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July 29, 2008


The Making of an Image: Father Time, Colorado National Monument

by josephrossbachphoto

This image of a twisted and worn Utah Juniper was made this past summer over my Colorado photo trip. I had found this tree on the rim of the canyon about 4 years ago when I was visiting Colorado National Monument for the first time. Back in those days I was still shooting film and it was very difficult to balance the light between the brightly lit sky and tree with the much darker canyon bottom. Thankfully I am shooting digital these days and with a properly exposed raw file I can bring out all the details in a shot and dramatically increase the dynamic range of an image. 

O.k., do here’s the situation. The sun is rising to the left in the image and side-lighting the tree and canyon formations in the distance. Parts of the scene including the lower left hand bottom of the canyon and the center of the tree are in deep shadow. The difference in exposure is about 2 stops and this exceeds the dynamic range of my digital sensor. I pick an exposure that sets the histogram towards the highlights, but does not overexpose or clip any details. This will give me more than enough information to process the raw file for highlights and shadows. I should also mention that I used a Singh Ray LB polarizer to darken the sky and add contrast and saturation to the scene. 

The third key component to making this image was a Nikon SB800 portable flash unit. I set the flash on manual and dialed it down to 1/2 power. Making sure to zoom the head of the flash output to match the focal length of my lens, I handheld the flash with it connected to my camera via an SC17 sync cord. When the shutter would trip the flash would fire and illuminate the dark center of the tree.

Once the file was brought into post processing it was a simple task to generate one processed file for the highlights and a second for the shadows and darker mid tones. The 2 files were then combined in Adobe Photoshop and a layers mask was applied to paint detail of the first image (the darker base layer) with my brush set to 70% -80% to let the shadows come through.  Its amazing to me the possibilities new technology opens up to us if only allow ourselves to open up the possibilities in first place. 

Tech: Nikon D300 , Nikor 12-24mm, Singh Ray LB Polarizer, Nikon SB800 flash, raw capture at ISO 100, Double processed raw file in Adobe Lightroom and Photshop CS3.

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