Exploring landscapes and the Milky Way in the Desert Southwest
Last week, I took a quick getaway to eastern Utah with my Image Doctors podcast partner, Rick Walker. Rick and I have been photographing together for years, and we had a fun opportunity to do some night photography in a dark sky location in Utah.
We packed up our gear and made the drive from Colorado Springs to Green River, Utah, where we spent the night. Our plan was to do some location scouting the next morning in Capitol Reef National Park, and then spending the night in a yurt at Goblin Valley State Park.
Capitol Reef National Park
The next morning , we made the 100 mile drive to Capitol Reef, which is a really underrated National Park. While there aren’t the majestic overlooks like you get in some of the other Utah parks, there’s tons of color and textures to be found within and among the rocks there. Conditions were a bit tricky that morning due to the spate of wildfires in California and Arizona, and we quickly realized by about 10am that we were going to be facing a very long day in 100+ degree temperatures if we just hung out until check-in time at Goblin Valley.
Celebrating 10 years of epic landscape photography in South Dakota
The first time I visited Badlands National Park, I was on a week-long photo tour with members of the Nikonians photographic community. It was 2005, and it was my first “real” photo experience with a digital camera, my brand-new Nikon D2x. I had two (!) 4GB memory cards in total, and I still remember the challenge of making the transition from film (fixed ISOs and slow shutter speeds) to digital.
Using Photoshop to create natural landscape photos that include the moon
When photographing landscapes at twilight that include the moon, proper exposure can be nearly impossible to achieve. That’s because while the dim light of twilight requires a relatively long exposure, the moon requires nearly a sunny-16 exposure. As a result, there is no one camera exposure setting that will get the scene right. Your options are:
Under-expose the scene and recover shadows & highlights in post
Properly expose for the landscape and blow out the moon
Bracket exposures and combine them in post
All of the above options have drawbacks. In an under-exposed image, you’ll be prone to getting noise when you try to recover shadow details, and you may or may not be able to recover detail in the moon. If the moon is very small in the frame (as with wide-angle lenses), you can make the conscious choice to just allow it to blow out completely. Bracketing exposures is another option, but I’ve found that traditional exposure blending or HDR tone-mapping just doesn’t quite produce the results I’d like, because the blown-out areas around the moon often bleed into the sky or are exacerbated by thin clouds.
Recently while I was in the field, I decided to try a variation on exposure blending. I captured two shots: the first was exposed only for the moon, and the second shot was properly exposed for the landscape. I then used Adobe Photoshop to combine the images, but instead of just blending them (as with a traditional composite), I had to completely remove the blown-out moon from the landscape photo using Photoshop’s Content-Aware Fill tool.
Video: Processing Landscape Photos with the Moon (Photoshop)
Fix a weak sky using Lightroom Classic’s Dehaze Slider
I was out photographing landscapes the other morning at Garden of the Gods, and the sky was just not great. Fortunately, I capture all my photos in raw format and make sure that I expose as to not blow out the highlights. Turns out, there was definition in the sky, but I had to bring the image into Lightroom Classic to fix it. I used the Dehaze slider and local masking to pull it off:
Digital exposure is about data, not the final image
Photographic capture is not about “getting the image right” in-camera. It’s about recording the *best possible data* to further work on in post. In other words, we try to make sure that the original exposure preserves the elements of the image that are important to us, so that we can then execute the final image (in the darkroom or on the computer).