A birthday trip off the map

To capture the the colors in the foreground without completely blowing out the spires and sky in the background I had to blend bracket and then blend two different exposures in Photoshop.
 For the most part, when I’m shooting in the canyons during the brightest times of the day, I avoid including the sky. The tonal range from the depth of the canyon to the height of the canyon is too much for all cameras, even with today’s sensors. But sometimes, you see a shot that you just know you have to make. Such was the case with the shot above.

The color of the leaves, with the orange domes in the background and the nice greens and blues mixed in was just aching to be photographed, but as I said above, there was no way I would be able to capture all the entire tonal range of the scene with one shot. Instead, I would have to use two exposures and blend them in photoshop.

Now HDR has been around for a long time, but I find the blending to be too random. I can never quite get the shadows how I want them, nor the highlights. By manually blending the two exposures in photoshop, I can get the image just right.

I’m not really one to go into the specific details on how to edit such a photo, as I’m more about the experience of being in the field, but I just felt like I should explain that this image took some effort to actually create. If you would like to learn about exposure blending, Jay Goodrich over at Outdoor Photographer has a really great tutorial about exposure blending, which is basically what I did to create this image.

Now onto the trip:
 

Captured midday after checking out the canyon matrix below.
 As many of you know by reading my blog, I spend a lot of time backpacking in the Escalante desert with my parents. What can I say? They live in an awesome part of the world!

This last trip was to celebrate my mom’s birthday. My mom would probably slap me if I said her age, so let’s just say she was celebrating her 32nd 27th birthday. And all she wanted as a present was for her son to help lead a trip into a zone of unpublished solidarity. Sorry, I won’t be spoiling this secret zone any time soon.

Just to brag about the capabilities of my mom, we had to downclimb through three 30-foot exposed sections of a crack to reach the canyon floor. The route is not known by many, but the one’s who do know, climbing it with a pack is treacherous. This is where the birthday present came in (carrying the packs, which means I did the route twice… well four times, counting the exit).

Once we hit the canyon floor the hiking was easy going. We traveled downstream in search of water and in no time found our lifeline – scummy, months-old water. In fact, the scum looked like ice. It definitely wasn’t the most appetizing, but it would have to do.
 

Fall colors in a side canyon of a side canyon of Escalante Canyon.
It's not ice, it's scum.
A long exposure helped me capture this late-night pothole. No that is not ice!

The next day we ventured down to the Escalante Canyon, rallied through the unrelenting reeds to the mouth of The Gulch. Now as a youth, I remember hiking along a trail, but the growth in The Gulch was now too great, so we were relegated to the stream bed. Even in the mud the going was slow – this time of year, after a full year’s growth, it’s damn near impassable. We hacked our way upstream, enjoying the wonderful fall colors and making jokes about how miserable it would be to walk the entirety of the canyon with all the overgrowth constantly stealing our hats and glasses. The constant scratching, sneezing and scraping finally took its toll and made the bushwack back to camp.

 

A Cottonwood tree in the Escalante Canyon.
 
The thick foliage of The Gulch in fall.
My mom in the reeds of the Escalante Canyon.
 
Color, color, color ... .
The Grand gulch in November. Shot with a 70-200 mm lens to help compress all the colors.
 
Camping happy!
Camping above the Escalante Canyon.
 
New moon rising.
The late-night moon above our camp.

Late night striations after sunset.

On our last day I tried to beat the punch of the morning light, but my pillow won. I missed the “golden” light, but still made it before the sun set its first rays on the last flowers of the season. But sometimes the scramble is half the fun. In fact, the image below, has become one of my recent favorites.

Up the canyon the trees and bushes were playing their fall part, and before we left the canyon matrix for good, we did a short loop through the changing colors and towering cliffs, which is where I captured the complex image at the top of this post.

My mom said her birthday wishes and we exited the canyon with the knowledge that we would return again soon.
 

The world wakes up with the sun's first rays.
An opened up aperture softens the sun burst, creating a more “moody” photo.

The light of reflection.
With the use of a polarizer, I was able to capture a blue sky while exposing for the foreground.

 
Happy birthday mom!

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