Great Desert Scenes

TJMcG

TPF Noob!
Joined
Feb 16, 2022
Messages
39
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32
Location
Show Low, Arizona, USA
Website
www.flickr.com
Can others edit my Photos
Photos OK to edit
Technical stuff:

Camera: Nikon Z7II
Lens: Nikkor VR 70-300 f/4.5-5.6 @70 mm
Aperture priority
f/8 @ 1/60 sec
ISO 64

-Post processing
Colour, exposure etc.

any adjustments made in software.

This began as a raw image. I opened in Adobe Camera Raw and did basic developing, (exposure, shadows/highlights, vibrance/saturation, etc.) then opened it in Photoshop CC where I first duplicated the layer, used Overlay blend mode to give it a little more contrast and saturation, reduced opacity until it looked right, then used a solid color adjustment layer in Linear Light blend mode (an orangish/red color) at about 7% fill for a slightly warmer tone. There were some other minor tweaks using Hue/Sat, Color Balance and so on. I used a seven-tone luminosity mask action that I created to slightly reduce highlights.

-Why did I take the shot?

I have lived in Arizona for more than 15 years. I live in an area of pine forests, but Sonoran desert scenes and Giant Saguaro are iconic here, (in fact it is the only place in the world where this cactus is native) and I want one of those iconic scenes in my own collection. This is Picacho Peak State Park.

- What was the goal?

Stated above.

-What image did you have in mind when you took the image?

A vibrant, living desert. Amazing cactus.

-Was there a specific learning goal?

No.

- Did I achieve my goal?

Not if a great, vibrant, alive image of the Sonoran Desert was the goal.

-Do you see anything that looks off, takes your attention away from the subject, etc.

The subject that I was trying to portray is the area; the cactus marching up the mountainside, the sagebrush, the sand; you know: the desert. Not a single cactus, but a point of view. What "looks off" to me is that there just isn't the vibrance, the liveliness that I have seen in other depictions. (Not that I want to be a copycat, I want my own point of view, just with more excitement in it.)

- If I could, what would I change?
Everyone should be able to answer this one. There's always that one or two things that you could have done different/better.

This assumes facts not in evidence. I know photography, I know Photoshop and editing, I don't know what to do with this to get it to "pop." Simply increasing saturation or contrast isn't going to give me what I'm looking for. I was not able to go there at a time of "golden light," so I had to make do with early afternoon. Maybe one thing I would change is the time of day, but that was not an option.

-What critique am I looking for?

I want to know how to photograph the desert, and why my desert photos never look like my vision.





cactus-CC.jpg
 
I want to know how to photograph the desert, and why my desert photos never look like my vision.
First of all, KUDOS on actually taking the time to properly ask for critique in this thread. I think you've already answered your question in your post. "Great" landscape images begin and end with "Great" light, there just isn't any way around it. I've been there myself, and share your frustration. Editing will help, but it can never replace the character of the light. The overhead sun creates harsh shadows, blown highlights with little transition between the two, and desaturation of colors.

-What image did you have in mind when you took the image?

A vibrant, living desert. Amazing cactus.

Something I see happen many times, is that we forget that while we're focused on an object, the camera is capturing a big area. Instead of a broad view of bad light, move in, shoot in the shadows, change your angle, use the light you have. There's any number of ways to minimize the light issue, but you have to get out and move around. If you simplify, simplify, simplify, you minimize the amount of bad things you have to deal with. I took your image, cropped it and made some some simple adjustments all in LR as an example, there's only so much you can do with edits, but you see how you can pick apart areas like the cliff to bring out the color or the greenery in the foreground. What you can't do is put back detail in blown highlights where none exists, nor recover micro transitions.
cactus-CC-2.jpg


If you have one a polarizing filter will work wonders on specular highlights and increase saturation. Unless you know the exact point that your camera can handle highlights, it's better to underexpose and raise post. Using a tripod and bracketing can also give you images to blend the exposure with.

Finally have reasonable expectations of what to expect from the light you have to work with. You may not have the drama of a sunrise or sunset, but you can still shoot solid images in the middle of the day.
 
Thank you for following the C&C format and welcome to TPF.

Having not shot a desert landscape or many landscapes for that matter I would not be your greatest resource for this however, I agree with smoke that similar lighting to the images you like would be the easiest way to get the look you're after but here is a quick adjustment in Lightroom with settings.

CC cactus.jpg
cc cactus.png
 
Technical stuff:

Camera: Nikon Z7II
Lens: Nikkor VR 70-300 f/4.5-5.6 @70 mm
Aperture priority
f/8 @ 1/60 sec
ISO 64

-Post processing
Colour, exposure etc.

any adjustments made in software.

