Thursday, May 19, 2016

The Watchman & the Virgin River, Zion National Park, Utah

The Watchman & the Virgin River
Zion National Park, Utah

This is the most photographed scene in Zion and one that every southwestern landscape photographer has probably taken.  Around sunset when the western sun hits the face of Watchman and makes it glow, the photographers gather and line up their tripods along the main bridge located on the main road.  And yesterday was no exception.  But I've been there and done that, so I walked a little bit down river to a foot/bike bridge and had the whole place to myself, and still got a great view of this iconic scene.  The sky was not cooperating while the sun was up, but waiting paid off because around 8 pm, in between sunset and twilight, there was enough light to show off the red cliffs plus a little color in the sky as a bonus.  Another bonus was the bright blue sky was reflected in the river, which was more muddy brown than usual because of spring rains.  Often patience is the best skill for a landscape photographer to develop!

Here is some technical information for those who are interested:  Because the sun was down and there was great contrast between the dark foreground land, and the bright sky, I knew my camera couldn't 'see' the land details that I could see, without blowing out the sky, so this was a perfect situation for an HDR shot.  (I could have stacked a bunch of split level density filters as an alternative.)  I didn't have a tripod, but luckily the bridge railing was the perfect height to use as one.  I set my camera to take three consecutive shots at different exposures, and also used the camera timer so as not to jiggle the camera while pushing the shutter button.  My settings were:  1 sec, f/18, 200 iso, 27mm lens.  For post processing, I combined the three exposures using Aurora, then desaturated the colors until the overall 'look' was close to what I saw and was pleasing to me.  Yes, I said desaturated, not saturated.  My Fuji xt-1 has settings to simulate common film 'looks' and has a velvia setting which makes colors vibrant in-camera.  But still, combining exposures definitely gives the image a more painterly look.  Speaking of this camera, I continue to be impressed.  There was no noise, even though I was shooting in low light.  I did not crop or add sharpening or contrast.