Saturday, June 17, 2017

Canyonlands National Park

While Canyonlands National Park is relatively close to Arches National Park, it is much different. In the most popular areas of the park, you are looking down instead of up as in Arches. 

The park has three distinct areas: the Island in the Sky, The Needles and The Maze.

The Island in the Sky

The Island in the Sky is the most visited area in the Park. Access to the park is off Highway 191 about 11 miles north of Moab. The turnoff is clearly marked. It is another 15 miles to the park entrance but much of the drive is uphill through beautiful red rock canyons. About two miles from the visitor center you will see the entrance to Dead Horse Canyon State Park. If you have the time, make sure to visit this park after you tour Canyonlands. If you need restrooms, it is a much better stop than the Canyonlands visitor center.

The Island in the Sky offers amazing views of the canyons formed by the Colorado and Green Rivers and if those weren’t enough, the iconic Mesa Arch is only a short walk from the main road.

The views begin near the visitor’s center with Shafer Canyon where there are two parking areas. 

View of Shafer Canyon from near the Visitor's Center

Many of the viewpoints are along the canyon rim and gorgeous views are only a few steps away. If you are limited by time, there are three “must see” views in the Island in the Sky. In my view the Green River Overlook is the most spectacular of all the views in the Island in the Sky. It is impossible to describe. That’s why I’ve included the panoramic photo I made from there. There is a large parking lot by the viewpoint and a short walk will have you enjoying the view in no time.

The Green River Overlook offers the best views in the Island in the Sky

The Grand View Point Overlook is the other “must see” stop in the Island in the Sky. It is located at the end of the road. It is not spectacular but it gives you a view of The Maze and you can just see the spires in The Needles. There nice parking area at this viewpoint and you can hike along the rim if you wish.

The Grand View Overlook

Mesa Arch must be the most photographed landmark in Canyonlands, and for good reason. The Arch is relatively small compared to many of its cousins in Arches but the fact that the rising sun lights the underside of the arch has photographers standing elbow to elbow at sunrise. You don’t have to see the arch as sunrise. It is a great spot anytime and later in the day the front side of the arch is lighted as are some of the more distant landmarks like the “Washer Woman”.

The parking lot at Mesa Arch is relatively small given the number of visitors to the arch so finding a parking place may be difficult. Keep that in mind. The hike to the arch is about a quarter mile. When you reach the trailhead, you can go to the right or to the left. The trail to the right takes you up and over the hill while the one on the left circumnavigates the hill. Neither is difficult, but the one on the left is easier. 

 Mesa Arch at Sunrise

If you have the time, I recommend that you rent a Jeep in Moab and drive the Shafer Trail. The entrance to the trail is near the visitor center. The exit is along the Colorado River at Potash. Most of the trail is a reasonably well maintained gravel road. There is one place where the trail is on slick rock and crosses a dry stream bed. Navigating the trail should be no problem unless there are heavy rains in the area. You will find beautiful views here like this one of the bend in the Colorado below Dead Horse Point State Park:

Colorado River along the Shafer Trail


Needles District

The Needles District of the Park is located 40 miles south of Moab. Take Highway 191 to Highway 211 to access the Park. The first several miles of 211 are not very interesting but that changes as you get closer to the park. Before you arrive at the Park, you will be greeted by this butte:

Near the entrance to the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park

Unlike the canyon views from the Island in the Sky, The Needles is loaded with beautiful rock monoliths and other rock formations. Unfortunately, those spires are still some distance from the paved road as illustrated by this photo that I made from one of the viewing areas:

Distant spires in Canyonlands National Park

To see the needles close-up, you should hike the Elephant Hill Trail to Chesler Park. This six mile round trip hike that leads you through some extraordinarily scenic places to Chesler Park, a basin surrounded by red rock spires. The round trip hike will take 4 – 6 hours so be prepared. Good hiking boots are essential as you will be walking on slick rock most of the time and there are plenty of ups and downs on this hike.  Take plenty of water. The views along the way and those at Chesler Park make the hike well worthwhile. When you arrive at Chesler Park, make sure you find a place to sit and enjoy your surroundings.

Rock Formations Along the Elephant Hill Trail


Rock Formations Along the Elephant Hill Trail

Chesler Park

The Maze

The Maze is only accessible via 4-wheel drive vehicle or by hiking. I've never been there so I can't comment.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Sometimes a Guy just can't Quit


I made this rather mundane photo of the old homestead at Berry Springs Park near Georgetown, Texas. 



