Paradise Falls, Glacier NP

Modern digital cameras and their  resolution and dynamic range available today amaze me! While in Glacier on this last trip, I found myself shooting a particular scene that I would never have even tried to get away with on film or even without some serious exposure blending just a few years ago. A very contrasty and backlit scene of waterfalls and Clements Mountain at sunset would have been near next to impossible to capture, but I knew that with my D800 and the help of a 3 Stop Soft Edge Grad it was going to be a piece of cake! In fact, I had not even planned this shot and it was simply by sheer luck that the sky started to go off behind me just as sunset occurred and a small gap not visible from my location provided just enough dramatic light.

Believe it or not but this is a single exposure (raw of course) with no need for complicated exposure blending and masking in Photoshop. I prefer, whenever possible, to capture an image in a single exposure. I'm not a big fan of the multiple exposure focus stacking and extreme exposure blending so prevalent today in nature photography. I'm just a bit too old school for that way of thinking I guess. Now the image did need some work in post and as always I started out in Lightroom V4 and did my basic adjustments for white balance/tint, shadow and highlight recovery, vibrance and as always used the lens correction tab to remove edge distortion and any key-stoning.

After I finished the basic raw development, I brought the file in Photoshop CS5 and used a series of luminosity masks, targeted towards the lights and shadows in the image, and did some selective tone mapping of the image using curves. This allowed me to selectively lighten and darken select regions of the shot and give the image a very natural overall appearance (close to what I remember seeing while capturing the image). To finish off the processing of this image, I used Selective Color to bring down the yellows to a more natural appearance and remove some yellow from the blue sky. And then did some selective sharpening via High Pass Sharpening and a blending mode of Overlay with the opacity of that layer set to around 50%.


I hope you guys and gals enjoy this image and maybe my explanation of the processing will be helpful as future food for thought in the field. Remember, if you  an capture the dynamic range of the scene in a single exposure, there is absolutely no need to bracket your images wildly in all directions. On the other hand, digital capture is free, so when in doubt shoot away freely.

Registrations are open for next years Glacier National Park: Crown of the Continent Photography Workshop - 

Best of light, Joe




    Thank you for your contribution via sharing your procedural “walk through.” Similar to you, I find that my insides resist multi capture, … though I know it can work well. Time for me to get some new grad filters!

    While composition wasn’t your topic, let me take a moment to compliment your selection of gentle curves that very comfortably lead the viewer through this image (both the water and the upper left hillside). The one nit for me is that light brown rock that keeps tweaking my eyeball to the right edge (very minor).

    The other thing that I appreciate and agree with is the sometimes needed reduction in the yellows. How often are we entertained by the reality of initial capture yellows in such landscape photos, that press the viewers perception of a natural feeling image? I appreciate your identification and solution.

    Good quick article before work this morning! Have a great day.


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