Zabriske Point Badlands In Black And White

I've spent some time in the last few days taking another look at the images we captured on our trip to Death Valley in October 2011.  Originally, I wasn't too impressed with most of the shots but after a couple of years, and more time/experience in processing images, I'm finding some "new" diamonds in the rough. One of those diamonds is a number of images from our time at Zabriske Point, one of the most iconic areas in Death Valley. Zabriske Point is a beautiful area with lots of textured badlands surrounding the famous rock. We got up to Zabriske Point before sunrise one day and waited for the Sun to come up over the mountains. As the Sun rose the rock and valley below lit up with all kinds of great color. I captured the end of the "blue hour" on Zabriske Point in this image but there were a few other images from that morning that I think I will post over the next few months. One of those is of a small section of badlands that surround the rock outcropping: Zabriske Point Badlands 1

I used the "kit" Canon EF-S 55-250mm zoom lens (a pretty darn good lens, btw) to capture the late sunrise sun casting some nice shadows in the rock. The original color file looked ok but the colors were a little washed out (probably due to the angle of the sun). Basedon that I thought it looked like a better subject for a black and white conversion. I used Silver Efex Pro to convert the color image. I chose a relatively high contrast image and added a bit of structure to bring out the texture of the rock. Seeing the result in B&W made me wish I had my Rolleicord with me on that trip. I think a "real" B&W image shot on film would look fantastic. I guess that's a great excuse to go back!

There are a number of other images from that trip (which also included some time in Zion) that I will be taking another look at and probably posting over the next month or two.

The Blue Hour at Zabriskie Point

Back in October, 2011 we took a trip out West to visit Death Valley, Las Vegas and Zion. I know, I know, it's only been 22 months :-) but I finally got around to seriously looking at a bunch of images from that trip. We saw so many beautiful things during the 10 or so days we were out there that I've had a hard time sorting through all the images I shot.

One of the first images that caught my eye was one that I captured during the pre-sunrise "Blue Hour" at Zabriske Point. We got up real early and drove up the Zabriske from the hotel we were staying at in Furnace Creek. Having never been to Zabriske Point before, I wanted to be sure I got there early enough to pick my spot since it is a very popular sunrise shooting location. Sure enough, when we arrived at 5:30 AM (a full ninety minutes before sunrise) the parking lot already had quite a few cars in it. I was still able to stake out what I thought would be the best spot and then began the waiting game.....

Finally, at just after 6:30 AM there was the faintest amount of light just starting to peek over the Eastern horizon (which is at my back). I started snapping off images and the one you see below was one of the better ones I captured:

Mark Sinderson: Landscapes &emdash; Blue Hour at Zabriske Point

This was taken at 6:39 AM, right at the end of the official "Blue Hour" but as you can see in the image, there is definitely a good amount of that beautiful bluish light that makes this time of day so magical. The exposure was 4 seconds at f/8 and ISO 100. The focal length was 55mm. I used the Canon "kit" 18-55mm lens that came with the camera and I'm very happy with the results.

If you want to learn more about when you can use the blue hour to your advantage you can visit the Blue Hour Site  to get an idea of when the Blue Hour will occur at just about anyplace you can find yourself. There are also Apple and Android apps that will help you. If you haven't yet experimented with shooting at his time of day you owe it to yourself to try it out.

Happy Shooting!


Oasis In The Desert-Darwin Falls in Death Valley National Park

When people think of Death Valley, they think desert, lots and lots of hot, dry, unrelenting desert. While that is mostly true, there is an oasis in the desert, at the far Western edge of the park, and it's called Darwin Falls:

I captured this image on our trip to Death Valley back in October, 2011. We spent a few days there and saw a lot , but not a large percentage, of this huge National Park. To get to Darwin Falls we had to take a pretty rough road for a few bone-jarring miles to the trail head and then hike a ways in. We were the only ones there and it was a  perfect Fall day with temperatures around 80 degrees. I set up the camera and tripod in the marshy area just below the falls and played around with settings and composition until I got the water the way I wanted it. I didn't have a ND filter so I had to go with a pretty small aperture in order to get the shutter speed long enough to give the water some "flow".

Death Valley is an awesome place and I will be getting back there as soon as I can to explore more of its beauty. In the meantime, I have lots more images from the trip to work through and share with you.

HDR Landscape Photograph-Clouds Over The Canyon

Here's another image from our recent trip out to Colorado that shows the power of using HDR in creating a landscape photograph. This one is of Red Canyon at Colorado National Monument: Colorado National Monument's Red CanyonI took this about 50 minutes before "official" sunset but the Sun was already pretty low in the Western sky (left side of the image) and it was highlighting the canyon walls and the clouds above the canyon. The colors of the canyon were starting to appear but so were the shadows at the bottom of the canyon (especially on the left side). I wanted to show the entire canyon as I saw it and with the depth of the canyon, the bright clouds and the differences in lighting between the West and East walls of the canyon I knew it would be next to impossible to get anywhere close to a proper exposure with just one image.

The only way to do it was by bracketing my shots. I did 3 shots (-2,0,+2) and dumped the brackets into HDR Efex Pro2 to get this result, which comes very close to what Pam and I saw that evening.

