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: 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.