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.

Testing out a new chest rig…

A couple weeks ago I went on a short hike in the Superstitions with my camera gear.  For the first time in a long time, I carried my ridiculously heavy tripod out into the field.  Carrying the D300 along with a couple of lenses AND the tripod adds a lot of weight to the pack and can make it awkward to carry.  I also hate carrying the camera in the backpack just because of access issues.  This normally results in me carrying the camera through the entire hike.  I like to have my hands free when hiking, it’s part of the reason I can’t seem to make myself use trekking poles.  So, last week I decided to fix this situation and try some ideas I had.

A quick stop at the REI got me what I needed (some of the stuff I already had) and I was set up to test a new camera rig.

testing the new chest rig

 

I picked up a LowePro Top Loading Camera Case from REI.  I had to find something that would have quick access D-rings at the top corners of the case or it wouldn’t work (I also made sure the case had a rain cover).  I then added a couple of ultra-light carabiners to my GeigerRig RIG1600 at the shoulder straps.  Then, to connect the camera case to the carabiners I used lighweight S-biners.  These gave me a little wiggle room with the location of the case and set the top-load flap at a good height for access.  The S-biners come in a large variety of sizes so you can customize the hang of the chest rig to fit your sizing.

This setup worked great all weekend.  The only problem I had with it is the incessant chirping of the metal on metal as I hiked.  But that was easily resolved with a little duct-tape where the two biners rub together.  After that, it was perfect.  I found the LowePro case on sale and I already had the biners so the whole rig only cost me about $20 to set up.  You can buy camera chest rigs from manufacturers but most run $80 and up.

This worked great for me, fit my camera well, allowed me a hands-free hike with quick access to my camera on the trail.  It is also really fast and easy to take on and off when you need to remove the pack.  Now I just need to figure out an easier way to strap my tripod for quicker access.  The only problem I ran in to with this was not being able to see my feet on technical terrain.  That is easily resolved by merely unclipping one side of the camera case.

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.

 

Photograph of the Week: The editing table…

I’ve recently become much more serious about my photography.  There was a time, back in the 90’s, when I was very passionate about photography and traveled a great deal in pursuit of interesting subjects to shoot.  I had a nice Minolta 35mm and a collection of lenses I traveled with.  I developed a nice little portfolio and had sold a handful of prints.

When it became apparent that film was on it’s way out I bought a DSLR setup and shelved my Minolta.  Shooting digital was a transition I wasn’t ready for.  I didn’t have the digital developing tools to process the images correctly.  I got frustrated.  I lost interest.  I lost my passion.

Over the last year or so I’ve sort of rediscovered my passion for photography.  It’s been a slow process (but seemed to happen very fast) and is in no small part due to the inspiration I’ve gathered from other outdoor photographers like Jabon Eagar, Vernon Wiley and Bret Edge.  The response to the images I’ve been producing lately has also urged me to fine tune and develop my eye and processing skills.  Thanks to everyone who has encouraged me to keep shooting.

My return to photography and the exposure that comes from Social Media has led to a lot of requests for tips or tutorials.  I don’t feel qualified to do that.  What I can do, is show you what I’ve done on more successful images and try to explain why.  I’d like to make this a recurring post topic (weekly) where I can post an image and explain where it came from, why I chose that shot and roughly how I processed the final product.  I’m still learning, but I can discuss some of the basics…so here it goes…

Photograph of the Week: Elk Viewing…

Elk Viewing in Baker, Oregon - Original Image - Photography

I took my Nikon setup to Oregon with me in January while visiting my brother and his family.  The weather turned incredibly cold during our visit and made for some really nice Winter images.  Toward the end of the trip we took time to visit a small Elk Viewing Tour operation outside Baker, Oregon.  I took shots of my brother’s kids, the snow covered valley and the horse-drawn carriage that took us down to the Elk.  We were brought within 10-20 feet of a group of nearly 200 Elk feeding in the valley floor near a small creek.  Unfortunately, all I had was my wide-angle lens so I missed the opportunity for any close-ups of the Elk.  I took some shots but was not terribly happy with what I was getting.

When I got back to the computer later in the evening to review the images, I just wasn’t happy with the Elk shots at all.  The colors were bland, the Elk seemed far away and I wasn’t happy with the composition.  They all can’t be winners, so I ignored them.

Lately, at the suggestion of Bret Edge, I began using Adobe Lightroom to process my images.  I’m pretty happy with the tools there and it’s encouraged me to go back and re-examine older images to see what I can do with them.  I’ve had a lot of success reworking older shots (even JPGs) to coax more color and clarity from the images.  Because of this, I decided to see if there was anything worth keeping from my Elk shots.

I quickly realized that a big part of what bothered me about the above image was the composition.  More than most, this shot needed to be cropped into more of a panoramic view.  Using the basic rule of thirds, I cropped the image to make the Elk scene fill the bottom third of the image.  Suddenly, the sky felt bigger and the wispy clouds seemed to have more character.  Also, the boring trees to the right seemed to gain interest.  The whole image, to me, began to feel balanced and I found myself wanting to make this one work.