Another win for HDR landscape photography!



Why HDR Might Be The Perfect Tool For Landscape Photographers

In my short time as a "serious" photographer I have come to embrace HDR (high dynamic range) photography and am quickly becoming convinced that HDR is the perfect tool for landscape photographers. Based on my experience so far, HDR seems to be the best way to as accurately as possible reproduce the wide range of lighting that seems to most often be present while shooting outdoor landscapes. Our eyes are much better than the camera's sensor at balancing out the dynamic range of a scene, so my goal with most landscapes is to use the camera to reproduce what my eye sees as realistically as possible. And, because of the wide dynamic range of many scenes, some type of exposure bracketing combined with HDR processing seems to be a great way to accomplish that goal. Let me use a set of images from our just completed trip to Colorado to demonstrate:

Here is the series of three bracketed shots I took at the West portal of the Eisenhower Tunnel, which goes under the mountains at the continental divide (at an altitude of over 11,000 feet) just West of Denver. It was a fairly sunny day and that combined with the snow and darkness of the tunnel entrance indicated to me that HDR might be a good option.

Here's the first image (zero exposure compensation). This is typical of what most people would get if they took their camera, focused on the tunnel, and pressed the shutter:

As you can see in the above image, it was a pretty bright day and there was a wide range of light, from pitch black in the tunnel to blazing bright white on the snow. The camera's metering system did an OK job at best with this and the image would qualify as a "snapshot" and not a photograph in my opinion. You can tell what the subject is and make out that there is snow in the background and some kind of dirt in the foregroud. But beyond that, the rest of the details are hard to make out. There are probably thousands of images like this on people's computers and in their vacation photo albums.

Here's the second image (2 stops underexposure):

This image shows what happens when the camera underexposes by 2-stops. The tunnel just about loses all detail and becomes one big shadow but the road and snow take on a lot more detail. You can make out some of the dirt and grime on the snow, the shadows caused by the clouds on the snow, and the sand in the foreground actually looks like sand.

One last image, this time overexposed by two stops:

The third shot, over exposed by 2 stops, is needed in order to capture the details that are hiding in the dark parts of the scene. The foreground sand and background snow are blown out and almost pure white. But the details of the tunnel come into view. Compare this image to the first one (taken at "normal" settings) and you will see that the tunnel has stoplights in it (red on the left and green on the right). Also the windows above the tunnel tubes reveal more structure and the doors in the middle of the tunnel become apparent.

Now it's time to work some magic and combine the three images into one cohesive, detailed photograph using HDR software. I use Nik's Color Efex Pro 2 (which I can highly recommend) to generate the final image but you can use any number of HDR applications or plugins:

Big difference, huh? :-) Compare this final image to the first one at the top of this post (the snapshot) and you will see a HUGE difference. Getting to this final image took a little work and experimentation with the various settings in HDR Efex Pro (and I have more learning to do) but I think I got it pretty darn close to what my eyes saw that day when I parked the rental car at the top of the pass, got out and looked back at the tunnel we had just come through. It took a few seconds for my eyes to adjust to the brightness of the scene but once they did I was able to make out the details inside the tunnel, see the dirt on the snow behind/above the tunnel and make out the details of the tire tracks in the sand right in front of me.

If I had just taken out my DSLR and snapped a quick photo I would've never captured all of that. All it took was a little bit of foresight, three bracketed images, a tripod (get one now!), and a bit of time with some specialty software in order to create this final image.

I think the final result is well worth the effort and I will continue to use HDR, whenever I can, to create realistic photographs of landscapes (and just about anything else) that represent what I saw with my eyes at the moment I captured the image(s) with my camera.

If you are looking to create realistic Landscapes with your digital camera and aren't using the power of HDR, you might want to give it a go and see what happens. I think you'll be happy with the results!

Southwest Landscape: Bisti Badlands Hoodoo and Clouds

I'm back in Lightroom working on some of the images from our trip last fall to the beautiful Bisti Badlands in NW New Mexico. I still have a lot to get through but here is one I finished up last week: The early morning sun peeked out from the clouds and lit up this hoodoo. The clouds in the sky had an interesting texture to them as well, making this an interesting shot.

If you ever get the chance to visit the Bisti, don't pass it up! It is a beautiful place full of strange and wonderful things. Perfect for an adventurous photographer!

Photo Trip To The Great Smoky Mountains

 Hello everybody. After a too long break, I'm hopefully back to regular posting here on the blog. Work has settled down and I have a bit more free time. I'm getting back to using the camera and we recently took a trip up to Tennessee and Great Smoky Mountains National Park with one of our photography meetup groups, The Decatur Digital Photography Meetup, and spent a few days in the mountains. Both Pam and I took a bunch of images but it was a bit of a challenge because the weather was more stormy than not.

On Friday, we were driving West across the park on Highway 441 when we stopped to photograph the mountains and valleys below us. The sky was threatening rain but the clouds were pretty cool. I decided to braket my shots and do an HDR to see what I could come up with. Here's the result:

I think it came out pretty good. In fact, I think this is one of the better images I've produced :-) I used a mild HDR effect in Nik's HDR Efex Pro and am very, very happy with the result.