This began as a raw image. I opened in Adobe Camera Raw and did basic developing, (exposure, shadows/highlights, vibrance/saturation, etc.) then opened it in Photoshop CC where I first duplicated the layer, used Overlay blend mode to give it a little more contrast and saturation, reduced opacity until it looked right, then used a solid color adjustment layer in Linear Light blend mode (an orangish/red color) at about 7% fill for a slightly warmer tone. There were some other minor tweaks using Hue/Sat, Color Balance and so on. I used a seven-tone luminosity mask action that I created to slightly reduce highlights.

-Why did I take the shot?

I have lived in Arizona for more than 15 years. I live in an area of pine forests, but Sonoran desert scenes and Giant Saguaro are iconic here, (in fact it is the only place in the world where this cactus is native) and I want one of those iconic scenes in my own collection. This is Picacho Peak State Park.

- What was the goal?

Stated above.

-What image did you have in mind when you took the image?

A vibrant, living desert. Amazing cactus.

-Was there a specific learning goal?

No.

- Did I achieve my goal?

Not if a great, vibrant, alive image of the Sonoran Desert was the goal.

-Do you see anything that looks off, takes your attention away from the subject, etc.

The subject that I was trying to portray is the area; the cactus marching up the mountainside, the sagebrush, the sand; you know: the desert. Not a single cactus, but a point of view. What "looks off" to me is that there just isn't the vibrance, the liveliness that I have seen in other depictions. (Not that I want to be a copycat, I want my own point of view, just with more excitement in it.)

- If I could, what would I change?
Everyone should be able to answer this one. There's always that one or two things that you could have done different/better.

This assumes facts not in evidence. I know photography, I know Photoshop and editing, I don't know what to do with this to get it to "pop." Simply increasing saturation or contrast isn't going to give me what I'm looking for. I was not able to go there at a time of "golden light," so I had to make do with early afternoon. Maybe one thing I would change is the time of day, but that was not an option.

-What critique am I looking for?

I want to know how to photograph the desert, and why my desert photos never look like my vision.





View attachment 253881
Nice photo, but I think if you used Ektachrome or Velvia film you would have got the results you're looking for. Simply expose carefully. Might take a while to get the film back--but that's the price these days for using film. I think it's worth it instead of laboring over a keyboard.
I'm sure there will be many moans and gripes but I'll stand by my opinion.
None the less, keep shooting!
 
Nice photo, but I think if you used Ektachrome or Velvia film you would have got the results you're looking for. Simply expose carefully. Might take a while to get the film back--but that's the price these days for using film. I think it's worth it instead of laboring over a keyboard.
I'm sure there will be many moans and gripes but I'll stand by my opinion.
None the less, keep shooting!
Well, my problems with desert scenes go back to the film days, so I'm not sure that's a real solution. And all I have in the fridge right now is Portra.
 
Nice photo, but I think if you used Ektachrome or Velvia film you would have got the results you're looking for. Simply expose carefully. Might take a while to get the film back--but that's the price these days for using film. I think it's worth it instead of laboring over a keyboard.
I'm sure there will be many moans and gripes but I'll stand by my opinion.
None the less, keep shooting! Nikon F2 using Ektachrome, from internegative not a scan.
 

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Nice photo, but I think if you used Ektachrome or Velvia film you would have got the results you're looking for. Simply expose carefully

I started with film in the mid-60s, by the 70s I had a nice production oriented darkroom, processing B&W, graphic arts film, B&W prints., and halftone negatives, so I have more than a layman's experience with the "good old days of film".

One thing that stands true for both film and digital is that the quality of the light "will" affect the final image. Theres no magical, mystical quality of fllm nor post processing digital that will replace it. In digital you can composite but the resulting image IMO takes on a different feel. Early on in the digital age, film had a slight advantage over digital in DR, but the latest digital models surpass film, both in DR and in camera adjustments like highlight protection and shadow recovery. Further, if you're sending out film to be processed, you're giving away any adjustments you might have made during developing.

As to laboring over a keyboard, the closer you get the image to SOOC in camera the less processing post. Another fact true in both film and digital, however the advantage in post processing recovery goes to digital.

Not to get into another film is better than digital or vice versa, I don't begrudge those who still like to shoot film, more power to them. I still have some 35mm film bodies, and a few rolls of Illford in the fridge, but the memories I have of the " good old days", aren't enough to motivate me to use them over my digital equipment. Now if i were to acquire a 4x5 or 8x10 and another darkroom, that might change.
 
I started with film in the mid-60s, by the 70s I had a nice production oriented darkroom, processing B&W, graphic arts film, B&W prints., and halftone negatives, so I have more than a layman's experience with the "good old days of film".

