Monthly Archives: January 2014

January in Jackson Hole, Wyoming

I have a severe backlog of other images to edit and post, but I couldn’t help myself and went ahead and edited a few photos from my recent trip to Jackson, Wyoming.  The main reason for the trip was to ski, but I did get up early and stayed out late with my camera on a few occasions.  Jackson Hole is absolutely stunning any time of year, but the gigantic Teton Range covered in snow is an extra special site to see.  Another bonus of visiting Jackson Hole and Grand Teton National Park in the winter is that the crowd levels are way down compared to the summer and fall months.

Driving in Thursday night, I noticed a full moon rise and looked at the moon set time and saw it would set near sunrise the next morning.  So, I woke up early with high hopes for a great morning shoot.  I drove north out of Jackson looking for a good composition of Grand Teton.  I found a cool looking group of trees that would make a great foreground with “The Grand” behind and set up my camera along the side of the highway.  I first made the panorama below when it was still quite dark out.

20140117-Grand Teton Moonset - w

A few minutes later, the scene exploded in color.  I zoomed out slightly and included more of the pastel clouds, creating my favorite image of the trip.  Amazingly, a few other photographers that were also parked along the road stopped shooting and loaded up their camera gear and drove off looking for a different spot during these precious few seconds of peak color!  Yes, these first two images are very similar, but if I were in a hurry to get to the next spot, I would have missed this incredible moment.  In landscape photography, sometimes it pays to be patient.

20140117-Moonset Pastels - w

The vibrant pinks and purples began to fade quickly, so I pulled out my wide angle lens and decided to focus on the sagebrush in the valley.  The sage caused drifts and patterns and textures in the snow that I found interesting.  The moon still refusing to dip behind the Teton Range was a nice little bonus.  Less than a minute after taking this image, the moon was lost behind the mountain ridges.

20140117-Sage Drift Sunrise - w

At this point in the morning, I knew I had a few strong images, but wanted to explore the area a little more before heading off to Jackson Hole Mountain Resort to go skiing.  I hopped in my truck and turned off the main highway at the Antelope Flats Road to scout out the often photographed Moulton Barns.  I parked at the winter road closure and while looking to see how far off the barns were, really liked the look of the buried grasses and sage as the sun cast its first direct light of the day on the valley floor.

20140117-Jackson Hole Winter Grass - w

I couldn’t help but notice the frosted trees and how they appeared to sparkle with the low angled sunlight hitting them.  I tried to shoot the back-lit trees (the trees right below the sun in the above picture), but my cheap-ish 70-300mm zoom lens is prone to really nasty flare when shooting directly at the sun.  I ended up settling on shooting some trees that were still nicely lit, but not fully back-lit.

20140117-Frosted Trees - w

After a hard day’s skiing at the resort, I set out to shoot sunset.  After driving a while I decided to pull over and ended up at the Snake River Overlook.  Ansel Adams made this viewpoint, along with the Tetons themselves nationally recognizable in 1942 with what would become one of him most recognized images.  The trees in the foreground have grown much taller over the last 60+ years, but the view of the Snake River and the Tetons is still breath taking.

20140117-Sun over the Snake - w

I processed the first two images in this blog at the hotel in Jackson.  When I showed them to one of my friends, he asked, “is that really what the sunrise was like?”  I invited him to come along with me the next morning and find out for himself.  Once again, I got up early, well before sunrise, and drove to the winter trail head for Mormon Row.  We hiked the mile or so out to the Moulton Barns with just enough time to spare before the night sky gave way to pinks and purples of morning twilight.  The sunrise was not nearly as spectacular as the morning a few days prior, but beautiful nonetheless.

20140120-Moultan Barn Morning Twilight - w

Jackson Hole and the surrounding area are truly a special place any time of year.  I would practically cut off my left arm if it meant I could reside in this beautiful valley.  For now, I will take thanks that I live in the same state as the Tetons and they are close enough to visit over a weekend.

Categories: National Parks, Nature | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

New Year’s Resolution

One of my New Year’s resolutions is to learn Photoshop.   I’ve been serious about photography for over five years now, so I’d say I’m long overdue to take the plunge and join the “dark side” of photo editing.  I avoided learning Photoshop for so long because I was honestly too lazy to learn new software and I was put off by the cost.  I also avoided using Photoshop because of the sometimes negative stigma associated with photography and “photoshopping.”  The fact of the matter is every professional photographer, and most serious hobbyists for that matter, digitally re-touch their images.  Photoshop is simply the best (and most expensive) editing program out there.  Truth be told, I have been re-touching my images for several years now using Adobe Lightroom and plugins like Nik Efex.  With these programs, and now with Photoshop, my goal is not to create unrealistic images, but to further improve the images I do take and to help overcome the limitations of my camera gear.

To demonstrate the limitations of even my high end camera system, have a look at this series of pictures of the Capitol Building in Pierre, SD.  Below, in the first image there are two major issues that stand out to me: First, by focusing on the rock at the bottom of the frame, the Capitol and grounds are blurry because my camera can’t keep both the close up rock and far away capitol building in sharp focus.  In fact, even with a wide angle lens, the focus zone is so small that the rock sticking out of the water on the right middle of the frame is already out of focus.  Second, by exposing for how much light the rock needed to be properly lit, the capitol and grounds are overexposed and in the case of the capitol building, so overexposed there is no detail in that area, just pure white.  After all, cameras are just machines and can only record so much of a range of light, much less than the range we see with our eyes, and I have exceeded that range with my camera in the image below.

20130901-_MG_4956

In the next image, I focused on the capitol building and also set the camera’s exposure so the capitol dome would be properly exposed.  I now have the same problem as in the first image but in reverse:  Now the rock in the foreground is blurry and also very much underexposed.

20130901-_MG_4959

Now here is where Photoshop comes into play.  I loaded the two above images into Photoshop and used layer masking to merge the properly focused and exposed capitol and grounds picture with the properly focused and exposed rocks in the foreground picture to make a single properly exposed image with sharp focus in both the foreground and background.   

20130901-_MG_4957-01-01-01

The above example shows a relatively extreme case of my exposure woes.  In practice, I always carry a variety of filters that I place in front of my camera to help control the dynamic range of a scene.  Sometimes, as in this case, using filters is not ideal or is still be insufficient to control the dynamic range of a scene.  Even though I prefer using filters in the field to correct exposure, obtaining “front to back” sharpness in an image is a chronic challenge.  With Photoshop, I will now overcome!

I don’t believe that by learning Photoshop my landscape images will become fake and from my imagination alone.  Instead, I look forward to using it to correct the limitations of my camera and gear and ultimately present an image that is more pleasing to view and is still true to the scene I actually photographed.

Categories: Architecture, Photoshop | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

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