusted is focus on detail.  Lightroom has fine detail adjustments that let me strip out some of the noise and Sharpen the finer details.  Sharpening the image will usually bring out even more noise, but by also increasing the Luminance to match the Sharpening I can drop the rough noise out.  This, to me, results in a much cleaner and more readable image.

Photograph of the Week - Sedona Sunrise

 

Specifications:

  • This image was shot on a Nikon D70s with a Nikon Nikkor 10-28mm WA lens.
  • Exp: 1/160, F/9, ISO-200, 10mm.
  • Originally shot in RAW format and processed in Adobe Lightroom.

 

…And the big announcement!

I finally created a virtual gallery for my work!  I’m really excited to introduce Wilderness Dave Photography where you can see (and purchase) the top photos from my outdoor travel sets.

Wilderness Dave Photography Gallery

Go check it out, I’d love some comments and feedback.  The gallery will be updated with new work as it is produced.  Every week I will feature a special price on the Photograph of the Week for my readers if anyone would like to purchase a print.  This week, use coupon code POTW4413 to get 40% off your purchase.

Photograph of the Week: Plan B in Boulder Creek…

The plan was to hike a 12-13 mile loop down Second Water to Boulder Creek then up the trail along the creek to return via Lost Dutchman Trail.  I was looking forward to hiking the creek and shooting some fun angles in Boulder Creek Canyon.

Normally, Boulder Creek is a thin stream that casually babbles it’s way down the canyon.  Crossing is not terribly difficult and the multiple creek crossings are part of the fun.  What I hadn’t really planned for the was the late Winter storm that rolled through Arizona (and much of the southwest) dumping tons of rain and dusting the local peaks with snow.  I stuck to my plan and headed out to Lost Dutchman State Park figuring I’d hike my designated route, in the rain if need be, and explore this part of the Superstition Mountain Wilderness.

When I hike, the “plan” isn’t much more than a loose sketch…an idea of where I’d like to end up depending entirely on what I might find along the way.  I try to allow a lot of wiggle-room in my agenda and very rarely think of my proposed route as “set in stone”.  Adaptability and flexibility are the name of the game.  My dad used to say something to the effect of, “Plan B makes for better stories”.  He was usually right.

I had to slog through muddy, mucky trails and cross many drainage washes running with water.  There had been so much rain, the ground was soft enough for me to sink a couple of inches with each step in places.  For a good section of the downhill side heading into Boulder Creek Canyon the drainage ran down the trail itself (very happy I had my waterproof boots with me on this one).  Once I reached Boulder Creek I realized I might need to rethink my plans.  The creek was swollen and brown with runoff and moving fast.  I had already passed one group that had turned back at the creek, but I wanted to see it for myself.

I tried desperately to follow my side of the creek looking for any sign of a trail, or a safe place to cross.  I followed a sole set of footprints up the boulder strewn creek fighting through vegetation until I was finally choked out.  I sat on a large boulder in the middle of the creek for a long time thinking about what I wanted to do.  As I munched on a snack bar, I considered the option of crossing the creek to look for the trail.  I considered heading up the canyon wall on my side to see if there was a trail higher up.  All of these considerations were sketchy at best and if the storm decided to let loose with another downpour I could find myself trapped on the wrong side of the creek or, worse, caught in a flash flood.

Eventually, I succumbed to reason and figured the smart thing for me (or anyone) hiking solo out in these conditions was to head back.  I reluctantly headed back the way I came, fighting through the same brush and still looking for a missed opportunity to cross the creek.  When I came back to where the original trail met the creek I tried my luck at crossing again but found nothing I deemed safe.  So I decided to make the best of it and get the camera equipment out to play with.

