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on Feb 29, 2012 in K&M Adventures, Landscape Photography

Horseshoe Bend – Van Talk

Horseshoe Bend, AZ just outside Page is a pretty popular place. I’d never been there so we decided to take K&M Adventures over there and give it a gander. After the short walk up and over the hill down to the edge, you see it, a big bend in the river that looks like a horseshoe from a plane. Oh, I get it, that’s how it got its name! Any who, the skies were my favorite, bald. The light, nice and hard…yummie! I walked up the edge to the north from where the trail stops (it’s just a 1000 foot drop) to an outcropping where I could comfortably sit, have no rocks on the edge sticking out in the frame and enjoyed the view.

With the 14-24AF, I set the camera to a 5 image bracket starting with a -1 and shot five frames to create this image. Really a pretty simple image to make at this point. This is what the eye saw sitting on the edge

We spent quite some time on that ledge shooting, watching, talking and then after a couple of hours we hiked back over the hill, got in the van and headed down the road. That’s when I asked, “What’s the subject” and with no answer per say I asked “So, how are you going to finish that photograph?” In my mind when shooting you’ve got to know the subject and if you’re going to finish it in post, you most definitely have to know, what’s the subject. So the van talk began.

We’re shooting Horseshoe Bend, that alone provides information on how we need to finish the image. To me, the first big problem is the major shadow on the left side of the frame. If you look at the “eye” view, it’s pretty massive. Ya, we shot HDR but that shadow is still pretty massive. On the flip side, that big piece of rock jutting out at you that makes the “bend” is lit pretty darn flat. That rock is anything but flat but the light doesn’t support reality. With that knowledge, we know the light is pretty contrasty, harsh, nasty, ugly and colorless all adding up to sucks! But here it is, you’re traveling on vacation and you’ve allotted just this one afternoon to see and photograph Horseshoe Bend. You get there and find what we found, very unromantic light and no real photograph. Do you turn around and go home without the photo or like us, click and make lemonade? How do you make lemonade out of this?

This is what we talked about in the van, how to make lemonade. We started with the HDR capture, a means of opening up the shadows a little while protecting highlights. But that wasn’t enough in my book. Using HDR to bust open that shadow will make the photo look like HDR and I don’t want that. So a simple Curve Adj Layer to lighten that left side was the first thing to do. Then, another Curve Adj Layer but this time to darken the right side of that jutting rock to give it some curve. Then I used Nik’s CEP4 Tonal Contrast to bring out the color. After all of this, we don’t have the photograph of a lifetime because when the light sucks, the light sucks. But we also don’t have garbage. We have a photo we can share the wonder of Horseshoe Bend and the viewer of our photograph doesn’t need sunglasses to view it. It’s a clean image which is the best we could do with what we were provided. Now you know what we talked about in the van as we headed down the road. Oh ya, that’s a photo of my fearless coheart Kevin sticking his camera over the edge to get the shot. That too is HDR :-)