Adobe just released a photo and text composition app called Slate. Its purpose is to allow quick and easy creation of stories composed of photos and text. I decided to give it a try, and created a post about the color diversity of Death Valley National Park. Click here to give it a try. It is optimized for mobile, so be sure to try it on your phone or tablet. Let me know what you think in the comments below. Want to see more posts in this format, or is a simple blog post more accessible?
Recently I uncovered a couple of unprocessed photographs in my collection that I took in Death Valley National Park several years ago. These were sitting in my “reject” pile, but upon a second look, I thought each photo had its own merit. When I looked at these two images a little more closely, I began to feel a very different mood with each.
What struck me with the first photo were the vibrant blue hues that emerged after sunset. Shot in deep twilight, the evening sky was reflected off the light tan sand, creating an amazing blue glow throughout the dune field. In order to accentuate this glow, I increased the contrast of the image overall, and increased the clarity. High contrast helped show off the intricate texture of the foreground dune, showing sharpness in each ripple of sand. Contrast was increased two ways: the first was to set the white and black point of the image. While I didn’t use the extreme ends of the histogram, I got pretty close.
The second was to add a contrast s-curve to the image. All adjustments were done in Adobe Lightroom. I kept the white balance pretty close to what the camera chose, increasing it slightly. This gave me a white balance of just over 6000 Kelvins – I was amazed at how blue it still was even after using such a warm color temperature.
The second image I selected gave me a sense of calm and quietness. In order to accentuate this mood, I kept the contrast very low. I left the white and black points where they were originally, and actually decreased the clarity, giving the dunes a soft, buttery appearance. Because this was more of a graphic image, the low clarity and contrast helped to de-focus attention on the sand texture, and instead allow the dune pattern to abstract, driving the eye up toward the distant mountains.
When making processing decisions, I find it vital to fully understand the message I am trying to convey with each photograph. These moods convey two extremes, even though the images were captured within 20 minutes of each other.
This week’s photos are late-comers to the blog from my recent Death Valley trip. They are sandstone detail shots taken near the mouth of Mosaic Canyon, shot mid-day under a partially cloudy sky. The patterns of the canyon were really wild – these are just a sampling of the swirling colors and carved shapes.
In order to get the colors of the sandstone to really show, I needed full shade – here direct sunlight was not my friend. I would have preferred a cloudier day, but one must work with what they are given. As it was, I was forced to shoot only the side of the canyon that was in shade, and that shade was disappearing by the minute as the sun moved directly over the canyon opening. As the sun crept up the wall that I was shooting, I began to wish for a large shade (and an assistant to hold it too!)
On the final morning of the recent Death Valley Dykinga workshop, we headed to the Salt Creek area in the heart of the park. This year it was dry as a bone, the water evaporating off the salt to form geometric shapes in the salt crust. This morning we only had clouds to the east, so I knew my first opportunity would be sunlit clouds in that direction, as the sun was still well behind the eastern mountains. Walking west from the road, I moved out into the salt pan far enough so that when I looked back to the east, the road was indistinguishable from the mountains. I knew that with my selected exposure, any cars (and other photographers!) would disappear into shadowed insignificance.
With the sun fast approaching, I hunted for the perfect foreground. This can be tricky to see with the naked eye – I can find my compositions better by looking through my viewfinder with the camera off-tripod. Once I see the composition I like, I set up the tripod in that spot. Then it is a matter of fine tuning up or down, left or right until the edges of the frame are just right. For the shot above, I decided not to go too wide because I wanted to fill the top of the frame with the meager clouds.
Instead of using a graduated ND filter, I took two shots – one exposed for the foreground and one for the sky. I knew I’d have more blending latitude on the computer later. I know many photographers who frown on this practice. They preach “getting it right” in the field. I consider that a noble pursuit, but I see my method as more future-proof. As my blending technique improves over time, I can always go back to my originals and recreate a better blend.
As soon as I was finished with my first shot, I looked west and started pre-visualizing my second desired shot for the morning. This is when I really started getting excited. When the sun rose behind me, it would first strike the top of the western mountains and then start moving down, painting them red and orange (due to the mountains reflecting only the longer wavelengths of light as it traveled through the atmosphere). The whole time, the salt pan would still be in shadow, the pure white salt reflecting cool blue tones. One of my favorite things to do with photography is find places in nature that combine hot and cold tones together. Here was a great opportunity!
There was only one problem. Directly in front of me was a huge patch of dark mud, disrupting the disappearing patterns of the salt pan. I needed to move to the south of the mud field so I had uninterrupted salt pans fading to the base of the mountains. With little time to spare, I mounted my camera on my chest harness, picked up my tripod and ran to the south as fast as I could. As I got farther from the mud field, the ridges of the salt pan grew more shallow, which added a delicate feeling to the salt.
I found my composition, went ultra wide to accentuate the enormity of the salt pan, and waited. The sun had risen behind me and was already touching the highest peaks to the west. As the sun moved down the mountains, I took several safety shots, but I knew that I wanted as much of those mountains in red as possible. Soon the clouds to the east began brushing the mountain tops with light shadow patterns, and I knew this was the moment. Click.
I spent the rest of the morning experimenting with different lenses and techniques, unconcerned about getting anything else of substance that morning. I was pretty happy with my haul.