King of the Hill, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Arizona.
Hi everyone and welcome to today’s post. This is an image I have affectionately named “King of the Hill”. It is a rather large pedestal of Navajo Sandstone perched on top of layer upon layer of serrated and swirling stone. To be honest this was a disappointing day. I was scheduled to make a trip into Canyon X but a massive front several states away brought clouds and flat, contrasty light. Not exactly the kind of conditions suitable for slot canyon photography. So with the Canyon X trip cancelled, and determined to shoot something, I wondered out into some slick rock areas near Glen Canyon. I do not like to shoot in desperation as it usually leads to uninspiring images and frustration. But here I was anyway. At the very least this would be a scouting trip for a future trip. I wandered for hours up, down, and through an amazing landscape of sharp-edged stone. They were like giant red layer cakes rising upward through a series of dimensional swirls culminating in a large rock “cupcake” with a cookie on top. But the light was just horrible – flat, contrasty, and featureless. Light brings form, shape, and definition. With it we can separate the elements of an image and bring it to life.
But even without the light I knew there was a shot here in this garden of stone. In conditions like this black and white can save the day. To begin to see the possibilities I set my cameras display setting to black and white. Immediately the possibilities began to surface. The flat red color and grey sky became more cohesive and interesting in black and white. And with a little Lightroom and Photoshop work I knew I could bring out the drama and detail in the stone. I also had to be a little patient with my subject. At time during the day a hint of form would appear in the featureless grey sky. For this shot I waited almost 45 minutes for a band of clouds to form over this formation. Waiting for just the right moment I was able to not only capture some interest in the sky but to also use this to frame around the sandstone pedestal. All day I played this “cat and mouse” game with vary degrees of success. With this image everything fell in to place and I was able to bring home a winner.
Technical Details: This image was shot with a Nikon D3x and a Nikkor 17-35mm lens at 24mm. The image was exposed at ISO 100 at f13 for 30 seconds. Even though I had my screen display set to Black and White the RAW captured all the color data. I experimented with the RAW processing to bring out as much color detail so I could make the B+W conversion in Photoshop. For the final however I made the conversion in Lightroom using the Color Mode Sliders. I have found I have a great deal of control with these sliders and can produce an excellent file for final work in Photoshop.
My workflow in Photoshop followed my typical pattern with one exception. I began, as usual, with “digital gardening” on a filter layer to clean up a few dust spots and applying my Smart Sharpen layer to bring up the micro-contrast of the file. The RAW file brought from Lightroom, though solid, still needed some punch. To do this I “Merged Visible” to create a new Image Layer. Note that here that I could also have flattened the file but I almost never do this as I might want to make some adjustment to the Sharpening and I need the Layer Stacks intact for this. With the new Image Layer active I changed the Blending Mode to Soft Light. You could also use Multiply Mode but this usually requires reducing the opacity of the effect. With Soft Light I find I get a nice punch to the file by increasing the density of the pixels. It is a great technique in certain circumstances to add depth to the file. From here it followed my usual Layers including White and Black Point, several Contrast/Curve Adjustments through Luminosity Masks and extensive dodging and burning. Dodging and burning is where I paint with light and manipulate the highlights and shadows to add visual dimension to the file. Using a combination of the Brush Tool and D+B Tools I work light and dark values at low opacities along edges and flat areas to separate tones and emphasize light and shadow.
Thank you for stopping by today!