Looking at the new composition, I started to look for colors to accent.  Where is my contrast?  How do I create drama?  The blue sky was nice, but there was nothing but the white snow and brown, dingy trees to offset it.  Nothing I could enhance or develop.  I began boosting the contrast and clarity, looking for something that would stand out.  Then it hit me, there was enough heavy blacks and light sky and snow that this might be a good candidate for black-and-white.  The lack of dramatic colors in the piece made that an easy choice.  So I dropped the saturation out of everything and played with the highlights and shadows until I had a super crisp, heavy contrast black-and-white image.

The sky retained it’s dramatic look, the tree now silhouetted nicely against the sky and the Elk scene took the role of the detailed foreground.  I can’t decide if the dark ribbon of background evergreens that essentially splits the image in half helps, or hurts, the composition.  Either way, I feel like this is now an image I don’t mind putting my name on.

Elk Viewing in Baker, Oregon - processed image - photography

When I shot film, I enjoyed shooting in black-and-white and often trips with nothing but B/W film in my bag.  I’m not sure why it took me so long to see the potential in this image, but I’m glad I took another look at it.

What do you guys think?  Thumbs up on this one, or should I have left it in the virtual trash can?

Specifications:

  • This image was shot on a Nikon D70s with a Nikon Nikkor 10-28mm WA lens.
  • Exp: 1/500, F/11, ISO-200, 10mm.
  • Originally shot in RAW format and processed in Adobe Lightroom.

Amazing Sedona – Part II: Sunrise, Photography and Snow…

Only a couple of days after my Sedona trip with Tim I left for Houston to spend some time traveling East Texas with my new wife.  I flew out and the next morning we headed north in her little Honda Civic for Nacogdoches, a small town a couple of hours north of Houston.  The claim to fame of this little Texas tourist destination is that it is the oldest town in Texas.  Originally a settlement of Caddo Indians, the official town of Nacogdoches was founded in 1779 by Gil Y’Barbo with permission from the Spanish Government.

My wife and I spent a day hiking trails and exploring the small downtown shops and restaurants after spending the night in a really nice, rustic B&B cottage outside of town.  The history in Nacogdoches is rich and there are still some original buildings from the early 1800’s.  Outside of town are the Caddo Mounds, archaeological sites from around 800 A.D.

While in Nacogdoches the weather turned incredibly cold (for the southwest), reaching down to the low 20’s overnight.  I checked the weather back in Arizona and saw there was supposed to be a storm system moving in.  This put me on the lookout for snow.  Soon, the weather forecasts were calling for snow over the weekend in Flagstaff and Sedona, a few days earlier than the historic forecasts had estimated.  I immediately put a message out to my occasional hiking partner and photographer, Jabon Eagar exclaiming, “Snow in Sedona this weekend!  Time to play hookie!”

Jabon and I had been talking about heading to Sedona to catch images of fresh snow for months.  Jabon had been discussing this prospect with another friend for close to two years.  So when snow came to Sedona, we both were ready to drop everything and go.  It was starting to snow in the upper elevations around Sedona by Friday night, I didn’t get back in to Phoenix until Saturday evening and had plans for Saturday night.  Jabon and I laid plans to drive up Sunday morning, early, and be in Sedona before sunrise…and this time I meant it!

Once again, I found myself forced to leave a party early so I could get a few hours’ sleep before driving north for an adventure.  Jabon arrived at my place right at 5AM, I was already packed and had the truck running to warm it up.  Jabon’s buddy Mike was due to join us, but no one had heard from him and Jabon’s attempts to reach him went unanswered.  We soon left, figuring if he was running late he’d call and we could turn around and toss him in the truck.  We never did hear from him.

There was little traffic on the cold, dark drive to Sedona.  Aside from hitting a patch of black-ice at about 80 MPH (and totally maintaining control of the truck without spilling a drop of the coffee in my hand) and missing my exit onto 179, the drive was uneventful.  Even with lost time we hit Bell Rock just as the first light of the morning sun was beginning to endow the frosty morning mists with a supernatural glow.

misty fog clinging to the rock

We stopped the truck and quickly got out to chase the first photo-ops of the morning.  I ran across the road and scrambled to higher ground across frost covered red rock ledges looking to capture the mood of the view that was unfolding.  The thick, wispy clouds clung to the desert floor and gathered around the base of the red rock towers to the east.  As the sun climbed higher it gave life to the misty fog, like stormy seas crashing around these crimson battleships in the desert.

Bell Rock in the morning mist at sunrise

We were there for the photography that day, and Mother Nature was giving the performance of her life.  Jabon and I hiked on and off-trail looking for angles, framing compositions in the viewfinder, excitedly shouting back and forth, “The light is amazing from this spot!” “Look, the fog is clearing over there!” “This is incredible, I’ve never seen it like this!” “This is perfect!”

framing the light at Bell Rock

When we came off the trail, after exhausting every photographic consideration, the parking lot had filled with early morning photographers looking to snap their own versions of this amazing sunrise.  I was glad our ambition had carried us there first, before it got crowded.  There was thick frost on the ground, but we still weren’t high enough to be in the snow…and that’s why we were there.  So we loaded up and continued through Sedona and on in to Oak Creek Canyon where the snow had collected over the weekend.

