I just finished assembling a submission of images for a magazine who requested photos that represent the “ends of the earth”. It was one of the tougher submissions I’ve worked on. The photo editor is looking for images that depict scenes that either are, or could be, at the very extremities of this great planet. Now, I’ve never traversed the Sahara nor have I ever skied across Antarctica but I’ve visited a few places in the good ol’ U.S. of A. that aren’t exactly on the beaten track. The image above isn’t one of them – but it could be.
Green River Overlook in Canyonlands National Park is accessed via a paved road and then a paved path, also known as a sidewalk. Ends of the earth? Hardly. But, in the right conditions, it may well be a decent substitute. On this day in early December, 2007, I was assisting at a photography workshop led by a good friend of mine. We’d just hiked into False Kiva and he stayed behind with the slower group while I and a couple others hustled out of the canyon to photograph an impending storm. I knew Green River Overlook had crazy potential in such dynamic conditions. We pulled up to the parking lot, exited my truck and were greeted by an icy wind and stinging raindrops/sleet. We darted to the edge of the canyon and set up our tripods in what must have been record time. I only managed two exposures before all hell broke loose. We grabbed our tripods, cameras still mounted up top, and ran back to the warmth of my truck.
I knew I had something pretty special when I saw the image on my computer later that evening but I wasn’t able to bring out the drama I’d witnessed in the field. Fast forward five years and hundreds of hours of work in the digital darkroom, not to mention massive advances in processing software, and I’m finally able to develop the image to its full potential. Funny thing is, it really didn’t require that much work. The photo came out of the camera dark and moody, with very little color present. I tried a monochrome conversion but didn’t feel shades of grey captured the mood of the moment. Going back to the original color version, I used a graduated neutral density filter in Lightroom to darken the clouds, and add contrast and clarity. Doing so revealed the incredible rays of light streaming from the clouds to gently illuminate the canyon below.
In Lightroom, I then added a curves adjustment to increase the contrast globally, increased global clarity by 20 and added vibrance of 10. A little capture sharpening, some low noise reduction and a few dust and rain spots zapped and the image really came to life. As I do with every image I process, I pulled it into Nik Software Viveza 2 and made a couple local adjustments to strategically burn and dodge the landscape and sky, then added structure of 20, which has the effect of increasing micro-contrast and giving details a bit more “pop”. I finished off the image with a visit to Nik Color Efex Pro 4’s Tonal Contrast Filter, which is an easy way to give dramatic skies a bit more separation between light and dark tones. All told, I spent about 7 minutes processing the image.
If you’re touched by the hand of OCD like I am, it can be difficult to keep images in your files that you aren’t immediately able to process to their fullest potential. You know, they’re just there, taking up space and laughing at you every time you flip through your catalog. But, if it’s a solid image with real potential, just let it sit there. Re-visit it a year later or five years later, when your digital toolbox is stocked with new tricks, and you just might surprise yourself.