BEHIND THE IMAGE: MESA ARCH AT SUNRISE
Mesa Arch at Sunrise - Canyonlands National Park, Utah, File# 0505098
Link To Original Image
If you’ve ever been to Canyonlands National Park, you’ve likely been to this location. One of the iconic locations in the southwestern United States, Mesa Arch has become one of the most recognizable images of this area. One of the deceiving features of this arch and with photography in general is you really don’t get a good reference for size and proximity. The opening of Mesa Arch is about 20 feet. From top to bottom, the height is about five feet. What you don’t really get is the drop off just beyond the foreground rocks is more than a thousand feet! It’s pretty amazing.
You can tell there are little traces of snow in the valley. It sure was cold this morning. Even though spring was in full-swing at lower elevations, this area was still clinging to the last bits of the previous winter. As a result, the wind went through you like knife blades. While the ambient temp was a moderate 32 deg F, the blowing wind would’ve been impossible if I wasn’t wearing wind blocking clothing.
So, the environmental conditions were a challenge. No biggy. The real challenge was getting the entire orifice of the arch without shooting one of the other many photographers there. And, to capture the full range and detail of the morning light--conquer the dynamic range problem of the scene.
The best way to get away from the other photographers in this situation was to get as close to the arch as possible without being in their way. Fortunately or unfortunately, this dictated that I couldn’t get the top part of the arch and my composition was a bit out of control. The problem with being so close to the arch was two-fold. First challenge was getting a wide enough field of view to get as much as I could. The second challenge was the dynamic range
I was using a 28-70 f/2.8 on a Nikon D2h. I knew I wanted lots of megapixels to be able to make this image as large as possible. The trouble here with a cropped sensor camera like the D2h was the wide side of this zoom lens made it feel/look like a 42mm almost normal lens in 35mm film terms. This meant I didn’t have that much field of view. This is where the magic of digital photography came to the rescue. By being able to stitch digital pictures together, I could not only make my pano by shooting several images across, I could also create more field of view by making several rows of images. In this case, I shot two rows--five across the top and five across the bottom. After you do the stitching of all these images and get rid of the over-lap, you end up with a 13.5mp image made with my paltry 4.1mp Nikon D2h. For four years ago, that’s a lot of megapixels.
The dynamic range was a challenge like aways when shooting towards a rising sun. Since I knew an unrestricted view of the sun would probably be well beyond what I wanted, I needed to block the sun somehow. That’s why the sun is just behind the arch. I used the arch to block direct view of the sun with the hope the sun’s rays would still be easily visible. To help get as much exposure information as possible, I shot a two image bracket split by one stop for every capture. This means even though I collected 10 total images in two rows, that was only half the data I collected. All together, this image is made up of 20 separate digital image captures.
By far the best image made this particular morning was this image. Sure it took a lot of separate image captures to gain all the data I needed to post process with. But, it pretty much fulfills my vision of that particular morning. What you don’t see is five young men in their mid to late teens sitting on top of the arch dangling their feet into open air. Since I didn’t shoot the top of the arch, you’d never know people were sitting on top of it.
Interesting enough, this image as become one of my all-time favorites. The technical detail of a very large print version is simply unbelievable. The fine detail in the shadows and highlights is awesome as well. This is even more amazing in my book when you consider I shot it with a relatively low megapixel and reputed to be rather poor performing camera like my D2h. It goes to show you more is possible with your cameras than you ever thought.
Just so you know and can be impressed with the magic of photography, there were five young men sitting on top of the arch. And, there were four other photographers around where I was shooting. All together, there were ten people within 20 feet of my camera and not one of them show in this image. It makes me pretty happy knowing the challenges and seeing the success.
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