Category Archives: Yosemite

Having It Both Ways

Yosemite

Yosemite, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

In my previous post I showed a photo taken a few years ago of Yosemite Valley—and noted that the work of a digital photography is never definitively done. It’s tempting, and often but not always an improvement, to rework the post-processing of older images; or to process images bypassed in the first edit.

You also don’t need to make an either-or choice between color and black & white. This image shown in this story was re-purposed into monochrome from the color photo in the last story. I created the dramatic black-and-white sky using a high contrast Red filter b&w adjustment layer in Photoshop, in case you are interested.

There’s some disagreement over on Flickr as to whether the black & white or color version is preferred (see the linked comments). I say, why not have both? A “two-fer”…

Also posted in Landscape, Monochrome, Photography

Yosemite

Yosemite

Yosemite, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

Love may mean never having to say sorry—but digital means you’re never definitively done. This is a re-work of a RAW file originally shot in 2007 of Yosemite Valley in late February following a dusting with snow.

Also posted in Landscape, Photography

Pond in the Sierras

Pond in the Sierras

Pond in the Sierras, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

This pond is found along the Tioga Pass road in the high country of Yosemite National Park. In Photoshop, I multi-processed the RAW file to make the sky darker and lighten the water.

Exposure data: 18mm, circular Polarizer, 1/160 of a second at f/11 and ISO 100, tripod mounted.

My Yosemite Dreaming set on Flickr.

Also posted in Landscape, Photography, Photoshop Techniques

First Light

First Light

First Light, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

Briefly noted: This is a re-cropped (and slightly re-processed) version of Upper Yosemite Falls. (See the original story for info about making the image.) I enlarged this portion of the photo to focus on what matters: the first light of dawn on the cliffs and water.

Also posted in Digital Night, Landscape, Photography

Tunnel View

Tunnel View

Tunnel View, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

Briefly noted: This is the view from Tunnel View in six progressive captures, with the forest area that’s in shadow combined using Photomatix HDR and the sunnier sky and rock formations added using hand layer masking in Photoshop.

Also posted in Landscape, Photography, Photoshop Techniques

Along the Inspiration Point Trail

Along the Inspiration Point Trail

Along the Inspiration Point Trail, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

At Tunnel View there are almost always crowds and photographers. Except sometimes at night. Well, the view is worth it.

Walk a couple of hundred feet up the Inspiration Point trail, and the crowds are gone. Everything is serene and quiet again.

Also posted in Landscape, Photography

Came Both Mist and Stars

Came Both Mist and Stars

Came Both Mist and Stars, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

Briefly noted: It was a wet, misty Yosemite night. The fog clouds that were almost snow only seemed to be getting denser. Facing south down the Merced River I was surprised to see stars. In post-processing, this twelve minute exposure looked more like something pictorialist or impressionist than a modern photo.

Related story: Yosemite at Night is looking the other direction from Swinging Bridge (with far less mist).

Also posted in Digital Night, Landscape, Photography

Flash Dance

Flash Dance

Flash Dance, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

Briefly noted: The cloud above El Capitan was lit with the last light of the setting sun, but the winter trees below were stark, dark, and cold.

This is a composite of ten exposures ranging in exposure time from 1/10 of a second to 1/200 of a second. All the exposures were made at f/11 and ISO 100, using my Nikon D300, the 18-200mm VR Zoom lens at 18mm (27mm in 35mm terms) and a circular polarizer, with the camera mounted on a tripod.

I combined the ten exposures into a single HDR image using Photomatix, tone mapped the result, and tweaked it a bit in Photoshop (here are the details of how I’ve been post-processing these images shot for HDR).

Also posted in Landscape, Photography

Mirror Lake

Mirror Lake

Mirror Lake, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

I got the boys occupied in throwing snow balls and trying to crush through the skim ice on Mirror Lake. Then I hunkered down to the ground and fired off a series of ten wide angle, high depth of field exposures. These were shot at 12mm (18mm in 35mm terms) and f/22, with shutter speeds ranging from 1/6 of a second to 1/125 of a second. In other words, a twenty times range to capture the full range of lights and darks in the scene I was seeing.

