I’ve mentioned before on this blog how important it is to follow your bliss, to be flexible enough to change your plans and go where the light leads you. Yesterday as I drove home from work, heading west toward the setting sun, I noticed in my rear-view mirror that there were clouds building in from the east. Since the Phoenix area is essentially a large bowl in the desert (hence the name “Valley of the Sun”), it’s possible to climb the mountains on one side of the bowl and see miles and miles in the distance to the mountains on the other rim. So I decided to rush home, grab my camera gear and head to the west rim of the bowl, which is the White Tanks Mountains. My plan was to go into the White Tanks Regional Park and set up my camera and tripod at the same location where I took my very first sunrise shots with this camera, back in January. From this location, one can look all the way across the valley to the east, and I was pretty sure I could get some decent shots of the clouds moving in.
It’s about a 35-minute drive from our house to the White Tanks. Andy wanted to go with me, so I waited for him to change out of his work clothes (I’ll admit I was mentally tapping my toes while I waited), and then we headed west. I always get a little frantic when I’m driving to a location at sunset because I know how the light changes constantly, and I wanted to be sure that I was set up in time to capture the best shots.
We got to the park at little after 7:00 PM and found that they were only open until 8:00 PM–I had a little less than an hour to do my shooting. I first drove to the the little overlook that I used back in January and set up my camera and tripod. While the clouds were not as spectacular as I had hoped for, there was a little slice of a rainbow that provided just the right touch of color for my first shots. I was shooting everything in RAW+JPG in bracketed series of three (-2.0/0.0/+2.0) so I could process them as HDR’s.
After about ten minutes at this location, the sun had set behind the mountains to our backs, so we got in the car and drove further into the park. I finally found a spot where there were plenty of saguaro, cholla, and other cacti, with a good view of the surrounding mountains. We parked the car and hiked a short distance off the road, and from there I finished up my shoot as the sun went down.
As I processed the photos today, I was amazed to discover that the total time that had elapsed between the first shot and the last was only 25 minutes. In that time span, I took 114 shots (38 three-shot series). It just reinforced the fact that the light changes so quickly in the evening, and it’s important to be ready to capture every possible second of it.
Now for the technical details: I processed the raw NEF files in Photomatix to create the HDR’s. Normally I save these files as JPGs, but today I saved them as 16-bit TIFF files (they were about 73MB each). I then processed each TIFF file in Paintshop Pro X3 to apply Local Tone Mapping, adjust Brightness and Contrast, Saturation, Levels, etc., along with removing noise and sharpening. I then saved the files as JPGs, but without the usual 20% compression I normally use. I wound up with 38 JPG files that were anywhere from 7MB to 16MB in size.
I did wind up with one image that I just could not process to my satisfaction…there was a lot of burnout in the sky, and I just couldn’t adjust it away. So I wound up using one of the Paintshop Pro effects, Brushes, to turn it into a pseudo oil painting:
So, I’ve spent my entire Saturday processing these photos, but I feel very good about the way they turned out. I’ve loaded the entire series (except for the one above) to my Flickr page in the set titled White Tanks Park at Sunset. You can also view them on a black background (even better!) on my FlickRiver site. I hope you’ll take a look and let me know what you think!
So, once again, following my Zen took me to a great photo shoot that I hadn’t planned on. And to take it even further, as we drove home, we decided to stop somewhere for dinner, so we went south on Litchfield Road, then east on McDowell until we spotted Buffalo Wild Wings. Yeah, I’m sometimes behind the times, but I had never eaten there and didn’t really know anything about it, but I liked the colored Christmas lights they had on the patio, so I whipped the car into the parking lot and we went in. We had a GREAT late dinner of wings, salad, fried dill pickles, beer and ice cream sundaes. My Zen scores again!!
I love the shots with the rainbows and the mountains in the distant background. Superb, imho…007 might be my favorite of those. I noticed what looked like a little bit of barrel distortion in 001, but I like it. I don’t think it takes away from the shot at all.
I feel like 073, 076, and 079 were maybe a bit overdone with whatever plant that is in the foreground. Looks otherworldly. But I really like the DoF of 085.
Did you use the 18-55 kit lens? Tamron has a 17-50 f/2.8 that I’m thinking about getting to replace that kit lens. Anyway, thanks for posting; I always enjoy looking at your stuff.
Thanks, Thomas, for the feedback! Yes, I was using the 18-55 kit lens, but like you, I’m considering investing in something a little faster, possibly more of a wide angle for occasions such as this. Oh, and the plant you saw in 073-085 is a cholla cactus, otherwise known as a jumping cactus. I like them a lot because when the lighting is behind them, they positively glow! Check out this earlier shot of mine:
Great colors, and great shots especially for a kit lens!