The storm hadn’t given me much of a sky to shoot.  It was very gray and overcast, very little definition and the light was diffused and too soft to create dramatic shadows.  My immediate thought was that it might be a good opportunity to play with slow exposure shots.  A slow exposure might give me a little boost of light in the scenery.  It would also allow me to play with the moving water effects that I always thought looked so cool.  I shot a few canyon shots then started playing with exposure times.  I took a few shots right down by the creek repeating the same shot with different exposure times to see what I would get.  The new shutter remote I got worked perfectly for being able to stabilize the camera on the tripod and get the shot without the risk of shaking the camera.

Photograph of the Week - Boulder Creek-Superstition Wilderness

Specifications:

  • This image was shot on a Nikon D300 with a Nikon Nikkor 10-28mm WA lens.
  • Exp: 1/5sec, F/29, ISO-200, 18mm.
  • Originally shot in RAW format and processed in Adobe Lightroom.

I eventually climbed up a small boulder cliff adjacent to the creek to get a better view of the canyon downstream.  I snapped a couple of shots then turned the camera around and shot almost directly below me catching a scene where the creek was choked with smaller, colored rocks and desert riparian shrubs.  The chocolate milk color of the storm-swollen creek softened the scene and when I slowed the exposure the movement of the water created a nice silky effect.  The result was magical.

This really turned out to be my personal favorite of this entire set.  I love the colors, I love the contrasts, I love the composition.  The lichen on the granite rock below me provided some really nice interest and texture to balance out the detail in the rocky side of the creek.  The movement of the water flows nicely in a diagonal across the composition dividing the two opposing scenes.  It just feels really nice to me.  I intend to have this one blown up on a tall canvas wrap for my office.

If I had not been forced to abandon Plan A and turn back, this shot would never have happened.  I’m happy to see where Plan B took me.

More Images from Boulder Creek…

You can now purchase Photograph of the Week images from my Virtual Gallery.  The Gallery is set up to allow you to purchase prints or digital copies for personal use.

Photograph of the Week: Diamond in the Rough…

I think all photographers understand that not every trip in to the field is going to be stellar.  Sometimes, mother nature bucks against your expectations and you walk away underwhelmed with your collection of photographs.  It’s hard, and sometimes counterproductive to go out on a shoot with zero expectations and try to find your inspiration.  I’ve tried this approach and often come back with nothing.

A couple of weekends ago I was invited out to visit with fellow Photographers/Bloggers Bret (@BretEdgePhoto) and Melissa (@AdventureTykes) at Lost Dutchman State Park in the Superstitions.  We had talked about meeting up for a hike, but plans changed and I ended up driving out very last minute to visit them at their campsite.  We visited for a while and as the sun approached the horizon Bret asked if I’d like to run out for a quick hike to see what we could get.  I of course said yes, grabbed my gear and we were off to find a view of Weaver’s Needle.

Bret had seen a trail with a potential view he wanted to explore so we parked his rig and set off down a wash.  We hiked the wash, quickly so as not to lose the light, and climbed a few hills looking for the right vantage point.  We eventually followed an old Jeep trail to the top of a small hill where we could see Weaver’s Needle in one direction and Four Peaks in the other.  Then we waited.

The sunset was slow to perform, so I got my camera out and started looking to set up a few shots.  I had brought out my tripod, something I haven’t done in almost 12 years, hoping to be able to get some crisp images.  As I am pursuing photography again I am remembering and relearning the little things that elevate simple “photos” to “Photography”.  I had religiously traveled with my tripod in the past, knowing what I could do on film with a little exposure play.  With the DSLR I had become accustomed to using it like an oversized point-and-click digital camera.  That is changing.

Bret and I sat on the hilltop for a short while.  We were hoping for a decent shot of Weaver’s Needle but the light wasn’t cooperating and I became more fascinated with the view of Four Peaks.  There wasn’t much there, but as the light was getting lower I could sense a subtle glow to the rock, and the saguaros were lighting up like little candles on the hillside and Four Peaks and the mountains in the distance were taking on a nice soft purple hue through the haze.  I set up the tripod and took a few shots, really expecting nothing spectacular but wanting to see if I could tell the difference in detail shooting off the tripod.  The sky was dull and the sunset fizzled out without any real show.