Ordinarily I would just chalk this one up as a lost cause but this time I thought it might be interesting to turn it into a night photo, so I made adjustments in Photoshop to make it look like a night shot. Then I thought I should do some digital restoration and add some light to make it look lived in.

Light may make it look lived in but furniture and pictures on the wall seemed like a good idea to really make it look like someone lived there. I decided that the furniture should be something that would be found in an old homestead and decided that everything should be wood and the light source should be an old kerosene lamp. In keeping with the era, the photos on the wall needed to be in black and white. I took a couple of my photos, converted them to black and white and put them on the wall. The one in the room with the lamp is actually a photo of the homestead I made from the back.

To make it a bit more “rural”, I decided to add an old wagon wheel from photo I made in west Texas. Then I decided to dress up one of the windows by adding an image of a skylight window I made at the courthouse in Waco. I thought I was done but as I was going through some other photos, I thought I should add an old truck that I photographed in Walburg, Texas. I processed that photo to fit in. The problem though is that this 1958 Chevy truck wasn’t around in the early days of this homestead. I got to thinking that in west Texas, there are still a lot of ranch houses without water and electricity so the truck would fit.

At one point, I put a moon in the sky but it was too bright and actually detracted from the image, so I took it out.

Below is the final image. Is this really the final? I don't know. I thought I had a final before I added the truck. It could be the final, but never say never.


Wednesday, May 3, 2017

270 Degree View

When we visited Big Bend National Park in west Texas, I found this old panel truck near Terlinqua.



I struggled with how to make an interesting photo of this subject. The sun was high, the sky was clear and I couldn’t come up with a way to turn it into an interesting photo, so I made shots from different positions all around it. In my post processing, I tried many different approaches but found nothing that I liked. As I thought about what to do that would be creative, I thought of Picasso who showed the front and side view in the same painting. With that in mind, I set out to combine images of the side and front of this truck into a single image. I was so pleased with the result that I decided to include the rear of the truck. Ultimately I produced a 270 degree view of the truck in a single image. While I was doing all my photoshopping, I decided to replace the sky with something a little more interesting.



Here’s the final result.


"Killing Time"

I recently joined a photography club. The club's “creative” special interest group issued a monthly challenge with the subject “clocks”.  I had only a couple of days to meet the challenge if I was to show an image at the SIG meeting. I really didn’t know how to make a creative photo of a clock so I decided to start by making a photo of a clock we had on the wall. It was a traditional clock with traditional numbers that we had purchased at Wal-mart for less than five dollars. Clearly, I couldn’t make a creative image of that clock in the camera so I relied on Photoshop to help with the creative piece.

My first idea was to liquefy it. Salvador Dali, the famous Spanish artist had done that so I used Photoshop’s “puppet warp” tool to squash it up a bit. That seemed like a good start but I needed to do more than that. Then I came up with the theme of “killing time” so I decided to create a clock image with that title, complete with bullet holes and blood drippings. This is the final image.


Thursday, July 28, 2016

Photo Stacking to Capture the Light.

When I set up my camera and tripod in anticipation of making a photograph of this beautiful valley in Iceland, I hoped for something better than I ended up with. The sky was mostly cloudy but the sun would peek out through an occasional break in the clouds. As portions of the valley lit up, I would make an exposure; all the time hoping the sun would light up the mountain at the end of the valley and that a blue hole would open behind it. Unfortunately, the sky simply did not cooperate and this was one of the photos I was able to make.




While this photo is acceptable, it wasn’t what I was looking for.

Before I packed it in, I raised my camera, and using a wide angle lens, captured the scene with the blue hole that was high in the sky. That photo wasn't very good because the blue sky wasn’t where I wanted it in the frame, it had too much sky and the valley was completely shaded.

As I made my photographs, I was thinking about whether I could make the shot I wanted in my post processing by combining the images that I had made.

When I got home I gave it a try. First, in Adobe Camera Raw, I opened twelve images I had made of the valley; all with different places lit by the sun. I made my adjustments,made sure that I had selected all the images and applied the adjustments to all of them. I then clicked on the “Done” button. With those same images selected in ACR, I clicked on Tools,  Photoshop,  Load Files into Photoshop Layers. When all the files were opened, I selected all the layers and changed the blending mode to “Lighten”. By changing the blending mode, all the lightest pixels were exposed so the entire valley was lit up. I liked the final product much better, but all the shadows were now lost. I then clicked on the eyeball next to each layer to see what it was contributing to the entire image. By turning off some of the layers, I was able to bring some of the shadows back into the image. When I found the combination I liked, I flattened the image and the result was much better than the original. Still I wasn’t satisfied.

