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.
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.