Bret and I packed up and headed back to camp where we continued our visit.  Bret and Melissa are really great folks and I was glad I could take them up on their invitation to visit.  I went home shortly after dark and put my gear away.

The next day I decided to take a look at the images, entirely unimpressed with the originals.  I began processing them just to see if the low light had given me enough color and contrast to draw out some detail.  Working with the first couple of images was encouraging but they were not the shots off the tripod.  When I got to the last few, taken from the stability of the tripod, I was impressed with the difference.  I was able to take a slower shot, allowing a wider aperture and the resulting photograph was clean and crisp.

Photograph of the Week - Lost Dutchman

Specifications:

  • This image was shot on a Nikon D300 with a Nikon Nikkor 10-28mm WA lens.
  • Exp: 1/13 sec, F/14, ISO-200, 24mm.
  • Originally shot in RAW format and processed in Adobe Lightroom.

 

With the slower exposure, there was more color to play with and as I processed the image a rainbow of colors emerged.  The vertical shot really emphasizes the layers of color.  To me, this image feels like a rainbow with it’s layered colors blending to each other.  There was enough shadow in the landscape in the foreground that it wasn’t toned in yellows and oranges like the rest of the desert.  The previously dull sky now made sense in the composition and I was able to overlay a gradient exposure correction to get the sky to fade to a darker blue.

Photograph of the Week - Lost Dutchman and Four Peaks

Specifications:

  • This image was shot on a Nikon D300 with a Nikon Nikkor 10-28mm WA lens.
  • Exp: 1/2 sec, F/29, ISO-200, 24mm.
  • Originally shot in RAW format and processed in Adobe Lightroom.

The horizontal shot was able to take advantage of the purple hue of Four Peaks and had the added interest of part of the old Jeep trail in the foreground.  This image came out super crisp and clean and, though more subtle, had the same layers of rainbow colors I captured in the vertical image.

I had dismissed both of these shots because I had wanted the super dramatic sunset, or the perfectly framed shot of Weaver’s Needle with the light illuminating the peak just right.  Instead I got a really interesting, playful, colorful couple of images that highlight the beauty of the landscape and the intricate detail of the rock and cacti.

In the end, even without the nice images, I was glad to have met a couple of new friends and share a hike with a fellow photographer (though I struggle to even refer to myself as a photographer in the company of a true professional).  One of these days, I hope to get up to Moab to visit Bret’s gallery and join them for some fun outdoors adventures in Utah.

You can now purchase Photograph of the Week images from the Wilderness Dave Photography Virtual Gallery.  The Gallery is set up to allow you to purchase prints or digital copies for personal use.

Photograph of the Week: Catching the Sunset…

This Photograph of the Week I almost didn’t catch.

My wife and I had just moved everything she owns from Houston back to Arizona.  We have waited nearly three years to be living together in the same house.  We had solicited the help of her parents for the long drive across the southern states to Arizona.  Having been home for most of our first week together, a good friend invited us up to his place in Cave Creek for a visit.  We graciously accepted the opportunity.

I had promised we would be in Cave Creek by 6:30 and I am not one to keep people waiting.  I had been watching the clouds all day and the sky was promising quite a show at sunset.  A sunset that would probably hit it’s peak right about 6:15 or 6:20, just as we would be driving north to my friend’s house.  Before we left, I grabbed my camera hoping that we could make it to Cave Creek before the sunset completely disappeared.

Sure enough, as we left the house the sun was settling low and the intense evening light was bending into an array of warm colors.  The clouds that evening were hinting at a storm and made the perfect canvas for bold strokes of orange, red, pink and violet.  I found it difficult to keep my eyes off of the sunset and I’m sure everyone in the truck thought I was nuts as I was mesmerized by the torrid display.  I got us into the driveway just as the sun was disappearing, the oranges and deep reds and faded and the sky was washed with the afterglow of pink and violet tones splashed against dark stormy clouds.

