Robert Atkins  

Sheltered by Robert Atkins

September 2021 - Sheltered

September 2021 - Robert Atkins


September 2021 - Robert Atkins

Original 2

About the Image(s)

This month's slot canyon image (sorry everyone, another one), is from Buckskin Gulch. I hiked in from Wire Pass, heading south when I reached the junction with Buckskin. I was very surprised how many people were in the canyon; I had expected to have it relatively to myself. Partly because of this, and partly to simply explore more of Buckskin Gulch, I kept going to find a quieter area. Rain had been forecast for the afternoon, so eventually I felt I need to turn around and get back out before that started.

When I turned around I saw the image of this month behind me. I loved the way the delicate looking little tree (if one could even call it that) seemed to be sheltered between the canyon walls that closed above. I positioned the camera so the walls came together but did not touch, leaving a small gap that reached up to the top of the frame. The first challenge was dynamic range between the bright canyon wall behind the tree and the dark portion of the canyon where I was standing. I used Portra 160 4x5 film which I think captured the range pretty well - color negative film never ceases to amaze me in that. The second challenge was the depth of field - trying to get the tree and far wall in focus as well as the nearer canyon walls. I think I managed that with the nearer stuff on the left, but the wall on the right (which was even closer) is a little soft. This was despite being stopped down to f64 on the Fujinon A 240mm f/9 lens (about 80mm in full frame equivalent).

Originally, I had planned a horizontal image with some negative space on the left. But I eventually decided to crop in tighter to the vertical composition. I did a pass in Topaz Sharpen AI since the tree was not tack sharp - a combination of the aperture, the flatbed scanning, and perhaps some small wind movement over the exposure. I then worked the light, contrast, and color to bring back life to the drab color negative capture and scan. The in-work image is where I was when submitting the print in my club salon. I didn't score as well as a thought I might. The criticism centered on enhancing the contrast between the tree and the far wall. So in the final image here I saturated the yellows and darkened them a bit, and applied the Contrast Color Range and Foliage filters in Nik Color Efex to further try to make the tree standout. Those also pumped up the orange in the canyon wall.

I'd appreciate thoughts on whether I've "gone too far". Also generally I seem unable to see the small things that would enhance and image further. So, happy to hear thoughts on what other small things I'm missing.

13 comments posted

Stephen Levitas   Stephen Levitas
(Group 32)
I think all your compositional efforts are highly successful. I especially like your choice to make the gap in the canyon walls reach all the way to the top of the frame. I also appreciate your detailed story of going to the place and experiencing it--all too often folks leave this out in these Digital Dialogues--it makes me feel a little like I was there.
My only comment follows up on what you said about "gone too far." I think you did pump up the color a bit too much. My own view is that an image should never announce "I am post-processed," so I suggest you consider cutting back a bit on the bright yellow and orange. What do you think?   Posted: 09/05/2021 11:03:22
Robert Atkins   Robert Atkins
Thanks Stephen. I pushed the yellow (and the orange came along for the ride which I clearly could have prevented) after the salon judge feedback to do so. But, yes, I think it is too far. I think I like the earlier processed version better. Maybe something in between? The specific criticism was the tree not popping against the back ground. I can try to work that without pushing the yellow and orange so much.

I haven't printed the latest version. I suspect if I do it will be obvious I went too far. I should just always print to really evaluate things. But I also need to learn to be more subtle with changes.   Posted: 09/05/2021 13:15:55

Dan Mottaz   Dan Mottaz
Hey Robert, I too think it went too far. Your "Original 2" feels more appropriate to me. The oversaturation amplifies the busyness of your image, which I think is not need.
Regarding the tree, there is something to be said for subtlety. The tree does not have to scream to be noticed. If I were sitting at the computer with your image, I might consider applying some kind of Orton Effect to soften it down a notch.   Posted: 09/05/2021 18:05:34
Robert Atkins   Robert Atkins
Thanks Dan. Yes, the overwhelming consensus is I went too far. It seems like multiple folks even think the Original 2 is too far. So I will take another cut at things, perhaps starting pretty close to from scratch, and post it for everyone to take a look.

Your Orton effect suggestion is interesting. I've been trying just the opposite to make the tree sharper as part of the effort to make it stand out better. I'm not sure whether Orton will help with that or not, but it would I think add to a different sort of contrast between the sharp textured rock and a more dreamy tree. I think that is what you are suggesting if I understand you. Let me explore that as part of the re-edit.   Posted: 09/11/2021 10:25:05

Haru Nagasaki   Haru Nagasaki
Hello Robert, Nice to meet you. I joined this group starting from this month.
For me, Original 2 still looks oversaturated.
The strength/power of the image is details/texture of layers of rock and the subtle tree at the back - I would not make the image standout by colors.
The more you increase the color saturation, the less the tree shine and loose the balance.
I would crop down the top, desat. the color, and increase the contrast a bit to highlight the texture. That would bring out the tree star of the image. I would also brighten up the right rock to show details.
This is all my personal opinion, though....
  Posted: 09/08/2021 21:10:00
Robert Atkins   Robert Atkins
Hi Haru. Nice to meet you and welcome to the Group! Also, thanks for your thoughts on the image. Yes, the overwhelming message is that the saturation is pushed too far. So I will take another crack at things and post for all below.

