The photo was taken at Logan Pass in Glacier National Park—the highest point on the Going-to-the-Sun-Road. After a nice hike, you reach Hidden Lake and Bearhat Mountain. I found a viewpoint that gave me more of an angled view of the mountain, to catch more side light and add more depth to the scene. I took this shot laying down, with my camera inches off the ground and my lens nearly touching the small flowers in the foreground.
I hiked up to this point in the late afternoon and was shocked by the beauty of this place. Incredibly peaceful—perfect temperature, almost no wind. I found my composition and got everything set in place. For the background mountain scene, this was taken just as the last light was kissing those mountain tops. However, due to the low light conditions, and the depth of field of the entire scene, I had to "focus stack" the foreground images around 20 minutes prior to sunset. This allowed me to use the greater amount of light (along with a smaller f-stop, or larger aperture, used when focus stacking) for a faster shutter speed to freeze the movement of the flowers. See below for more details on this.
This was a tough week of shooting due to all of the forest fires raging in the area. Most of the locations were choked out by a smokey haze which killed most of the interesting light. Luckily, up at Logan Pass, we were high enough and out of the direction of the wind as to get mostly clear skies. The subtle haze in this image actually helped enhance the colorful glow at this time.
Shooting in low lighting conditions can be difficult due to the long exposure needed and the movement of the flowers. It was important for me to capture the foreground elements about 20 minutes prior to sunset when there was a bit more light, allowing for a shorter exposure time. Upping the ISO and opening the aperture allowed me to get the foreground shots at around 1/40 of a second. Then when the lighting was exactly how I wanted it on the mountains, I captured that and blended in post.
This was shot on a Nikon D800e, with a 14-24mm Nikkor lens with a Wonderpana polarizer, on a Manfrotto CX PRO 4 tripod.
Heading to Glacier National Park I knew I wanted to capture a unique mountain scene at peak flower bloom. Having seen many other photographers' masterpieces, I knew what I was striving for. Typically this is the best time of year for this, but this August, after a very low snowpack the previous winter, the rivers were running dry and the flowers were very sparse. So upon reaching this location, I was thrilled to find a healthy patch and the right light hitting those mountains.
For me, the real transformation and sometimes the more labor intensive part begins in post. It is my favorite part though because it is where the artistic process begins. One thing I love about photography is the creative freedom and how differently people can interpret the same scene. Three people shooting at the same location can come up with three completely unique results, not only compositionally, but based on their own artistic vision. Capturing the RAW data is one thing, but the ability in post to "paint with light" and create various moods and emotions resulting in a unique work of art is what I love.
I have ever-evolving methods for processing my images, from how I handle the RAW image in Lightroom, to the steps I take in Photoshop to balance the tones, lighting and color—even down to sharpening for web viewing. I use luminosity masks to make specific lighting adjustments (which I highly recommend), Orton lighting effects and even some photoshop plugins. Once I have an image where I like it, I try to set an image aside for a few days and come back to it for fresh take. Many times I find myself asking “what was I thinking here?” Doing this really helps me fine tune the image.
In my camera bag
- Camera Body (Nikon D800e)
- 14-24mm lens
- 24-70mm lens
- 70-200mm lens
- Remote trigger
- Lee Filters / Wonderpana filters
- Batteries / Memory cards
- Microfiber towel
- Kimtech Kimwipes are used in science labs and great for cleaning lenses—especially water spray.
I love creating depth of field in my images. I try to make the foreground elements fill the frame and appear larger to catch the viewer’s eye and move them into the scene. The challenge with this is capturing everything sharply throughout—especially with moving foreground elements and low-light conditions.
With this image my lens was just a couple of inches from those first flowers. There is no way I could focus on those flowers while also having the rest of the scene in focus. I knew I had to do a “focus-stack” because the depth of field was so great. In all, it took around 7 shots to piece this one together.
First, I set up my composition and got my settings straight with my lens switched to manual mode and my tripod inches off the ground. I started by focusing on the flowers closest to me and capturing that shot with as fast a shutter speed as I could to freeze any movement.
Without moving or changing a thing, I manually turn only the focus ring a small increment at a time to move my focus out just a touch and capture the shot at each point until the focus is at infinity. When practicing this, you will notice the focus changes very quickly with close up foreground elements, so I try to make small increments each the same amount. Since you are capturing each focused section at a time, you don’t need to use an f-stop of 18 or 20 which can lead to some diffraction. And in lower light conditions you want to let more light in with a larger aperture for a shorter exposure—especially when shooting things like flowers which can be constantly moving. You can use something more in the lenses ‘sweet spot’, anywhere from f/7.1 - f/11. If you have more patience than I do, you can also focus stack using your camera’s “Live View” mode and zooming in on different sections in your scene to be sure you are capturing every section in focus. You may also want to bracket or adjust your exposure settings on the final image to adjust for a brighter sky or sun.
In post is where the magic happens. From Lightroom I export each of my 7 images with different focal settings to photoshop using the command “Open as layers in Photoshop”. This does just that and stacks my 7 images as 7 layers into one file in Photoshop. Next, I auto-align the layers by selecting them all and then go to Edit > Auto Align Layers. Next, I select all the layers again and go to Edit > Auto-Blend Layers and choose Stack Images in the popup window. This will take all the focused parts of each image and blend them into one image. Photoshop blends these layers, adding masks to various areas of each layer to let the focused part of each image show through. I then check photoshop’s work by zooming in and correcting any errors by adjusting the masks. This happens around certain edges and when wrong focal points selected by photoshop—especially when dealing with slightly moving subjects. This whole process can be quite involved but photoshop usually does a good job. Once I have my fully focused base image, I continue on with my usual processing methods.