At the risk of being entirely inappropriate and rude, I said a quick hello then darted back to the truck and grabbed my camera.  I rushed across the street from my friend’s house, which was luckily next door to natural desert, and snapped off a few choice shots.  It was hard to tell if I had caught enough of the light.  The pink tones were so subtle as the sun faded they could easily not show up.  Luckily, with some developing in Lightroom I was able to enhance the subtle tones in the finished image.  I almost missed this one, and certainly missed the grand show.  But what I did capture was something that I think turned out much more compelling than the blaze of full sunset at it’s peak.  The mood in this photograph plays a much deeper, more intricate melody.

Photograph of the week - Cave Creek Sunset

We truly have some of the most amazing sunsets in the world here in Arizona.  As a budding photographer, it’s heartbreaking to miss opportunities to capture something amazing.  But if you pay attention throughout the day, and you are prepared with your equipment at the ready, you’ll have the advantage.

Specifications:

  • This image was shot on a Nikon D300 with a Nikon Nikkor 10-28mm WA lens.
  • Exp: 1/20 sec, F/4.5, ISO-200, 24mm.
  • Originally shot in RAW format and processed in Adobe Lightroom.

You can now purchase Photograph of the Week images from the Wilderness Dave Photography Virtual Gallery.  The Gallery is set up to allow you to purchase prints or digital copies for personal use.

Photograph of the Week: Sunrise in Utah…

I spent the end of January doing a lot of traveling and trying to photograph as much as I could.  After an amazing trip to Salt Lake City for the 2013 Outdoor Retailer Winter Market, a small group of us were rounded up before dawn and shuttled off to parts unknown in Idaho courtesy of GeigerRig.  The thick morning storm clouds were beginning to open up as the sun came up behind the snow covered mountains just north of Ogden.  Any good photographer would have wanted to stop and set up for the shot, but I didn’t have that luxury.  As we sped along the slushy freeway, I rolled down the window and snapped off a few shots hoping I could keep the camera steady.

Unedited Photograph…

Sunrise in Idaho-Original Photograph

You can see it was a dramatic sunrise.  The clouds were great, and the snowy mountains were picture perfect.  I knew taking the shots out of the window would give me a blurry foreground (hard not to at 60MPH) and would require cropping.  I framed the shot accordingly, knowing I would crop the road out later.  This sort of shot wanted to be a panoramic format anyway.  Problem is, the raw image muted a lot of the color and intensity of the scene.  So when I got back to the cabin I loaded the image into Photoshop and played with it.  I wanted to get some contrast into the image and bring some of the colors out without losing the clouds.  I did my typical edit of higher contrast, and pushed some light into the shadows and then intensified the blacks.

Photograph edited in Photoshop CS4…

Sunrise in Idaho- Photograph edited in Photoshop

I was initially very happy with this image after I worked it over in Photoshop.  I got the blue sky and intense sunrise colors I was looking for.  Certainly better than the raw image.  After time, I became less happy with the image.  I had lost some of the detail and drama in the clouds and the mountains still seemed a little muted in the color scheme.  The sky just didn’t feel as “big” as it should and the mountains looked pale.  After looking at it I also felt like I had over-cropped the image.  I needed a little more foreground, even though the foreground wasn’t anything amazing it still gave the story context.  Context is an important part of telling your story in writing as well as photography.

Photograph edited in Lightroom 4.3…

Sunrise in Idaho- Photograph edited in Lightroom

I started from scratch in Lightroom with the raw image.  I played the same game of lightening the shadows and filling in the blacks while playing adjustments to clarity and contrast.  Once I felt I had the nuts and bolts of the image dialed in I worked on coaxing more color out of the clouds to set them off.  The differences are subtle but I managed to keep the clouds intact, bring more weight to the mountain shadows and still bring out some brilliant colors in the sky.  I fine tuned the yellows and oranges to keep the pallet warm but not “sunset warm”.  I cropped the image to include more of the foreground which seemed to maintain the “big sky” feel that the original image had.