Back home, I used Photomatix to blend together the ten versions, adjusted using the Photomatix tone controls, and then hand corrected with another five layers in Photoshop. Here’s a more detailed explanation of my process.

For some more of my photos of this much-admired spot (in the late 1800s, Mirror Lake was a required subject for artists visiting Yosemite), check out Mirror Lake and Mirror Lake in Winter and Spring.

Also posted in Landscape, Photography

Yosemite at Night

Yosemite at Night

Yosemite at Night, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

With the boys tucked safely in bed I headed out into what proved an increasingly moist night. Wet fog enveloped most of Yosemite Valley, but there were odd pockets of open sky. From Swinging Bridge, I had a pretty straight shot at the stars over Yosemite Falls. The falls themselves were partially hidden by the darkness and fog, but the entire cliff face was illuminated by the light pollution from Yosemite Lodge.

This is a twelve minute exposure with my 10.5mm digital fisheye at f/4.5 and ISO 100.

Also posted in Digital Night, Landscape, Photography

Yosemite Night

Waking up, I glanced at the clock. It was 3:49AM. The kids were sleeping peacefully in our room at Yosemite Lodge.

I dressed for winter, and headed out into the night. The paths were icy but the stars were crisp and bright. I made my way to a clearing in the woods below Yosemite Falls. Easy enough in the day, but a little harder to find at night. I knew Polaris was right above the Falls. In other words, Yosemite Falls was pretty much due north when standing in the valley, implying that star circles above the falls would work well.

Upper Yosemite Falls

View this image larger.

This is a stacked composite of ten four minute exposures at f/3.5 each, at ISO 200, using my 10.5mm digital fisheye, for a total exposure time of forty minutes.

By the last exposure, dawn was coming to Yosemite. I processed this capture separately in order to layer in early morning colors in the mountains and water fall.

Then I headed back to my sleeping kids in their warm beds.

Related story: Starry Night.

Also posted in Digital Night, Landscape, Photography

Tone Poem

Late in the afternoon of a bright autumn day I arrived in Yosemite Valley. The valley was already in shadow, with only the tops of the surrounding cliffs lit by the sun. I stopped along the banks of the Merced River. With my camera on my tripod, I snapped five exposures of the scene, all at the same aperture (f/7.1). My exposure time varied from 1/15 of a second to 1/125 of a second.

The longer exposures captured the details in the shadows, but blew out the highlights on the cliff tops and the sky, while the shorter exposures rendered the sky acceptably, but lost all nuances in the reflections in the river to darkness. My plan was to combine the exposures to create one image with the best characteristics of each individual exposure.

Yosemite Afternoon

Yosemite Afternoon, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

HDR

Combining multiple captures to create an image with an exposure range beyond that possible in a single capture is known as High Dynamic Range imaging, or HDR for short. The trick is to compress the extended range into a single image that is pleasing, will display on a monitor, and is reproducible. Note that the exposure latitude within a single RAW capture also gives rise to the possibility of using HDR techniques using different versions of the one RAW file as the input, a technique that I’ve dubbed multi-RAW processing.

Hand HDR

Whether combining different exposures, or different versions processed from a single exposure—or even both these techniques at once—my approach has been to work in Photoshop to use layers, masking, the Gradient tool, and the Paintbrush tool to combine the variants. You can see an example of the results of this hand-crafted approach to HDR in the six-exposure blend that I used to create Yosemite Morning, taken the day after I shot the series used to create the Yosemite image that accompanies this story.

I’ll be writing more about the details of my hand HDR process in an upcoming book—I also teach the technique in workshops—but for now let me mention some downsides: it is labor intensive, time consuming, can look funny if the layers aren’t masked very carefully, and can be close to impossible to achieve in areas that involve complex interconnected details in mixed light.

Photomatix

Since we live in an age that tends to want instant results, most people try experimenting with software the does the HDR for them. I’m no exception, but I’ve been unimpressed with Photoshop’s HDR automation.

