Canyon Dance – Grand Canyon National Park

Canyon Dance. Grand Canyon National Park. Gavin Seim, Spring 2011

The final rays of glistening sunset are often the most remarkable. Their golden glow flaring for a mere moment before dying into memory and waiting for another sunrise.

Next to the unimaginable vastness of the sky itself, the Grand Canyon is one of the largest most beautiful things I’ve seen. It’s views take the breath away and make me wonder at God’s creation. But as magnificent as it is, it’s a challenge to convey, as it seems that landscapes of this scale often fight against being pulled into the single, two dimensional frame.

Knowing the crowds would come, I set up at Yavapai Point nearly two hours early. I went to the overlook and set up my digital, along with my 4×5, claiming the space as my own and not moving. By the time the sun set, I was crowded in on every side. It was hazy, as often seems with the great distances across the canyon.

The walls that I planned to photograph did not respond quite as I had hoped. But just as the sun set, this side of the canyon walls came alive with color. I had been crowded in so much that I could not move the tripod even the two feet I needed. Frantically, I leaned over and rested the camera on the handle of my second tripod where the 4×5 sat. Then I made the frame that would become this image and preserve that fleeting light. In all my planning, I was still not fully prepared for the moment, but I made the best of it. This frame does not do it’s beauty justice, but it gives a tiny taste of my awe.

For Photographers. How it was made…

Canon 5D MK2, 24-70 L @25mm, f8, ISO800, 1/40

I barely captured this image. The light was moving fast at this point and to cover myself I made this exposure at 800, resting on the handle of the 4×5 tripod as I could not reposition the other in the crowd. I nearly always prefer to be locked tight to a tripod. I made the capture and then shifted things around for a more supported frame. But by that time much of the light had faded and in review later it was clear that this single frame had the most magical light.

As I mentioned, the haze in the canyon can be an issue for making an epic landscape. This direction was better than the one to my left where I had originally planned to photograph. But I was still faced by its faded tone in post processing and had to work to retain clarity.

Handling a vast landscape.

The other issue I found was making the arm of rock become the dominant subject while being enhanced by the surrounding chasms. I find that in some vast landscapes, it can be more of a challenge to make a great image than we suspect at first glance. Viewing it’s epic scale in person in all good and well, but on a two dimensional surface we must somehow convey the majesty of what we see and feel.

I think a pivotal key is making sure we have a primary subject and that the elements of the scene contribute to it, allowing the eye to pleasantly stroll through, taking it in in the proper order.

The solution for me in this case was not an HDR, but rather a subdued tonal range, allowing the eye to be drawn through the scene. I took great pains to keep the details vibrant without being distracting. I started in LR with the Simply Film Preset from the Color Fantasies set and the Equalizer X preset from PW3. After some tweaking, I went to Photoshop for details. I added a light application of my Camelot Action from the Hollywood Effects set.

Finishing these basic processes, I set to work with careful burning and dodging, subduing areas of distraction and enhancing light in the frame. That finished, I saved back into LR and then went further, adding gradients and gentle local corrections to control tone. Truthfully, I kept coming back, trying to make it better as it did not quite satisfy me. I further tweaked the crop and carefully worked with color balance and channels until I felt it was suitable.

In the end, I don’t consider it perfect, but I found it educational in its subtleties and I think it’s a worthy image that will print well as a part of my Signature Collection. I hope you enjoy… Gav

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2 Responses to Canyon Dance – Grand Canyon National Park

  1. Don Weber says:

    Incredible image Gavin! I love the golden sunlight illuminating the tops of the canyon. Incredible shot. Also love the video of the fruit inspection stop! So many freedoms and liberties have been lost under the guise of “protection” I, for one, and totally sick of it! Keep fighting the good fight!

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