Stoking The Flame

In her “Ghosts of the West” project, Cheyenne Rouse reignited her love of photography by embracing HDR
This Article Features Photo Zoom

“Dodge Bootlegger.” Rouse found this red truck while on a road trip in Utah. She knew it would be perfect for an HDR photo. Regular photography would have yielded a flat image, but HDR brought the scene to life.

With winter winds blowing and the snow just about to fall, Rouse sought out this moody cemetery in Taos, N.M. Black-and-white HDR rendered a particularly haunting image.

If you would have told me three years ago when I was living in Park City, Utah, that I’d be creating HDR images, running my own gallery, living in Scottsdale, Arizona, and loving my DSLR, I would have told you that you were crazy. For over 15 years, I was a bona fide film junkie of the Fuji kind and, when the world started going digital, I dug my heels in and fought it to the point where I eventually almost hung up my camera for good—or so I thought.

It all started with an old, rusted-out, red truck that I photographed a few years ago in southern Utah. Although I had all but given up photography as things went digital, I was out getting to know a new DSLR a little bit when I saw the hulk on the side of the road. I actually passed it by on my way to shoot something else, but the truck stuck in my mind so I doubled back and shot some photos. I had really never been attracted to shooting old trucks, or any old vehicles, for that matter. As a professional, I had mostly focused on my stock photography specialty, which was adventure sports.

“Horseshoe Bend.” Just south of Lake Powell in Arizona, this roadside stop is a perennial favorite for photography. Rouse’s HDR image has a decidedly different look than all of the others.

A few weeks before I took those photos of the old, red truck, a friend and photo enthusiast asked me if I had ever heard of HDR. My response to him was, “HD what?” I think he was surprised that I hadn’t heard of it. I didn’t realize that I was that out of the photo loop, but after being out of the business for several years, I guess I was. He said I’d have so much fun with what high dynamic range could do to my photos. He gave me the name of the program that he used, Photomatix, and the website. When I got home, I immediately jumped online and checked it out. I downloaded a free trial of Photomatix Pro, then watched a few of the tutorials that they had available online, and off I went into HDR land. Of course, I hadn’t shot any photos as multiple exposures, which the tutorials suggested, so I really didn’t have any photos to play with yet. Then I passed the old, red truck on the side of the road. Instead of shooting single frames, I photographed the red truck in the prescribed multiple-exposure manner. I thought that it might make a great HDR, so I rushed back to my hotel room, downloaded the images from my camera into my computer, then quickly loaded the three bracketed images into Photomatix and pressed the “Generate HDR” button. That’s when the magic happened; I could hardly wait to see the result. When the image appeared on my monitor, I gasped. It was gorgeous and so alive with color, texture and depth. With a few tone-mapping tweaks, which I didn’t really know how to work yet, I hit the final “process” button, and what appeared was nothing short of incredible—it was as if the truck was about to drive out of the monitor and into the room.

“Heaven’s Gate.” An historic cemetery outside of Santa Fe, N.M., on a stormy fall day makes for a powerful HDR image.

I thought the truck was full of character and personality when I shot it, which is why it attracted me in the first place, but the individual digital frames that I shot didn’t do such an interesting subject justice. They seemed too one-dimensional and lacked a feel for the texture and patina of this amazing red truck. With HDR, I knew that I had found a process and program that was not only user-friendly, but would transform these relics of the West and render them the way that I saw each one when I was photographing them.

I’ve been fascinated with Western and Southwestern history for years, but the limited photography I did was mainly centered on cowboys and Native Americans and their ancient cultures, with scenic vistas of the American Southwest and West thrown in. With my newfound love of the Digital Age, I could make the historic places and things that I’m fascinated by come to life again. The red truck, aka “Dodge Bootlegger,” changed everything for me. I knew that I was on to something when I posted the “Dodge Bootlegger” on my Facebook page. The response was amazing! I don’t think any of my photographs has ever received so many great comments. This opened up a whole new world for me. Not only did it give me a reason to pick up my camera again, but it gave me a reason to follow a new path back into a creative world that I thought I was done with. It was a path that I was very excited about.

