When I posted copies of these images during our trip to Montana I mentioned that I was working on a laptop and that I had reservations about the image quality and colors. Now that I’m back home and working on a decent calibrated system I’ve reworked each of the images to produce what I think are faithful renditions of the scenes.
I went on our trip with high hopes to get two specific photos that I’ve attempted to get before: (1) Boulder River Falls at high flow, and (2) Avalanche Creek in Glacier National Park. Previous visits to these sites yielded images but none captured the character or quality I envisioned. I’ll once again thank Pete Bengyfield for his inspirational shot of Boulder River Falls and Peggy Kain for displaying a poster of Avalanche Creek on her office wall. When I see images in print that make me go back time and again to look and re-look at them I know that I’d like to have a similar image in my personal library. Granted, this is being more of a “copyist” than an “artist” but each image I take is flavored by my own technical and emotional state at the time of capture. The earth is finite and situations that are truly unique or unpublished are becoming more limited every day.
I’ll start by saying that I love these 3 images. Discussing them with Dianne she gently reminds me that I tend toward perfection and always find something that I’d do differently or something that may need to be changed. I try to guard against that but, at the same time, I watch tutorials by folks like Vincent Versace and know that the reward of the print merits the attention to details in a file. Enough said. I’m going to live with these for awhile and print them so I can view them under room light on a daily basis.
First, using a chronologic approach to the images, comes Boulder River Falls. If you dig into the blog archives you’ll find several postings about this site. I won’t dwell on the hydrologic and geologic factors involved in this post. Suffice it to say that the falls show a very different character at high flows than it does at low and moderate flows. This image was taken with a flow of about 3720 cubic feet per second in the river. It went to over 5000 cfs a few days later and I would have loved to been able to revisit the site then… didn’t happen. Another time perhaps.
I used Photomatix Pro to blend 5 images of the scene into a “high dynamic range” (HDR) file. The HDR file was then imported into Capture NX to adjust overall color cast, contrast and brightness. The texture of the waterfall comes largely from the HDR blending of the 5 “parent” images. It retains some of the feel of the flow but adds enough blur to impart motion to the image. Some folks don’t care for such representation and favor a faster shutter speed to capture more detail in the falls. This image pushes my own limits on acceptability but I openly admit that I lean toward a more milky appearance in waterfalls.
Next, Avalanche Creek. As mentioned above, Peggy Kain has a poster of this site on display in her office. I worked down the aisle of cubicles from Peggy’s for years and frequently went to her area to admire the shot. The confined rock canyon, dynamic streamflow, green vegetation and lichens on the rocks all work together to compose a great image (IMHO). My previous visit to the site was at mid-day. The sun was high and the dynamic range was out of bounds for digital capture at that point in time. There was a fairly substantial breeze blowing and the ferns and trees in the previous images were blurry. I knew that this visit would mean an early morning walk to the site to beat the sun angle and the predictable winds. We made two trips into the area. The first day I shot at very slow shutter speeds using a combination of a polarizing filter and a neutral density filter. The polarizer was on just to cut light and not to reduce reflections or glare. I was wildly successful and nearly every image looked like milk flowing down the canyon. Dianne and I sat in our room that night and evaluated the images. We both agreed (it happens a lot!) that the few images that were shot at faster shutter speeds gave a better feel to scene since you could see some texture in the water. Most of the images were taken at 4-10 seconds that day. A few were shot at 1 second or a bit less. We went back early the next morning to capture some images at exposures in the 0.5 to 1 second range. The image below is one of the images from our second visit.
After shooting the Avalanche Creek gorge images on our first visit to the area Dianne and I hiked up to Avalanche Lake which is reported to be the source of Avalanche Creek. We saw a few people on the hike in and a few more when we arrived at the lake. Coming out of the lake on our return to the car it was like driving on I-5… almost a steady procession of people headed in to the lake. We passed two volunteer work parties preparing to do some trail work. Lots of people out enjoying the day and the area. I was glad we were on the way out since I knew that many of these folks would have been wandering in front of my camera if we had gotten to the lake later in the day.
I set up the tripod and camera to compose a scene that had some interesting foreground and included the waterfalls flowing into the lake. I was intrigued by the reflection of the snowfield in the lake. The cloud cover kept the overall brightness down to nearly workable levels. Ideally this scene would be shot with a different sun angle and a sky full of cumulus clouds. Perhaps next time? I decided to create a panorama since the widest angle lens I had with me didn’t take it all in. I shot a sequence of five images from left to right. For once I was alert enough to think about shooting the same sequence for HDR processing as well. The brightness of the sky and snow seemed to yell at me “HDR, HDR”.
The image below is composed of 25 individual images. Each of the five images used to create the panorama is made of 5 images blended into an HDR file using Photomatix Pro. The panorama was stitched using Panorama Maker Pro. The panorama file was then processed in Capture NX to adjust overall color cast, contrast and local brightness. I really enjoy the clarity of the water and the visibility of the rocks on the lake bed. But, for me, the reflections of the waterfalls and snowfield are the features I like most. Honestly, I saw the snowfield reflection while I was there but I can’t recall seeing the reflections of the waterfalls. BONUS!
So, for now I’m content with the images of select Montana scenes that I’ve been trying to capture for years. I know I’ll be back to the area and may revisit these sites to see if conditions are better for another set of images. I know that there are a lot more places in Montana to explore and as long as Chad and Devri reside in Bozeman we will be making well planned trips to this great state. Yes, we’ll have the camera gear along. Stay tuned.