Lunchtime at McDowell Ranch Trailhead

Cholla at McDowell Ranch

I took my camera to work today.  My plan was to go out at lunchtime to scout for shooting locations just east of our office, toward the McDowell Mountains.  I’ve noticed that when there is a colorful sunset in the west, these mountains glow a warm red color, and I wanted to be ready to capture the shot this evening after work.

About 10:30 this morning, my office laptop went on the fritz, so I handed it over to the helpdesk folks, which left me unable to work for about an hour.  Therefore, I jumped in the car and headed east on Bell Road to scout out my location for the evening shoot.  I found a trailhead where I could park and, as it turned out, there were absolutely no clouds in the sky and no one else around. I pulled out my camera and tripod and proceeded to snap a few shots.

I played around with shooting on the “A” (aperture-priority) setting, adjusting the F-stop to change the depth of field.  I also used the bracketing function to collect some photos to use in experimenting with high definition resolution dynamic range (HDR) processing in Paint Shop Pro.  I used a cholla, a saguaro, and a palo verde tree as my subjects…there’s slim pickin’s in the desert.  As luck would have it, there was a covey of quail that wandered in front of my car just as I walked back to the parking lot, but by the time I got my 70-200mm zoom mounted, they had wandered away and blended into the rocky background.

I went back to work and when 5:00 PM rolled around, I left the office and headed back to the trailhead, knowing that the sunset would be only about a half-hour away. I was hoping to get some dramatic shots of a colorful sky and red mountains, but again the sky was perfectly clear and there were no clouds to add contrast and interest.  There was only a lukewarm orange glow over the distant mountains, and there were distracting buildings in the foreground of every shot that I took.  My evening shots were definitely not up to my expectations.

So, as it turned out, my midday shots were the best, even in the harsh light of the desert.  I played with some of the bracketed exposures in Paint Shop Pro’s HDR process, but couldn’t really see any “wow” effects.  I’m probably not doing it right since I haven’t really followed a tutorial.  For now, I just wanted to see what the user interface was like.  I also played with some of the other images, adjusting color, saturation, hue, etc., just to acquaint myself with how the PSP controls work.  There’s a lot that can be done with the software.

Between the two excursions today, I became a little more comfortable with the controls on the camera, as well as getting it mounted on the tripod.  I have some questions about how to manage locking the focus when  you need to re-compose a picture where the subject is off center…maybe I’ll post that question to my user group after I research it a little more.

All in all, a fun day!

(Update: Thanks, Adam, for correcting me on the HDR acronym!  You know you’re going to be my mentor on HDR, right??)



  1. I just wanted to point out that HDR actually stands for High Dynamic Range. 🙂 Also, for a good tutorial on how to create HDR photos you might want to take a trip over to where Trey Ratcliff has put together a fantastic easy to understand tutorial. Another good program that you will need for HDR photos is called Photomatix. You can get a free trial version which is just like the production version but will put watermarks in your finsihed product until you buy the full version. Photomatix is essential as it will combine your different exposure photos and then allow you to “tone map” them, which is where the HDR process really begins!

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