This Article Features Photo Zoom

“Pony Express Riders.” The Hashknife Pony Express Riders gallop into Scottsdale every February to commemorate the historic route from Holbrook, Ariz. Applying HDR to such a tight composition with shallow depth of field generates an ethereal effect.

Since then, I’ve been on a mission to photograph historic places and objects around the West and Southwest. My journey has taken me from Golden Spike National Historic Site in northern Utah to the Pony Express Trail to Route 66 on down to Tombstone in southern Arizona, with many stops in between. Out of this journey my Ghosts of the West: Celebrate the American West—The History, The Lore, The Culture photo series and book were born. So many of these historic places and things are disappearing, and I feel it’s my mission to document them and make them come alive again with my photographs before they’re gone and to document what’s so uniquely American about this part of the country. I love what I do and feel so fortunate to get to share my passion for the West and Southwest through my photographs, and I have HDR to thank for opening up a whole new world (again) to me.

Cheyenne L. Rouse is a self-taught photographer and has been a professional since 1989, when she felt the call of the West. She has written numerous magazine articles and monthly columns. With her unique vision, she captures the subtle moods, the textures and may-be the ghosts that somehow live on in the rusted, abandoned artifacts of the Old West. Rouse now makes her home in Scottsdale, Ariz. Go to or visit the Ancient Light Gallery in Scottsdale.

HDR Software Options

Until recently, a photographer didn’t have many choices for sophisticated HDR, but within the past year, that has changed. HDRsoft’s Photomatix Pro shares the spotlight with other options. Adobe Photoshop, for example, has built-in HDR capability, and in Photoshop CS5, it has improved significantly over previous versions of that standard image-processing software. Ever Imaging’s HDR Darkroom supports 16-bit TIFF files, and it works as a RAW converter as well as an HDR program. Their newest HDR software, HDR Photo Pro, expands on HDR Darkroom’s capabilities by adding a range of sophisticated color controls, as well as added functionality. List Price: $79 (HDR Darkroom); $129 (HDR Photo Pro); Nik Software’s HDR Efex Pro brings the company’s trademark ease of use and photographer-ness to high dynamic range work. HDR Efex Pro is available as a 32- or 64-bit plug-in for Photoshop CS3-CS5, Lightroom 2.3 or later and Aperture 2.1 or later. List Price: $159; Unified Color Technologies HDR Expose works as standalone software or as a plug-in for Adobe Photoshop Lightroom or Apple Aperture. List Price: $149;


    When done properly HDR can bring photos to life in a way never possible before but if overused it can make the photos look ridiculous. In my opinion, the truck and Horseshoe Bend have way to much HDR post production and the photos suffer because of it. The truck has some major haloing issues as does the river and cowboy photo which is a characteristic of “over doing it” with HDR programs causing the photo to not even look like a picture but an airbrushed painting instead.

    Hi Paul – thanks for the comment on my article – it’s good to get differing POV’s on HDR and while I do know that HDR is NOT for everyone I just thought I’d let you know that the Red Dodge Bootlegger Truck featured in my article is the BEST selling Giclee in my Gallery. I have it printed 41″x60″ on canvas and it stops people in their tracks and it is my pride and joy! thanks – Cheyenne

    well well arent we just a little bit too prideful maybe miss rouse paul was just rendering a personal opinion and critique which i happened to agree with by the way and as we are all photographers here im sorry if you cant take it. hdr is great but over used does look funnyy sometimes i happen to like the more natural look of things and i would have shot the truck with out any enhancements and by the way people like my work too have a nice day cheyenne dave

    Hi Cheyenne! I live in Scottsdale and I’ve been to your gallery there. I’m delighted to see a local artist in a national publication such as this. Your vision, composition, and artistic enhancements are truly captivating and mesmerizing.