I had to stop the truck several times before we made it to West Fork because the view along the road was too good to pass up.  We would stop, pile out of the truck and scurry along the narrow shoulder snapping shots as the light and shadow played with the mountain tops.  Then quickly back to the truck to move on so we wouldn’t miss the best light further up.

View of Oak Creek in the Snow

Jabon taking a shot at the first creek crossing at West Fork Trail Oak CreekWe finally made it to the West Fork parking lot, which was closed, and found a spot further up along the road where we could legally park.  We hiked back toward the trailhead along the roadside careful of the growing traffic on the narrow, winding roads.  We were not the first ones to the West Fork trailhead and we followed the footprints through the snow back in to the canyon collecting shots along the way.  Once we reached the first creek crossing, the foot traffic grew thinner…not many wanted to cross the frozen water.

bright light behind the cliff at West Fork Oak CreekWe took our time and watched for subtle changes in the light inside the canyon trying desperately to choose our shots wisely.  The snow was 6 to 8 inches thick and clung fresh and soft to the rocks and trees.  This was one of those perfect places where you could easily snap off thousands of photographs if you weren’t more discerning.  The combination of the brilliant red rock in the intense morning light against the stark, clean whiteness of the snow was a dramatic scene.  Then layer in the deep emerald of the tall evergreens, the electric blue of the sky all of it wrapped in the ever-changing misty morning clouds.

Living in southern Arizona and growing up in California, I haven’t had opportunity for much hiking in the snow.  I really enjoyed this hike!  Snow along a trail, even an easy one like West Fork Trail, completely changes the hiking experience.  Finding the route is challenging unless there are footprints to follow, the deeper snow forces you to pay closer attention to each step.  Snow covered trails also means fewer people in most cases, which is how I like it.  My wife loved snowshoeing in Tahoe for the same reasons.  I’ve collected better Winter gear and will be looking forward to more snow hiking.

white snow and bright sky at West Fork Oak Creek

Soon there was only one other set of footprints in the snow, only one person ahead of us.  We finally came across her as she was headed back, another photographer out to capture this pristine wilderness.  Soon after that we stopped near a large boulder along the creek and where I heated up water for hot cider.  We sat there for a while, watching the light change in the canyon and snapping off the occasional picture.  Jabon took some shots of the frozen creek and we both worked to find angles for shooting the icicles hanging from the huge boulder next to us.

Snowy trees at West Fork Oak Creek

Heading back out of the canyon, being scolded for hiking in a “closed” area.  Some of the other early morning opportunists had received violations for parking in front of the closed gate.  We drove higher up the mountain after helping an older couple get their car out of the snow bank long the road.  There was little more to see and the casual visitors were starting to get thick as the morning grew late.  Jabon suggested we head in to more remote country and offered to show me a set of ruins he’d photographed a while back.  He was anxious to get another opportunity to shoot them, especially with snow around.

Hidden Canyon Ruins in the snowWe had time so we headed down a muddy 4-wheel-drive road to a remote canyon where Jabon led the way into a small obscure canyon.  After climbing up the drainage, we reached the head of the canyon.  A rounded bowl lined with 100 ft sheer red rock cliffs opened before us.  Tucked unobtrusively under a recessed ledge at the base of one side of the vertical canyon walls is a small, semi-circular stone structure.  The lower portion of the walls are original, still held together with ancient mortar.  The top has been obviously reconstructed including the lintel above the entrance.  The interior shows recent use, and even relatively recent remnants of a camp fire.  The site was simple, but the setting was magical.  I was really glad we could squeeze this last little excursion in to the day.

View from Hidden Canyon RuinsIt was getting late after that and we’d had an incredible morning.  Both of us were anxious to get back and start going through our images.  I am really happy with what we captured in Sedona that day.  It was one of those trips that we’d talked about taking for a long time and it turned out to be even better than we could have imagined.  Luckily the first snow of the season was a good one and it laid down thick and clean all over the upper elevations around Sedona.  I don’t know how I’m going to be able to top this trip…but that won’t stop me from trying!

Trip Gallery:

Jabon is another one of those great friends I’ve met through Social Media.  I found him a couple of years ago when I did a quick search and discovered that he and I were planning to take groups on the same hike on the same weekend.  I reached out to him about the possibility of combining our groups and we hiked to the Pueblo Canyon Ruins together a few months later.  Since then we’ve talked about many possible adventures and collaborations.  We also have done Cold Spring Canyon, a quick photo-hike to Tom’s Thumb and this Sedona trip.  You can check out more of Jabon’s photography on his website or visit his Facebook Page.