One thing that stands true for both film and digital is that the quality of the light "will" affect the final image. Theres no magical, mystical quality of fllm nor post processing digital that will replace it. In digital you can composite but the resulting image IMO takes on a different feel. Early on in the digital age, film had a slight advantage over digital in DR, but the latest digital models surpass film, both in DR and in camera adjustments like highlight protection and shadow recovery. Further, if you're sending out film to be processed, you're giving away any adjustments you might have made during developing.

As to laboring over a keyboard, the closer you get the image to SOOC in camera the less processing post. Another fact true in both film and digital, however the advantage in post processing recovery goes to digital.

Not to get into another film is better than digital or vice versa, I don't begrudge those who still like to shoot film, more power to them. I still have some 35mm film bodies, and a few rolls of Illford in the fridge, but the memories I have of the " good old days", aren't enough to motivate me to use them over my digital equipment. Now if i were to acquire a 4x5 or 8x10 and another darkroom, that might change.
You did half tones--I thought I was the only one here who did; I worked a darkroom for Honeywell back in the 60's, and from there I learned. Today I shoot film about 10% of the time the rest digital. I enjoy both. No longer making a living with camera and dark room (retired), I must admit that my D780 is my "go to" rig, but still carry a F3HP or FM when I take on the occasional job.
Thanks for your input.
 
You did half tones--I thought I was the only one here who did;

Yes along with full page press negatives on a horizontal graphics arts camera. I owned three small weekly papers. We did all the prep at a central location where everyone did whatever was needed, then sent the negatives to a printer about 30 miles away who burned the plates and ran them on a offset web press. From there it was back to the central shop to address and bag for the post office, and deliver out the local drops.
 
Still carry my FM in the bag with my mirrorless cameras. The C 220 is long gone, to my everlasting chagrin...
I'm with you on long, lost, cameras. I'm down to 4 Nikon film and 3 Nikon motor drives.: F, F2, FM, F3hp. I do have a lot of older glass and I still use them. Two working strobes (vintage) as well. Also in digital there are 3 Fuji's on my shelf and have really been pleased with the results they give me.
That image I posted was shot using a strobe--it gave me the direct daylight balanced image. May work for you. too. The ghosts were shot just outside Death Valley, Rhyolite, NV. Strobe again to overpower strong, direct backlight from the sun.
desert ghosts.jpg3ghosts.jpg
 
Yes along with full page press negatives on a horizontal graphics arts camera. I owned three small weekly papers. We did all the prep at a central location where everyone did whatever was needed, then sent the negatives to a printer about 30 miles away who burned the plates and ran them on a offset web press. From there it was back to the central shop to address and bag for the post office, and deliver out the local drops.
You've earned my respect, that's a lot. Speed Graphic too, I'll bet.
 
Sometimes I miss the days of shooting 4 color separations on those giant cameras. One set took hours and used 16 sheets of film. All day on Friday tearing down the processors to scrub.
 
@Dave Maciak No Speed Graphics. Started with Pentax, Nikons and Canon. The Canons ate batteries like potato chips, and the Nikons were a little to delicate. Finally settled on Pentax and have been with them ever since.

@Rickbb I paid my way through college working the evening shift at a large printer in town. That's where I learned my way around the darkroom, and a print shop, eventually working my way up to running a 2-color, 17x22 Heidelburg, producing full color work. Once you had them set up, there wasn't much to do, provided good study time.

Back to the Op's post, Dave brought up another valuable tip for shooting outside, using a flash. When you have a primary subject close enough, you can use a flash to balance the light, or depending on the power of the flash, actually overpower the ambient light. By adding a CTO or CTB to the flash and making a corresponding adjustment to the in camera WB setting, you can balance the difference in color temperature.
 
@Dave Maciak No Speed Graphics. Started with Pentax, Nikons and Canon. The Canons ate batteries like potato chips, and the Nikons were a little to delicate. Finally settled on Pentax and have been with them ever since.

@Rickbb I paid my way through college working the evening shift at a large printer in town. That's where I learned my way around the darkroom, and a print shop, eventually working my way up to running a 2-color, 17x22 Heidelburg, producing full color work. Once you had them set up, there wasn't much to do, provided good study time.

Back to the Op's post, Dave brought up another valuable tip for shooting outside, using a flash. When you have a primary subject close enough, you can use a flash to balance the light, or depending on the power of the flash, actually overpower the ambient light. By adding a CTO or CTB to the flash and making a corresponding adjustment to the in camera WB setting, you can balance the difference in color temperature.
A bag full of flash bulbs every wedding I did way back. Then, with a few extra bucks I bought my first strobe, I thgink it was a Honeywell or might have been a Metz. Had a battery looked like it was from a bus that hung from a strap around my shoulders, and a NiCad battery at that and you know what that meant: memory, but there was always bulbs as a backup!
These days I always pack a strobe, saved my bacon several times. Favorite: the small and versatile Nikon SB400. I also use the "flame thrower" 900.
 

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