Alaska Revisited, Part 13

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Welcome back for another look at an image that has seen a significant second edit.  We are currently on a journey through several of my images that were created in Alaska back in May 2008.  It was an eleven day journey that I really enjoyed, but there were not nearly enough pictures from this vacation.  I would love to be able to go back and spend some real quality time hunting out great images.  As it was, I was kind of limited to when and where I could shoot because my ex-wife was much more interested in shopping and going places that had touristy things to do.  I was more interested in finding the raw and rugged beauty of the state.  I didn’t get to do that as much as I had hoped though.  The last image that I shared was from the sunrise on the 17th, but strangely enough, the sun had already risen at 3am, so I just got early light which turned out to be just fine.  The image that I will be sharing here today has been one of my favorite concepts from the trip but the execution has always been a letdown.

You see, one of the things that I wanted to capture while in Alaska was the warm sunlight on a shaded mountain peak.  I had seen that concept in many images before but knew that finding it here in the Appalachian Mountains would be difficult.  I loved the look of that first light on the mountain amplified by the snow.  There was such a mountain close to the hotel where we had been staying and I spotted it that morning while shooting some of the scenes around the harbor.  It was close by, so I was able to go out there when the light was right. That right time happened to be quite late in the evening nearing 10pm.  I set out on my own yet again and found the mountain in the distance.  I fitted the 70-200mm lens to the camera without realizing just how much this lens was getting used on this trip.  I got the camera mounted to the tripod and added the polarizer and just waited for the light to do what I was hoping for.

Catching Last Light“, Canon 40D, 70-200mm f/4L, B+W KSM Polarizer

This was the image that resulted.  I have to repeat that my Photoshop skills were very much substandard back then so there wasn’t much done to this image.  What I was left with was an overly blue image with a bright bit of snow at the top.  It was a white balance issue that I never addressed, but that changed the whole look of the image from what I had in mind.  I went with it because that was the best that I could produce at the time.  It was a great concept and I did like the dramatic lighting I had caught, but it wasn’t nearly as exciting as I had originally hoped.

When I went through my RAW files from the trip this one came up again and I really wanted to give it another go.  I knew that it was going to have to be a color presentation, or I would shelve it.  My goals for this one were to accentuate the warm color hitting the mountain, and to give more separation from the background sky to make the shape stand out better.  I liked the trees at the bottom to give a little scale and the contrast was nice.  My hope was to create a sky that worked well with the tones of the trees without going crazy far in the edit.

Capturing Light“, Canon 40D, 70-200 f/4L, B+W KSM Polarizer

The edit was actually pretty involved for this one.  There were a lot of changes that I made to the sky that involved some masking that took some time.  I also had to massage the color out of the sunlight to fit with my vision.  This was done through local adjustments, as well as tweaks to the hue, saturation, and luminance sliders.  Ultimately, I had to add an adjustment for split toning as well.  In the end, I had a largely monochromatic image since the blues had been brought way down to match the trees.  It was that warm glow on the mountain that sold the whole concept for this image.  This was why it could never be a black and white image, it needed the color tone for the sunlight.  Now, is this an accurate representation of the scene that I saw?  Not really.  That is more the first image, but the white balance was off there from reality.  This second image was more capturing my vision for the image before I even arrived in Alaska.  It is faithful to what I shot in comparison to my vision for that scene.  It just has a great deal of processing involved to get me to that point.  Whether it is too much or not is up for debate, but I am loving this image so much more than when I originally shot it.

The power of post processing is tool that a photographer must learn to embrace at some point along the way.  I’ve been on both sides of the coin for this debate over the years, but my current view is to use it as best you are able to achieve the intended artistic vision that you had at the time of the capture.  The expansion of my skills in post processing has greatly helped this image as well as several others along the way.  In fact there are a lot of opinions about this trip’s images that are changing thanks to a little second go at editing.  I do hope that you are enjoying them as much as I am in sharing them once again.  I’ll be back very soon with some more, so stay tuned!