So I was excited recently to get to play with Photomatix, which is probably the leading HDR software. The Yosemite image above, and the floral close-up below were both created in part with Photomatix. As you’ll see, the words *in part* are crucial to understanding Photomatix’s place in my scheme of things.

Hellebore Trap

View this image larger.

With Photomatix, HDR generation is a two-step process. You open the images in Photomatix, and the software generates an HDR composite. Then, in a process called “tone mapping”, you tweak the settings used in the mathematical algorithms that reduce the tonal range in the combined image in order to generate a single attractive and reproducible version.

Workflow

As a practical matter, I found Photomatix’s rendering of my RAW files unacceptable. So my workflow went like this: I opened the set of images in the Adobe Camera RAW plugin, applying the same settings to each (experimenting with different RAW conversion settings on each file included is also possible, of course, although it adds more variables and complexity). I opened the files that resulted from these conversions in Photoshop, and saved them in the TIFF format (because Photomatix doesn’t read native Photoshop PSD files).

Next, I opened the TIFF files in Photomatix and generated the HDR composite. As the documentation warns, the HDR image doesn’t start out looking too good, so I worked to tone map it for more attractive characteristics. When I was satisified that the image was the best it could be, I saved it as another TIFF file.

Combined Approach

Some parts of the resulting HDR image were pretty wonderful (for example, the trees on the right). Others, not so good (the sky had a burnt, burnished quality, and the water was murky). I ended up layering-in versions in Photoshop to fix portions of the Photomatix generated image (the same general remarks are true of the floral image that also accompanies this story).

If my workflow with Photomatix sounds like a lot of work, you are right, it was. Then again, I’m happy to work if it helps my work (if you catch my drift).

Life is simpler but less rich

Also, my life would have been simpler in Photomatx if I’d shot in-camera JPEGs. The truth is that the markets for my work often require extremely high resolution, and JPEGs just won’t do. I’m almost never happy with JPEGs compared to my results when I do the RAW conversion.

Conclusion

Paradoxically, I’m left with an appreciation both for what Photomatix can do with HDR, and for the limitations of the software. I’m sure I’ll be using this software to process some portions of my imagery, just as I’m sure that my final versions will require hand work and layer masking with other versions of the files.

If you are an image creator who cares about your craft, the limitations in HDR software amounts to a good reason to learn hand HDR—combining many different versions shot at different exposure times, and processed individually from hand-tweaked RAW conversions, using layer masking—even if you expect to primarily be using automated HDR programs like Photomatix.

Also posted in Landscape, Photography, Photoshop Techniques, Software Reviews

Do Over

As I’ve noted, being digital means you never have to be done. When I originally post-processed the images in this story, I was a little drunk with the power of mult-RAW processing and cross-channel LAB operations. The original scenes were glorious. But I may have over done the post-processing a bit. You be the judge.

Snowstorm in Yosemite

View this image larger. Check out the original version.

Winter Afternoon in Yosemite

View this image larger. Check out the original version.

Bridalveil Falls

View this image larger. Check out the original version.

Also posted in Bemusements, Landscape

Indomitable

Indomitable

Indomitable, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

Winter morning in Yosemite dawned cold with flakes of snow and remnant fog, but the promise of a possible clear day with blue skies.

Provided you carefully archive your files, digital means never having to say you’re done. This is a re-processed version of Golden Wonder with the saturation taken down a bit.

Indomitable. Like the mountains in the winter. Like the digital photographer, always striving to perfect his cache of digital originals.

Also posted in Landscape, Photography

Half Dome by Moonlight

Half Dome by Moonlight

Half Dome by Moonlight, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

This is a roughly twenty minute exposure during most of which Half Dome was lit by light from the setting moon. I took the photo from Glacier Point, and the foreground landscape beneath Half Dome is deep in moon shadow.

Later, after the moon set, the light grew more uniform and the exposures longer, as in the thirty-minute duration When Stars Rush In.

[Nikon D300, 12-24mm Zoom lens at 17mm (about 25.5mm in 35mm terms), 1,204 seconds at f/8 and ISO 100, tripod mounted.]

Also posted in Digital Night, Landscape, Photography