“The picture does not do it justice”
Have you heard someone (maybe even you) make that statement about a rather disappointing vacation snapshot? If so, read on.
Great Sand Dunes National Park in South-central Colorado offers a multitude of dramatic visual contrasts. In late afternoon, the dunes become a mosaic of abstract shapes created by the contrast of lighted and shaded sides of the dunes. The dunes themselves contrast dramatically with the flat, semi-arid foreground and the 14,351′ Blanca Peak of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in the background. In addition, this day I was blessed with a dramatic storm sky which just begged for a high contrast black and white conversion.
The image below was shot with the Canon 5D Mark II and EF 24-105mm f/4L IS @ 105mm 1/60s f/8.0 ISO 100 and CPL. After typical post-processing of simple curve adjustments to set contrast and black/white points, I converted the image to black and white using NIK Silver Efex Pro 2. Although I really like this shot for its ability to describe the unique and dramatic characteristics of the dunes, you can’t capture the impressive scale of the dunes with a single frame – the picture does not do it justice. The dunes are the perfect subject matter for a panoramic compilation of multiple images.
I love “big” landscapes. A panoramic (pano) compilation is the perfect technique for extremely tall or wide vistas which are so often found in our national parks. The pano below was made of eight separate images shot with a Canon 5D Mark II and EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS @ 135mm 1/320s f/8.0 ISO 100. I won’t go into the specific steps for stitching a pano in Photoshop as there are numerous tutorials on the internet. I will however mention three key points to remember when shooting images for a successful pano. First, make sure your camera and tripod are perfectly level. Second, shoot in manual mode; set aperture, shutter speed, focus, and white balance manually. Manual mode is necessary to prevent slight adjustments by the camera’s automatic features as the lighting changes from one end of the scene to the other; each frame must have the exact same exposure and color temperature (white balance) so stitching will be smooth and seamless. Third, leave your circular polarizer (CPL) in your bag. The CPL affect varies with the direction of your point of view relative to the sun which will change as you rotate your camera for each frame. If you get everything right, the results are very satisfying.
There are a lot of things to think about and remember when shooting and processing a pano. However, the extra effort and attention to detail will pay off in a big way. The multiple-image pano below shows, in a way a single image cannot, why they call this place “Great” Sand Dunes National Park.
Click the pano “to do it justice” (click it again when the large file is loaded in your browser).