After our fabulous morning with our ballonish friends, we turned our attention south to Canyon de Chelly. A national monument near Chinle, Arizona that was not far away from Bluff and that none of us had ever had the pleasure of visiting. After a short and mainly un-inspiring drive after the first few miles, we arrived at our destination, with lunch in mind we headed to the Antelope House Ruin overlook for food and photography.
The topography is quite interesting, you slowly drive uphill on a plain of juniper and cedar, passing some Navajo homes, the monument is in, surrounded by, and part of, the reservation. Even in January there were trinket vendors at the overlooks, though there was a veritable paucity of tourists to shop. Venturing out to the viewpoint allows you to look down into the canyon, the gentle rise you just gained dropping off precipitously via nearly sheer walls hundreds of feet down to a flat floor. You can see how this area would be conducive to defense against invaders and yet still offer a fabulous place for agricultural activities with readily available water resources.
The feature on the far right of this photo is a wedge shaped piece of rock sticking out where two canyons come together, according to the guidebooks it functioned as a place of last resort that was highly defensible by just a few individuals. I found myself wondering what a medieval castle designer could have done with the place. Formidably Impregnable comes to mind.
The only part of the canyon you can enter without a permit is the trail to the "White House Ruin". With the afternoon proceeding quickly and wanting to be at Spider Rock for sunset, we decided to hike to the ruin and skip a few overlooks along the way. The hike down and back is spectacular, and really not that strenuous.
The lighting made it difficult to get the textures I really wanted, like in this shot. However the temperatures were perfect for hiking and I can highly recommend a visit in the winter months.
Anything that was not part of the evergreen family was dead as dead can be. Though challenging it allowed for images not available other times of the year. With green foliage this shot would be completely different.
Unfortunately the ruin is distanced from observers by a quite stout fence, you can shoot over it, but it is hard to get a good shot.
Heading back to attempt to make Spider Rock before the light is gone, allowed us to catch the evening light as it simply got better with every second.
Both of these panoramas were shot handheld, I was NOT lugging a tripod down there and back. Just too lazy!
Spider Rock... I am not sure I can fully wax eloquent enough to describe the simple majesty of this pinnacle. Rising 800ft above the floor of the canyon, it stands supremely grand compared to the landscape around it. We arrived just before the sun set, the light liming the tops of the walls too harsh of a contrast to properly photograph, we waited. As the sun finally left the ground, the soft tones of the rock below became beguilingly mine for the taking. All that was needed was patience, a long enough exposure and a solid tripod.
As a technical side note, all of the following photographs are HDR composites, processed in a program called Photomatix. I have found it to be the best, most flexible, program I have used to date. At some point I may try others, but this just works. I varied my exposures based on my histograms, and experience. As a general rule I try to get 4-5 exposures that take me from under exposed enough to preserve every highlight in the image by several stops, to over exposed enough to provide detail in all shadowed areas by at least 1-2 stops.
As I prepare my RAW files for Photomatix, I run them through ACR and into Photoshop. Setting a consistent and appropriate White Balance for all photos, and tweaking shadows, recovering highlights as needed, adding sharpening and clarity. I then save the files as 16 bit TIFF's, and import them into HDR processing. Once they files have been merged into a 32 bit HDR file I toggle through the presets until I find one or two that get me close to where I want to be, then I fine tune them to look like I want them to, often with little to no rhyme or reason. I then process the photo and export it as a single 16 bit TIFF file, which I then bring back into Photoshop CS6 for final tweaking, sharpening as needed and watermarking. Often I will do two versions to see what the possibilities are, one more true to life, and one more... gaudy?
This first shot is more true to life, it did require a heavy dose of perspective correction due to pointing a ultra wide angle lens downwards. The contrast between varied colors of rock in layers is a feature I wanted to focus on.
This is a bit (ok a LOT) more out there, but... it really works for me in a hyper realistic way. It was NOT that brilliantly colored in real life, nor will it ever be. Yet the drama invoked is worth the ridicule you may heap on me. I would love to print this on brushed aluminum and put it in a well lit room. It would simply knock your socks off!!!!
These next two photos are processed from the same set of original RAW files, the first more brilliant, and the second less so. The second was ordered by a co-worker printed at 24x36 inches and looked stupendous!!!!
I cannot say that I like either one better, that is why you get to see both of them!
Of note a fellow photographer, I occasionally correspond with, noted the Penumbra that I captured, here. Penumbra being the earths shadow. It was good to know that I captured something he never had seen in this area.