Ultimately, I now feel I’ve got an image that has retained the integrity of the original shot but with a much more dramatic story to tell.  This just shows you what minor tweaks to the development and cropping can do for an image.

 

Specifications:

  • This image was shot on a Nikon D300 with a Nikon Nikkor 10-28mm WA lens.
  • Exp: 1/200, F/7.1, ISO-200, 10mm.
  • Originally shot in RAW format and processed in Adobe Lightroom.

Photograph of the Week: Point-and-Click recovery…

Back in 2007 I spent a month rafting the Colorado River through Grand Canyon on a private boat trip from Lee’s Ferry to Lake Mead.  I was very nervous about bringing my DSLR on a month long rafting trip so I took my Olympus Stylus I purchased just for that trip.  While a great little bomb-proof adventure camera, the images were not great.

At the time, I had little experience editing/enhancing photos in PhotoShop (or any other software for that matter).  So they collection of images sat around.  As I’ve been going back over older images shot with the DSLR I got to thinking about what I might be able to coax out of some of those old Point-and-Click images.  There were some nice shots in there that just came out flat and uninspiring, shots that just needed a little help.  Most were either blown out or too grainy to really do much with.  I did find a handful of images with enough potential to work on and was pleasantly surprised with how much I could do with them in Lightroom.

Photograph one: Sunset near Lee’s Ferry…

Lee's Ferry - Photograph of the Week

I believe this was our first night camping at Lee’s Ferry before we put-in for our trip.  It was on it’s way to being a chilly night and the sunset was crisp, clear and vibrant.  I got the camera out and snapped a shot thinking I had really managed to capture this brilliant sunset with it’s reflection in the water.  The actual image wasn’t as dramatic and I was disappointed.  Even looking at it again, I wasn’t sure if there was enough there to really get a nice image out of it.  But there is good contrast, potential for color and it’s a relatively clear image compared to the graininess in some of the others.

So I brought it into Lightroom and started playing with it.  I pushed in some fill-light to reduce the shadows and increased the clarity to get some detail out of the cliffs.  This already started bringing the colors out a little so when I got in to adjusting the saturation and luminosity the sunset came alive.  Without having to push artificial color in to the sky, the yellows and oranges burst out and the reflection in the water became more dramatic.  I pushed a little on the violet and purple spectrum and brought some color out of the cliffs.  I finished my editing with a minor crop to balance the composition and the final image now feels like the sunset I tried to capture on my trip.

You can tell I pushed a little too hard in some places and the image comes out little grainy in places, but the colors and depth are much improved.

Sunset at Lee's Ferry - Photograph of the Week

 

Photograph two: Canyon Walls…

Grand Canyon - Photograph of the Week

This shot was taken from one of the side-hikes we took into the Canyon off the river.  I liked this shot because it really represented the view we had from inside the Canyon – high, colorfull cliffs and endless canyon walls.  This shot had a good detailed foundation to work with and the colors in the rock are very washed out.  I thought it could handle the increase in contrast and clarity needed and I wanted to see if I could enhance the colors enough to bring out the cliffs.

As usual, I started with tonal adjustments and tried to create depth in the shadows.  Then it was a matter of fine tuning the colors, careful not to over-saturate the cliffs past the point of reality.  I managed to get some great color out of the rock, the detail in the cliff faces came out nicely and as a bonus, the sky brightened up and brought more attention to the clouds.  I wasn’t very happy with the lower details in the cliffs where they start to crumble and slope out, so I cropped some of that out to bring focus to the colorful vertical cliffs and the sky.

Grand Canyon - Photograph of the Week

 

When you revisit old images, do you ever think to try new software or new techniques to bring them back to life?  I might start looking at doing this more often.