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Clearing Storm, Pinnacles National Monument

Posted by
Don Smith (California, United States) on 16 March 2011 in Landscape & Rural.


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I've decided to post one more image from my fun hike recently with my wife at Pinnacles National Monument located in California's southern San Benito County. The geology of this Park is a story unto itself as this scene (photographed from the high peaks) would not have existed millions of years ago as the high peaks would have been located some 200-plus miles to the south (think Los Angeles) in southern California.

A description on the Park's website lists the following description: Rising out of the chaparral-covered Gabilan Mountains, east of central California's Salinas Valley, are the spectacular remains of an ancient volcano. Massive monoliths, spires, sheer-walled canyons and talus passages define millions of years of erosion, faulting and tectonic plate movement. Yes, shifting plates are a way of life in California and this particular plate moves at approximately 1 inch per year - look out San Francisco!

I captured this scene at an elevation of 2650 feet after an afternoon snowstorm deposited a couple inches of the white stuff. Winding through a narrow passage amongst the Park's high peaks, I spotted the distant Diablo Mountains bathed in late-afternoon sunlight with a light dusting of snow. The exposure was the tricky part and I immediately thought to bracket my frames using the shutter (so as not to bother the depth-of-field).

Back at my computer, I ran the frames through Nik HDR Efex Pro then opted to try to blend the images manually in Photoshop. Not satisfied with either process, I finally chose a single frame and with the aid of the Recovery and Fill Light tools in Adobe Camera Raw I was able to globally balance the image and then take it into Photoshop and fine tune it.

To get the sunlit part of the scene looking correct, I duplicated my layer and used the Multiply blend mode reducing the opacity until it looked right to my eye then applying a mask and revealing the shadows to their original state by simply painting away the mask.

What I really liked about the scene, and the reason I went through so much effort in Photoshop, was all the layers the scene revealed, from the snow-covered foreground to the distant Diablo Hills in the background. I also liked the diagonal lines in the foreground starting with the snow-covered talus (which helped to provide some visual movement to the scene), to the darker volcanic rock (broken by the vertical of the three pines, which begs the question, how the heck did they get there?). Then the lines begin to shift towards vertical (with a bit of a curve to them) as the eye moves deeper into the frame, and finally ending with horizontal lines of the distant mountains and clouds serving as almost a cap on the image. I was also fortunate to be positioned almost 90-degrees off-axis to the low-positioned sun allowing for the light to skim the scene and reveal all the texture of the varying landscape.

Lines are basic design elements and serve a multitude of visual purposes such as clarifying space and shapes within an image, and most importantly, leading the eye. Each line represents a different psychological state of mind. Diagonals are alert lines (the brain believes something is falling) that also allow the eye to move through the scene, while verticals represent strength, stability and energy. Horizontal lines impart a sense of calmness and stability. Within this scene I even have some wavy horizontal lines which are what I term sensuality lines (think curves of a woman's figure).

I could divert into an entire discussion of the psychology of shapes but we will save that one for another day. Suffice it to say that lines and shapes are really the genesis of an image. If all elements link and flow together as one the photograph will succeed. If there is a jarring disconnect between the shapes and lines the image will fail. Sounds simple but that is really part of the game we play when composing an image in the field.

Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III 1/80 second F/16.0 ISO 400 24 mm

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