    I’m amazed by the negative critics of the art that don’t provide examples of what their vision is. A photograph isn’t made from the technical manual of the manufacturer. It consists of vision, light, composition, subject matter, and artistic direction. The portfolios of Ansel Adams and Salvador Dali consist of manipulated imagery. The viewer has to have the maturity to see that a photograph just isn’t a representation of objects in space but an emotion of the setting.

    Congratulations Cheyenne and thanks for making Scottsdale proud! I think I will bring in my magazine for an autograph!!

    Robert – thank you so much for your very kind comment! It seems that you have a very good grasp on what ART “is” all about…for me, it is the love for what I do meeting my vision and passion for the West/SW then adding in some of the amazing tools available to us artists today and my subject matter comes alive! As you can tell I am VERY passionate about what I do and I love sharing it! Please make sure to introduce yourself next time you are in my Gallery….I’d be more than happy to sign your issue of OP! 😉

    I totally agree with your comment!
    My twin sister, Cheyenne, is a talented photographer. Art is what you make it and if it evokes an emotion then that’s what matters.
    Everyone is entitled to their own opinion but some people are very narrow minded and rigid with their ART beliefs.
    I love Cheyenne’s work! You have to see it to believe it!!
    If you are ever in Scottsdale make sure to stop by her gallery, you will see what I mean.

    I have attended many art festivals and visited galleries throughout the country that feature creative photography, and until seeing Cheyenne’s work I have never seen HDR done this well. There is a reason that her Red Dodge Bootlegger Truck is the best-selling giclee in her gallery. It is an outstanding work of artistic vision, and it is beyond “mere” photography.

    Ms. Rouse, your art is outstanding. I have been a subscriber of Outdoor Photographer for many years, and I am moved by your work. You give each photo a “light” and a “spirit” that words cannot convey.

    Feranto – thank you – I am humbled by your very very kind comment. My goal with my work is to evoke emotion and thought in the viewer as well as inspire people to see things in a different “light” – I am so glad that you enjoyed my art! Cheyenne

    I like HDR done both ways, realistic and surreal. In fact most of the images uploaded to my online gallery these days are processed using HDR. Most are processed in a way that you would not know HDR was used. However, I also have a group of images I call Photo Illustration that you know were processed using HDR and have that grunge feel. I don’t believe one way is any better than the other, it comes down to personal taste. The Grunge look is new to photography and most people have not seen it done, so when they see it for the first time they are often captivated. The grunge look it not about capturing reality as is about creating art. Check out my work at

    Photographers have commented on the overuse of HDR and I agree – as a photographer. However, photographers don’t buy photographs, we make them. If people buy the work, that speaks for itself. Photographers must please the public to be successful. Keep up the good work.

    HDR will always face a critic by few people who think that photograph should be presented in its original form. One should understand the kind of life and emotions it brings to the picture.I feel that the truck Cheyenne presented has a body language .Like old saintly person looking at you and telling something. Did we ever question the makeup Marilyn Monroe used while being photographed? The makeup brought the life and the face became photogenic to bring world to her feet.Similar is the roll of HDR. Cheyenne,your journey is amazing and your talent is unquestionable. People like you are there to bring in the change which everyone will eventually follow. Keep going,the truck that started this journey will bring a truckload of success to you.

    Cheyenne, I have been following you on Facebook and G+ for over a year and love our interactions online! I am excited to have you join our Camera Club in March! Keep up the great “Art” and follow your own vision! Nick

    Well, it sounds to me like “Paul” and “Dave” are total losers who are jealous of the author’s work. I suspect they live together in their momma’s basement and spend the day being angry at people who are more talented than they are. In between games of Warcraft and Dungeons and Dragons. Losers.

    Cheyenne, LOVE Your photography! I must say I agree photography is an art form and in that respect , very personal. What I love about Your work is the excitement and enthusiasm You evoke in Your work. As far as HDR, I use it for about 75% of My photos. I get the most response to these images because they ‘pop’ off the screen. The critics are usually purists and will never like HDR no matter how well done. Thank You for the joy Your work brings to most people!…………John Loreaux

Leave a Reply

Main Menu