Canon 5D Mark2
f 5.6 (sharpest)
33 images shot, 22 used for the DOF/Focus blend as well as the exposure blend.
As always, best viewed on a calibrated wide gamut monitor (Gamma 2.2, White Point 6500 and Brightness/Candelas 130) and on Safari or FireFox. If not, the image will likely be too reddish and saturated.
For those who may be interested in the methods used to capture and develop this image here are some of the key steps.
I have been going to this canyon for about 6 years now, all failed attempts. Of course some of the images turned out decent, maybe even good, but not up to the standard I was after. Many attempts were made but thwarted by obstacles like the canyon full of water/mud, mud on the walls, near heat stroke in the summer, bad lighting due to clouds and so forth.
Recently, I had the opportunity to spend two days here unhindered, not even by photographers. The reason I had the place all to myself is that I had to wade up to my knees and sometimes my chest in muddy water squeezing through tight areas to get in. Periodically I heard people come, and some even try to get in but all turned away (this certainly did not upset me! ): .
The first day here was a serious shooting day, but more than that it was a day to carefully study the light! I know you might hear a lot about studying the light in a particular area, but in my opinion few actually do it. Many rush in to get the shot and rush out without really studying carefully what is going on around them. Especially in the canyons of the SW, literally every few minutes the light changes. So on day one, I made note of the best moments, times and places light did its dance.
A very powerful tip that I employ but I rarely see other photographers use is to use Live View WITHOUT the tripod to find ALL the compositional possibilities one can muster of a particular location. Here I slapped on the 14mmL2, turned on “Live View” and very carefully walked back and forth through the canyon to figure every possible composition, all along taking what I call “test shots.” I tried high positions over my head, low positions near the ground and everything in between. I usually evaluate these, sometimes hundreds of images, in the evening back at camp to figure out which compositions have the most visual impact. Then I will then go back again when the light hits its peak to attempt to get the precise shot. The main key here is to match your tripod to your camera position (not the other way around) rather than the extremely limiting popular technique of carrying your camera on your tripod and trying to find good compositions hindered that way. Honestly, I utterly detest the limitations of the latter approach.
Once set up (and tripod positions in this canyon were sometimes extremely difficult to achieve – thus multi tripods and ample equipment) I simply waited for the best moment of light. I knew precisely when the reflected light would hit its peak here so when it did I went for it! BTW reflected light is often the very best just as it is about to creep into your shot. So when you see those areas of direct light just about to ruin your shot by the potential blowout they cause, start shooting!
As popular as the technique is starting to become among serious photographer, Depth of Field / Focus bracketing is critical if you want to capture maximum detail for quality enlargements. Here are some tips: focus via “Live View” on the very closest object, shoot at your lenses very sharpest f/stop (almost always 2 stops from wide open) which on the 14mmL2 is f/ 5.6 (it is a 2.8 lens). Shoot off your 3 exposure bracketed shots (here + and – 2 stops for shadows, mid-tones and highlights). Keep camera in “Live View” so that the mirror is already locked up (to avoid mirror shake). Remember that if you are at a higher ISO the “Live View” will contribute to additional unwanted noise. After shooting the 3 exposure bracketed shots, slightly adjust the focus ring toward infinity, let camera shake resolve and repeat. Remember that the very first moves toward infinity need to be more slight then the later ones. In the image here, because of the extreme differences in distance from closest wall to farthest, I used a total of 11 DOF shots that were also exposure bracketed (= 33 shots). In post-production 22 images where used. I ended up ditching the middle exposure and used both the brightest exposure for the overall base image and then the dark exposure to repair – by blending – the highlights. That is, 11 for the base exposure, and 11 to fix some blown out highlights.
Sounds like a lot of work huh? I will contend that the unprecedented sharpness and excellence in detail evident in the, often very big, enlargements makes all this work absolutely worth it! Besides, I love post production (both teaching it and doing it) and I never seem to tire of this type of work!
Here is the quick version of post-production (to save myself from writing a book). In Adobe Camera Raw I opened up all 11 images shot at a certain exposure, I adjusted them all at the same time and the same way. I got everything right there (except the blown highlights) and made sure not to do any capture sharpening (the sharpening confuses the “Auto Blend” command in PS). Next, I brought them all into Photoshop CS5, stacked them all into one file as 11 layers and ran both “Auto Align” and “Auto Blend” (Edit/Auto Align Layers and Edit/ Auto Blend Layers). Next, I went back to Adobe Bridge to work on the 11 darker exposures. After opening them up in Adobe Camera Raw, I kept the setting essentially the same as the first batch (except the images were darker, perfect for resolving my blown out highlight problem). Next, I brought them into PS and did the same as I did with the first 11 shots (the 2 “autos”). After flattening both stacks I now had only two separate files. They were essential the same except one was best suited for highlights and the other best suited for the shadows on through to the middle-tones. Then I copied then pasted one of the two files so that the two files were on top of each other (as layers) and then after doing another Auto Align (but not Auto Blend) I use some advanced blending techniques to draw in the highlights of the one layer into the shadows and mid-tones of the other.
Finally, I had one mega file that held all the data I needed to do my typical protocol of color correction and fine tuning touch up to the image. This usually includes eliminating minor distracting elements with the Healing Brush tool, a Levels adjustment in Luminosity mode, a Color Balance adjustment in Color mode, then maybe a bit of subtle localized Dodging, Burning (both in Luminosity mode) mid-tone contrast and sponging. Sometimes other subtle fine tuning techniques are applied. Basically whatever it takes to get the image to look “right” (or as close to it as possible) optimized or whatever your artistic vision may be.