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Green River Overlook, Canyonlands National Park

Posted by
Don Smith (California, United States) on 29 November 2009 in Landscape & Rural.


Spring Big Sur Photo Workshop - March 29 - April 1, 2010 (1 spot remaining)
Northern Arizona: Grand Canyon, Upper Antelope Canyon, Horseshoe Bend, and Sedona Photo Workshop - May 3-7, 2010 (7 spots available)
Redwoods and Mendocino Coast Photo Workshop - June 15-18, 2010 (space available)
Kauai, Hawaii Photo Workshop - July 12-16, 2010 (8 spots available)
Big Sur Photo Workshop Summer August, 2010 (Exciting details TBA soon)!
Arches/Canyonlands Photo Workshop November 2010 (Details to be released soon)
New Article on my Website: Creating a "Twi-Night" Image

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Photographer's Guide to the Big Sur Coast (e-book version - 102 pages)
On the Edge (printed version - softcover and hardcover - 120 pages)

Clear skies reigned supreme during my recently concluded Arches/Canyonlands workshop in eastern Utah. However, on the last evening, some clouds finally made an appearance, and even better, decided to stick around for sunset as our group photographed from the rim of the Green River Overlook in Canyonlands National Park.

Canyon photography is tricky. Contrast ranges are high and provides for a real-life lesson in how limited our camera's sensors are in regards to dynamic range compared to our human visionary system. As photographers, we obviously want to convey what our eyes are seeing, a colorful sky, and detail in the depths of the canyon. But how do we go about capturing images of extreme contrast knowing the limitations of the camera? There are really only two ways: bracket exposures and combine later in post-processing (techniques my students learned during the workshop), or, use a spit-neutral density filter to balance the two extremes.

I opted for the second scenario for this image primarily due to the fact that I had a level horizon. For this scene, I determined the difference in tonal values between the sky and the foreground was 8-stops. Thus I chose my Singh-Ray 5-stop, soft-edge, split-neutral density filter in order to hold exposure back from the sky and in turn allowing full exposure for the foreground. I angled it slightly to allow as much of the tree to record as evenly as possible. I did sacrifice correct exposure along the top of the tree, but it was a tradeoff I was willing to accept in order to get the correct exposure for the sky.

The one limiting factor that I had to deal with was the low level of light on my foreground due in-part to sacrificing 5-stops of sky. I thus opted to bump my ISO to 400 (I knew my camera would handle noise well at this ISO) and use a minimal aperture of f/8 which still required 1/30th of a second exposure resulting in some movement of the tree (as a stiff breeze was blowing). These were all decisions made on the fly in real time, but I think the result was worth it.

I balanced this image globally in Adobe Camera Raw, and made localized balances utilizing Nik's Viveza 2 software. I have been noting with much regularity in this blog how incredibly valuable this piece of software has become to my daily workflow, and the new structure command is working wonders on my Utah/Arizona images. Check out the link below to receive a 15% discount off the purchase price.

Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III 1/30 second F/8.0 ISO 400 20 mm

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