An Image Realized

While today's cameras are excellent, the harsh reality, which you may or may not know, is that they are not capable of reproducing a scene exactly as our eyes do. Scenes that have too much range from highlights to shadows, otherwise known as dynamic range, can cause a lot of problems and force some choices to be made in terms of our exposure. So photographers have come up with various ways of manipulating things to capture a scene as they see it or feel it.

The image you see above is a perfect example. I captured this image on August 5th, 2015 in Arches National Park in Moab. The sunset that night was brilliant. A fairly heavy cloud cover began to break up just as the sun descended lower in the sky, causing beautiful color to appear under the clouds. However, while my eyes could see the red sandstone glowing in the light of the sunset, the camera could only capture part of the range of the scene. Depending on how I set the exposure, I could capture detail in the arch, but lose the colorful and dramatic sky, or, I could capture the color and drama in the sky and leave the arch looking like a silhouette. Neither option appealed to me. Thankfully, in the age of digital photography, we have more tools available to us to get the most out of this scene.

On the left is the scene exposed so I can get detail in the arch. But the sky is washed out and dull. The exposure for the sky has the drama, but the foreground and arch lack any detail at all.

While HDR, or High Dynamic Range photography, has been around since the first digital cameras, it's never been a technique I've cared for. I did try it with this image, but in the end I was never happy with the results. They lacked depth and just never felt right to me. So the image languished on a hard drive. I'd pretty much given up on it.

But over the past few months, I've been working on some new editing and processing techniques and came across one I felt could help me with this image. I won't get too technical, but it was a technique that blends two images together using luminosity masks in Photoshop. It took some work, but after four years, I was finally able to bring this image to life! I used the sky from the darker image, and the rest from the lighter image. Then I processed as usual, adding saturation of color, adding contrast, and lightening some areas while darkening others- otherwise known as dodging and burning.

Now at this point, you may be thinking, but that doesn't look anything like what the camera captured!  I want to see it as it was! But here's the thing. The camera doesn't "see" the way our eyes do. Heck, your husband or wife or son or daughter don't even see things exactly the same way your eyes do. We all have different sensitivities to color and contrast, in addition to our vision being somewhat colored by our life experience. So that said, the camera is never going to see things as you or I do. As a photographer, my goal is to capture the feeling I felt when I witnessed the scene, and try to communicate that feeling as best as I can to my viewers. So each and every one of my images is my interpretation of a scene I witnessed. I have never considered my images in the same vein as "documentary", for instance. Even the great Ansel Adams once said, "Dodging and burning are steps to take care of mistakes God made in establishing tonal relationships." He was a master at it.

The finished image is much more representational of what I saw AND felt when I was there. I hope you enjoy it!