That night we met for Dinner in Gatlinburg and I shot this sign with my Canon Powershot S95:

The quality of images from this little camera is very nice, and it's a perfect "carry around" camera. Most of the shots in my Project 365were shot with the Powershot because it was easy to take with me wherever I went

I'm still working on images from the rest of the trip and will post some of the results here in the next few days so stay tuned...

It feels good to be back shooting again. We have some trips planned for this Summer so I hope to be able to get some "keepers".






Early Morning Bisti Badlands Hoodoo

Here's another image from our recent trip to the spectacular Bisti Badlands: The early morning sun casts a warm glow to one of the many hoodoos in the Bisti Badlands.

During out too short time at the Bisti Badlands we tried to cram as many photographs as possible onto our memory cards. We got there before sunrise, but not knowing exactly where "the good stuff" was we wandered around a little before we found a nice section of hoodoos to photograph. By that time the sun was quickly rising above the horizon and the prime time for capturing images was fading fast.

We found a little slot canyon and wandered up it until we came across a bunch of hoodoos that were still mostly in the shadows. The problem was that everything was above us meaning we had to get up off the floor of the canyon to get decent views. I found a little dirt pile and scrambled up it, being careful to not disturb the fragile mud formations on the canyon walls. As I got to the top of the rise the sun was just starting to light up a bunch of the hoodoos with a soft, warm glow. I looked around quickly and found what I thought would be the best one to shoot.

This particular formation was across the canyon (about 200 feet away) and I was just able to get a decent composition using the 85mm on my 15-85mm lens.

Reader Poll Results-Which Sunrise Photo Is Best

OK, its been a few days since I posted my "Which Photo Is Best" where I asked you to pick your favorite sunrise photo out of three different choices. Thanks to a bunch of you (11 to be exact), we can officially declare a "winner". Drumroll please.....................

The winner (by a large margin) of the competition is Sunrise Photo #3! Here is the image that won:

How I Processed The Images

As I said in the original post, the three images were just variations of the same basic shot. Now let's see what I did to create each image, starting with image #1:

Image #1 is the result of taking 3 bracketed shots (-2EV, 0EV,+2EV) and combining them into one HDR image using Nik's HDR Efex Pro 2. I've been experimenting with HDR techniques and on this trip I took a lot of bracketed shots, especially when the was a wide range of contrast. This sunrise scene was definitely one of those occasions. I figured that processing the image using HDR might allow me to get both the foreground and the sky exposed better than just one image. I ran the 3 images thru HDR Efex using one of the more neutral landscape settings. I then used Nik's Color Efex Pro to tweak the image a bit. The result was what you saw in image #1.

Image #2:

Sunrise photo image #2 is the result of taking just one of the 3 bracketed images, the "properly exposed" one and tweaking it as best I could to get both the foreground and sky to come out. This was the image that got the least number of votes (2) and that's what I expected. When compared to the other two images, this one is just "OK". Nothing really pops in it, despite my best efforts. I think the reason is that having only one image to work with

Image #3 (The winner):

Sunrise image #3 was made using the same bracketed images as I used in #1 but I processed them through the "Lightroom Enfuse Plugin" which is a different way of combining multiple images. Many people seem to think this technique produces the most "natural" looking results. And I guess, based on your feedback, you think the same :-) Compared to image #1 (the HDR) it is a bit brighter and doesn't have as much texture to it. I think this is a function of how the software combines the images.

My Favorite

Out of the three images I prefer image #1 (the HDR) but only by a little to Image #3. I just think that the end result is closest to what my eye actually saw that day. Both #1 and #3 are much better than #2 and I think it is because they are the end results of merging multiple images shot over a wider range of ecposure, which brings out more detail in a scene like this where there's a lot of contrast.

What's The Takeaway

Well, what have we learned by doing this little audience participation experiment?

I think the answer is a few things:

  1. Everybody sees things differently and there is no one "right way" to process an image. In the end, the only thing that matters is if YOU like it.
  2. Merging or combining multiple images shot over a wider range of exposure values can be a great way to bring out more detail in your images, especially if you have a wide range of contrast (dark shadows to bright highlights). There are multiple ways of merging the images and each has its pros and cons.
  3. Photography is supposed to be fun! I try never to forget that. Taking photos and processing them a number of diffeent ways to see what the end result is is one of the things that makes photography fun. As long as you like the end result that's all that should matter.
Thanks again to everyone who participated. I really appreciate your input and feedback!
I will definite be trying a few different post-processing options on a number of the images I still have to go through from our recent trip and I'll post the final results over the next week or two.
Happy Shooting!

Afternoon Sun On Dunes

Here's a wider angle shot of the afternoon sun highlighting the dunes at Great Sand Dunes National Park: Between the sun, shadows and clouds I think this image offers a lot for the eye. I particularly like how the dunes offer a distinct break between the grassland in the foreground and the mountains in the back.

I have a lot more images from this trip to run through so stay tuned for more in the coming weeks!