Returning from a recent visit to Big Bend National Park I decided I had to have a shot of an 80 mph speed limit sign. It’s awesome to be able to legally drive that speed on a long trip. I pulled over — being very careful to avoid parking over long, dry grass which might ignite due to hot exhaust pipes. An aperture of f/22 was chosen (bright daylight, wanted full DOF), I waited for traffic to clear, then took the shot. When I was going through pictures at home my son said, “Why didn’t you take the shot while some truck was screaming by at 85 mph to include motion blur to illustrate the speed?”. My first thought was, “Why didn’t you suggest that when we stopped along the highway…?”.
Of course, he was absolutely correct. I missed the best shot — one that would have been very simple to get. In fact I purposely *avoided* that shot for some silly reason. Another example of why we should slow down and think about what we want to portray in a shot.
This shot was cropped from a 19-shot panorama in the desert of Big Bend National Park. It was taken late in the afternoon — horrible light — but I still like the view and the subtle rays from the sun shining from behind the clouds. A neutral density filter would have been handy to balance out the exposure of land an sky but I don’t one so I picked the exposure I liked best. HDR would have been an option but I’ve never been happy with my HDR pano attempts.
Processing consisted of the pano merge in Photoshop, 3 curves layers (and associated masks), exposure tweaks in a few spots, and noise reduction in the sky areas.
This is a high-resolution panorama — stitched from 12 individual frames — of the Chisos Mountains in Big Bend National Park at sunset. The sharp V-shape on the left is called the Window as it is the only gap in the mountains which allows a view out when you’re in the mountain basin. It turned out that I had one chance to get this right before the mountains were in shadow. I put the camera in manual mode, metered the side of the mountains using partial metering, and quickly shot the frames at about 60% overlap. I’ve found the large overlap to be helpful in eliminating any distortion. You can get by with only 20% but I occasionally get burned by that. When I completed my first group of frames I double-checked my settings and prepared to shoot another set. I always do this until the light’s gone because (1) it’s insurance against having messed up the other images and (2) as the light changes I may end up liking the light at one point in time versus the other. Just as I was about to shoot my second set of frames a ranger showed up. He stopped to chat and then asked if I could take a couple of pictures of him standing in front of this view with his iPhone and point-and-shoot camera. I thought to myself, “People are more important than pictures”, and obliged. We chatted a minute more before he left and the mountains were in full shadow by that point. Fortunately, I’m quite happy with the pano I ended up with.
The brush in the foreground is annoying but this was as high as I could get unless I was in the bed of my truck. I’ve tried that before and the suspension moves around too much and the frames don’t turn out very sharp.
View the original size on flickr for some amazing detail. I didn’t sharpen the image with the large size in mind but it’s still pretty cool.
Photographers wish they could take all their pictures during the golden light of sunrise and sunset but for those of us far south of the polar circle (in the northern hemisphere of course) those are very brief moments in time. During my recent trip I wanted to make the most of my available time so I photographed what interested me regardless of the quality of light. Even the “poor” pictures make for good memories. Adding to the problem of harsh sunlight was a very thick haze. I don’t know if was related to the heat or possibly due to smoke from wildfires, but it was a problem for pictures.
One afternoon we stopped at the Sotol Vista Overlook to take some pictures. This desert overlook is roughly halfway between the Chisos Mountains and the Rio Grande along Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive. The small gap in the horizon is Santa Elena Canyon — 14 miles as the crow flies according to a sign posted here. Looks tiny but the canyon walls rise up to 1500′ above the river per the park service’s website. I bracketed a bunch of scenes and hoped for the best. I came up with this 6-exposure HDR (the first HDR I’ve done in quite a while) and I rather like it, especially considering the harsh light and haze. I made attempts at processing single frames but the dynamic range was way too large (I don’t own an ND graduated filter — yet — else I would have made use of it here).
Processing consisted of tonemapping in Photomatix, an s-curve, sharpening, noise reduction, and a slight color tweak with the channel mixer in Photoshop. I didn’t do any blending with the original exposures.
Last summer I took my 6 year old son camping for the weekend at Padre Island National Seashore (PINS…see this post, and this post). I didn’t do a lot of photography but managed a few shots to document the weekend.
The night shot that I recently posted from Big Bend National Park brought to mind some of the pictures I took at night at PINS. The shot above had some really cool clouds and it looked to me like an angel with its wings spread across the ocean (kind of sappy I know). The surf is always pounding down there but I like how the long exposure gives the Gulf a smooth look.
I can’t explain why, but the view of the stars from the beach is every bit as clear and amazing as the view in the middle of west Texas (which has some of the darkest skies in the US). Depending where you are on the beach you may be as close as 15 miles from Corpus Christi — a decently-sized metro area of about 430,000 people according to wikipedia. There’s a lot of glow from the city but on a cloudless night the Milky Way is as clear as ever (looks like clouds in the sky). Obviously this picture was taken with a bright moon which kills much of the view of the stars so there were no Milky Way pictures that night.
My goal was to make this image rather dramatic given the cloud formation and the processing steps to get there were rather simple. In Lightroom I removed a couple of stars within the angel shape with the spot removal tool. They detracted from the aesthetics of the overall image because they were too bright. [My opinion is that one is free to do this kind of thing as long as they don’t dishonestly portray the final result as 100% accurate]. Then in Photoshop I used the channel mixer to tone the image to a blue-ish monochrome — I didn’t want a straight black and white image. [David Nightingale’s tutorials have inspired a lot of experimentation with things like the channel mixer and with “dramatic” images in general]. I used a vibrance adjustment to back off on the blue a bit (couldn’t quite figure out the channel mixer settings to get the color just how I wanted it). I added one general s-curve and then another curve masked in to provide a touch of vignette. Some noise reduction and sharpening for the stars topped that off the Photoshop work. Once I was back in Lightroom I tweaked the color a tiny bit more because I wasn’t quite satisfied upon a second look.
I spent an enjoyable weekend with my oldest son in Big Bend National Park. It was hotter than blazes in the desert (110 in the shade the first day) but this was our only available weekend for many months. Frankly the heat wasn’t a big problem.
On past trips we’ve backpacked into the high Chisos Mountains but so far this summer all the mountain backcountry sites are closed due to extreme fire danger. So, we camped out in the Chisos Basin campground — enjoyed it very much actually. It was nice not having to lug a 50# pack full of water up into the mountains.
Before heading to bed one night I experimented with long exposures of the skies. I never did seem to find the “right” settings but got some fun shots nonetheless. The above shot of the mountain known as Casa Grande gives a sense of what the sky was like. That night there were clouds moving across the sky which annoyed me at first but they do add another dimension to the shot. This photo needs a frame to make it stand out from the page background…maybe later.