Utopia Planitia

Setting foot in this remote area of the Paria Plateau is as close as I will ever come to walking on Mars. The landscape is about as “alien” as it gets consisting of strange warped and twisted sandstone set against a bleak desert environment. On this day in mid November, I drove out across a series of rough sandy tracks under clear skies. I have to admit, I almost scratched my day trip out to this location thinking my chances of coming away with any dramatic images were  little to none. As I slowly made my way out, clouds began to build up over the plateau and I thought maybe there was a chance of getting a dramatic image after all. Arriving under mostly cloudy skies, I walked into the sandstone and began looking for images right away. I couldn’t believe how quickly the clouds thickened and I could see virga coming down in the far distance.  Once again, it seemed luck was not on my side. This being my fifth trip out here, and on every other occasion except one, I encountered either clear, cloudless skies or heavy overcast.

As sunset approached, it looked as if there might still be a chance of the sun breaking free before it was all over. I hurried up to this location, which I had scouted on my very first trip, and set up my gear. Keeping my fingers crossed as the minutes got closer and closer to sunset. It seemed as if nothing was going to happen and I was just about ready to pack it in and call it a day when all of a sudden the sky began to glow pink on the western horizon. Then in a matter of seconds, the sky erupted in the most beautiful light! I framed up the swirling rock in the foreground.which I was drawn to due to it’s abstract shape and the way it sweeps the eye deep into the image space. Going ultra wide allowed me to create a deep composition that included the sweep of the foreground and all of the dramatic clouds and color in the sky.

Because of the uneven terrain, I used my Singh Ray 4 Stop ND Grad (soft) to help balance the exposure between the very dark foreground sandstone and bright glowing sky. The soft edge graduated ND filters help to eliminate a dark grad line that sometimes appears when the land form jut into the sky. Even with the use of the filter, the dynamic range was still too much to record the entire exposure latitude in a single shot. I bracketed a second image at +2  to open up the sandstone details as much as possible. The two exposures were later hand blended using Adobe Photoshop CS4.  Most all of the tonal and color corrections to each image were preformed in ACR (Adobe Camera Raw) prior to the blending. If you are interested in my hand blending technique, you can view a free video tutorial of my process as well as many others on the Photo Tips page at my website.