On our recent trip, Tanya and I spent a couple of days camping outside Ouray, Colorado in the San Juan Mountains. I had hoped that being there in late September would result in nice fall colors in the aspens. That was not the case; it seems fall colors are late this year (I’ll need to remember this for future La Nina years, and next year appears to be another).
While I didn’t get the good fall colors I had hoped for, I did have fun shooting the area. With only two days, my photography was limited to a couple of areas: along the “Million Dollar Highway” between Ouray and Silverton and along State Highway 62 (and south of it along various county roads) between Ridgway and Dallas Divide. The photos here were all taken in these areas. Enjoy, and feel free to tell my what you think.
One stop Tanya and I made on our trip last month was the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park in Colorado. This is an amazing place. At its deepest, the Black Canyon is 2,722 feet (829 meters) deep. At its narrowest, it is 1,100 feet (335 meters) wide. It is so deep and so narrow, that little sunlight reaches the bottom. No wonder it is called Black. Of course, this presents great difficulties in photographing it.
Our original plan was to spend a night at the campground at the park. So I spent a lot of time studying various viewpoints and sunlight times and angles (using the Photographer’s Ephemeris, which is a really great program by the way, and free for desktop or laptop use) for early morning and late afternoon of our projected days at the park. As is turned out, we only made a short stop there, maybe two or three hours in the brutal, mid-afternoon sun. Not the best conditions for photography. The range of contrast was huge – puffy white clouds to dark, canyon shadows. The rock making up the canyon is mostly dark; that didn’t help. And several of the viewpoints we visited looked westward, toward the sun. Ouch! Could conditions be worse?
What’s a photographer to do? HDR of course. (For those of you who don’t know, HDR stands for high dynamic range. HDR photography works by shooting the same scene several times with different exposures and combining them together in a computer.) I occasionally shoot with HDR in mind, and this was one of those occasions. All the images presented in this blog are HDR images.
For those who care about such things, my typical HDR workflow is thus: 1) shoot three shots (or more if needed) in RAW using the autobracket feature on my DSLR (tripod mounted of course), 2) upload into Adobe Lightroom, 3) in Lightroom, on one of the shots, set the white balance and correct for chromatic aberration, then copy those settings to the other shots in the set, 4) export to Photomatix Pro using the Details Enhancer for tone mapping , 5) save the new HDR image and import into Lightroom, 6) go through my normal Lightroom workflow I normally use for RAW photos, and 7) give finishing touches (if needed) in Photoshop. The images here have been through steps 1-6. When shooting the original images, I check the histogram to make sure the set of images includes at least one image with the histogram not pegged up against the right side and at least one image with the histogram not pegged up against the left side.
Normally, I don’t use HDR if I can preserve the entire dynamic range with my regular workflow. Two of the images presented here that I was able to use my non-HDR workflow. However, I ran them through my HDR workflow to see how they looked and thought they looked better with HDR.
I’m not a fan of that over-processed HDR look that is popular with some. I like my HDR images to look life-like. A couple of these push that envelope, particularly the one with the Painted Wall below. What do you think? Are any of them overdone?
Now, after a week on the road and away from computers, Tanya and I are at a B&B in Santa Fe, New Mexico. We’ve had a great trip so far, both in terms of places visited and having good weather. I don’t think I’ve ever had such a good weather on a road trip – a few rain drops on the windshield, but otherwise great weather, a mix of totally blue skies (boring photography wise) with scattered clouds (nice photographically).
I’ve included a few shots from the first half of the trip here. Please forgive any issues with these images, they have not been through my normal workflow. Instead of going through Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop, they have been somewhat randomly selected and minimally processed with Picassa. I’m working on a very slow laptop, without much memory. This makes it very hard to do editing of the RAW files produced by my camera, and optimizing with Picassa is slow (not to mention not having the capabilities of Lightroom and Photoshop). Regardless, these few images can give you an idea of what we’ve seen so far.
The trip started with a long drive from Tacoma to Twin Falls, Idaho – about 650 miles. The next day we drove to Dinosaur National Monument, roughly 400 miles. This may be the best, closest exposure of sandstone slickrock to Washington State. Two nights there, including a side trip to Fantasy Canyon – a small, but must-visit place for nature photographers.
We then drove south through western Colorado to spend a night with my now retired geology professor from Texas A&M University (where I received a Masters in geology). He is retired and maintaining an orchard and vineyard in Palisade, Colorado. Much wine was drunk when staying with him and his wife!
Leaving Palisade, we drove over the Grand Mesa, made a short stop at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, and drove on to Ouray, Colorado. We spent two nights there in the San Juan Mountains. I was hoping for good fall color with the aspen trees, and was partially rewarded. Some had turned already and others were still green. Regardless, the views were fantastic.
Then it was on to Taos, New Mexico, where we spent a night camping on the Rio Grande and visited Taos Pueblo. We took the high road into Santa Fe from there and have been enjoying the city for two nights now.
I hope you enjoy these few photos from the first half of the trip. I’ll post more once I get back home. The top one is of the Sneffels Range in Colorado. It is part of the San Juan Mountains. This is the view from the north, along West Dallas Creek Road. I was hoping for shots from this area with yellow aspens, but they had not turned yet on the north side of the range like they had further south.
The next shot is of a pictograph (pictographs are painted, petroglyphs are carved) call Sun Dagger. It is located in northwestern Colorado. Reportedly it was used by the Fremont People as a sundial.
The third shot is of Split Mountain and the Green River at Dinosaur National Monument in Utah. This scene, taken shortly after sunrise, is about 1/4 mile up the river from our campground.
The final shot is of the San Francisco de Asis church in Ranchos de Taos, a short distance south of Taos, New Mexico.