This week’s story is about a photo that’ll go down as one of the coldest photos I’ve ever taken. It’s a sunrise photo and it looks much warmer then it really was when I took it (especially for this Florida guy).

But First…The Story Behind, The Story Behind the Photo
A while back, Scott Sheppard interviewed me over on Nik Radio. It was basically a 30-40 minute interview on how I got into photography and Photoshop, what inspires me and a bunch of other things. Here’s the link in case you missed it. Well, toward the end of the interview, we started talking about how the story behind the photo is sometimes as captivating or interesting as the photo itself. So it got me thinking about a possible series of posts here on the blog. Let’s get started:

The Photo
(click for a larger version)

Location: Mesa Arch, Canyonlands National Park near Moab, Utah

Date: April, 2009

The Gear

The Story
I was co-teaching a landscape photography workshop in Moab and it was my first trip there. I got in late the night before to find that we would be leaving the parking lot at some ungodly hour (something like 3:45am) the next morning. Basically, the idea is to get to a location like this early. The sun was coming up fairly early. It was about a 45 minute drive along with a 10-15 walk, and it’s a spot that usually has a lot of photographers at it. So, if you want to get in a good location to take the photo at sunrise, you need to get up early. All of this adds up to waking up at a time that nobody should be waking at 🙂

Why We Almost Didn’t Go Shooting That Morning
Well, I woke up on time and made it down to meet the group in the parking lot at that ungodly hour I’m sure I mentioned before. As we stood in the parking lot, it started snowing on us. We checked the forecast and it was supposed to be a pretty ugly sunrise with snow and windy conditions. My friend, Neil Silverman (one of the co-teachers of the workshop), said something that, I’ve since, repeated many times when some one has tried to convince me not to go on a photo shoot. As everyone stood there shivering, trying everything we could to convince ourselves it would be okay to go back to bed and skip the photo shoot, he urged us to suck it up and go. That we’d be able to sleep later. We’d come this far, so why not just go out and see what we could get. And most importantly, he said that he’d woke up many times to miserable weather forecasts, only to find some of the most spectacular sunrises he’d ever seen. I knew he was right and so did everyone else. So we all stopped trying to convince ourselves it was okay to go back to sleep, and we packed up the cars with our photography gear.

Getting There Early
Remember how I mentioned we wanted to get there early because there may be other photographers out there. Well, apparently they were VERY successful in convincing themselves to go back to bed because they didn’t show up. It was just us there with about 1 hour left to go before sunrise. Crisis #1 averted! We wouldn’t have to compete with a bunch of other photographers for a good spot 😉

And It Was Cold
I mentioned that this was one of the coldest photos I’ve ever taken. The temperature was in the 20’s but that wasn’t the worst park. It was windy. It was one of those cold biting winds that just blows right through you no matter what you were wearing. You couldn’t keep your hands warm, your face, your feet… you name it. For about 1 hour we all stood there shivering, telling ourselves that this would be worth it.

It Was Worth It
Obviously I wouldn’t be writing this if it wasn’t worth it right? See, one of the key ingredients in a place like this is the sun. We started getting worried that we’d never see the sun though. But as the sun started coming up we could see some light clouds off in the distance but that was it. We started getting really hopeful. Clouds weren’t bad and it looked like we’d see the sun after all. And as the sun came over the horizon, things got really quiet and all you could hear were the clicks of the shutter… always a good sound 🙂

How I Photographed the Scene
Personally, I chose a wide angle lens and set my aperture to f/16 so I could get that sun-star shaped flare from shooting directly into the sun. I also made sure I chose a lens with Nikon’s Nano coating on it. When you’re shooting into the sun or using sun flare as part of the photo, that nano coating rocks. It helps keep the flare under control so it doesn’t get overwhelming.

The Post-Processing
Post-processing is important here. Since you’re shooting into the sun, the rocks up front don’t appear as bright in the photo, as they really were when you were there. So there was definitely some Fill light and shadow slider enhancements here. I also did some cloning and healing on the rocks, since some of the lens flare looked a little distracting. Then I just finished it up with a little sharpening and vibrance adjustment to bring out some of the colors.

Lessons Learned
Go out and shoot. You can always sleep later. Oh… and dress warmer then you think you have to.

Thanks for stopping by today. I hope you enjoyed the story. Have a good one! 🙂


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