In ACR, I opened the final photograph I made; the one with the bit of blue sky. I applied the same settings as I had made for the other images and opened it in Photoshop. Next I duplicated the layer by pressing CTRL  J. I then clicked on Window, Arrange,, Tile All Vertically. Now I could see my two images side by side. I took the Move Tool, grabbed the top layer of the image with the blue sky and dragged it to the other image. While holding down the Shift key, I dropped the layer on top of the other image. Holding Shift ensures that the two images are aligned on top of each other perfectly. With the blue hole image on top, I went to the bottom of the Layers Pallet and while holding down the ALT key, I clicked on the Add a Layer Mask icon. Holding down the ALT key created a black mask that hid the entire layer. Next I clicked on the background layer and using the Quick Selection Tool, I selected the sky. I then selected the blue hole layer mask and  hit the DELETE key. That painted the mask white in the selected area and revealed the blue hole layer in the selected area. The blue hole was perfectly placed. (If it had not been where I wanted it, I would have used the Move Tool to position the layer in such a way that the blue sky was where I wanted it.)

I then pressed CTL ALT SHIFT E to flatten the layer above the other layers. I converted it to a smart object and applied select filters from Nik's Color Efex Pro 4. I then used Nik's Viveza to make some targeted adjustments to the mountain top, adding the light I had hoped I would get from the sun as well as adding a little saturation.

While I captured the light I wanted via stacking and getting the sky I wanted by compositing the sky from a photo made during the same stop, I still wasn't completely satisfied with my shot. I liked everything about it except the foreground. I thought it needed more or none at all because I thought that what I had was more of a distraction than a photographic element.

I looked through my images and found another one I made at the same location but at a shorter focal length. I was able to move the foreground from that image to my stacked image and it worked well.

Here is the final result.


This is the image I set out to create. When the sun and sky didn't cooperate, I took what they gave. When my eye didn't capture the best foreground, I inserted the foreground from another image. In the end, I created the image I was after.


Monday, December 14, 2015

What a View!

In 1961, the area which is now known as Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park was donated to the State of California by the Helen Brown, wife of a former New York Congressman Lathrop Brown. They acquired the property in 1924 and built a stone house along the Big Sur coast.

As I recall the story, Helen was the adopted child of a wealthy family in New York. When they died, she was left with a fortune. She married Brown, moved to California and purchased this property, which was literally in the middle of nowhere. There were few people in the area but Helen and Julia became good friends, so good, in fact, that when Helen donated the property to the State of California, one stipulation was that the land be made into a state park and another was that it be named after her friend Julia.

The Brown's built a home at this location above the ocean. Their home had extraordinary views. This view looks north.




The view looking South was even more magnificent than the other one. An 80' waterfall poured on to the white sand beach with Caribbean blue waters at McWay Cove.



If there is a more beautiful view along the Pacific coast, I haven't seen it and can't imagine how it could be more beautiful than this location.



Saturday, July 4, 2015

Why I Make Composites for My Night Sky Photos

I enjoy making photos of the night sky, especially when the Milky Way is clearly visible. I usually try to shoot on clear moonless nights because I find that a moon produces too much light. Even a quarter moon lights up the sky and, as a result, dims the stars. Of course, the problem with shooting the night sky with so little light is that in order to light up the foreground, a long exposure is required. An exposure long enough to light up the foreground is too long to capture pinpoint stars.




Left: Exposure for the foreground.






Right: Exposure for the sky.











I photograph the night sky with a 14mm, 21mm or 24mm lens which means that I usually keep my exposures to 25 seconds or less. Anything longer than that will produce unacceptable star trails. Now star trails can make very nice photos but the exposure needs to be more like two and a half hours. A dark foreground can’t be captured satisfactorily in 25 seconds. Using Photoshop to increase the exposure for the foreground can work, but there is simply too much noise to make the shot acceptable.

 Either before or after I expose for the sky, I shoot the foreground. I’ve found that I like to have three stops of light greater than the exposure for the sky. Getting three stops requires about four minutes. (A one minute exposure doubles the 25 second exposure, two minutes doubles it again and a four minute exposure doubles it again for a total of three stops.)
  
Compositing the two shots in Photoshop is relatively easy so long as the foreground isn’t too complicated.

Here is he final composited image.