A couple of questions. First, your suggestions - crop down top, desaturate, add contrast, brighten right rock - are those starting from the original? I'm asking because my sense is the biggest spread of opinions is over the saturation, and guess you are suggesting something very desaturated. Which would be interesting, and perhaps I will play around with that. But for reference, I've attached an iPhone shot (actually a still from a video frame), right out of camera which is the closest I have to a "straight" interpretation. The "original" is less saturated than even that, due to the Portra film. Of course nothing to suggest the final image can't be less saturated than reality of that is what works.

The other question is about copping down from the top. Are you suggesting going with a landscape framing vs. portrait?
  Posted: 09/11/2021 10:47:46
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Haru Nagasaki   Haru Nagasaki
Sorry, Robert. I was not clear.
My all comments started from portrait - Original 2.
As for cropping, rock layers are so strong that it loose balance against the tree behind in my eyes.
That what I wanted to say.
Hope it helps.   Posted: 09/11/2021 15:16:11

Cheryl LaLonde   Cheryl LaLonde
Hi Robert
Another interesting image with a lonely tree. I love how you compose to show the one lonely tree. I agree with the other comments about the saturation. While this worked really well on some of your other canyon images it removes the focus on the tree in this case. I tried editing your original to emphasize the tree itself and it is not easy to isolate it from the background. What I found worked was to use the radiant circle in Lightroom and then mask using luminance adjusting the mask to select non-luminance (ie the tree). I then moved the black slider to the left to darken the tree. You may have a better way but this is what I found worked. Luminance masking in photoshop would probably work as well. I love the textures in this image and I never tire of your canyon images.   Posted: 09/10/2021 14:31:02
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Robert Atkins   Robert Atkins
Thanks Cheryl. Yes, I seemed to pick out a lot of lonely trees on this Southwest trip. Not sure what that says.

The consensus is clear to back way off on the saturation. So I will take another cut at the image and post for everyone. I appreciate the thoughts on isolating the tree. When I went from Original 2 to the final image I did something similar but used Nik Effects Viveza. I rarely go to it, but this was a case that the U-point technology just works amazingly well in "masking" for just the tree and allowing the corrections. Luminance masking was having a little trouble separating the leaves and background wall, where the U-point approach is masking on some combination of color and luminance.

I'm glad you don't tire of the canyon images, because I still have a few left.
  Posted: 09/11/2021 11:03:07

Bob Wills   Bob Wills
Hi Robert, I truly enjoy your descriptions as they tell me the story, and the how's of why you created your images. I have quit listening to my club's critiques since they aren't relevant to what I want on my walls. They also seem to want to follow rules ad nauseum.
I think your original idea to create a horizontal frame would work for the image. I think you can make the tree larger yet still let the viewer know that the image came from a slot canyon. Your work with your gear is amazing, and never has any flaws I can see. Splendid work, again.   Posted: 09/10/2021 21:20:46
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Robert Atkins   Robert Atkins
Thanks Bob. At its best for me landscape photography is the combination of finding compelling images and the adventure required to find them. So hopefully everyone will continue to endure my stories that blend both.

I am always frustrated with club salons. Even when the judging is decent, there is often precious little real feedback, and in the case of the print competitions has only been thought about for seconds. There is nothing worse than receiving all glowing comments and then a less than perfect score with no thoughts on how to improve the image. At this point I think I participate in the club essentially because it forces me to find time to print a couple images each month.

Thanks for suggesting the horizontal. I am going to re-edit based on everyone's comments, and I think I will again look at both horizontal and vertical framings.   Posted: 09/11/2021 11:17:00

Robert Atkins   Robert Atkins
Ok, I've taken another go at this image. First, thanks again everyone for all of your comments which were very helpful in allowing me to see a better path with this image. From the beginning, the image for me was about the somewhat raggedy little tree seemingly sheltered by the canyon. I also liked the strong glow to the canyon wall behind the tree. Technically, the biggest challenge was drawing focus to the tree, and here I fixated on trying to create separation between the tree and the canyon wall behind - something I don't think I did particularly well. Feedback from club salon pushed me further down this path. But as you have all pointed out, bringing focus to the tree is also about eliminating things which draw focus elsewhere, like overly saturated rock walls. So, with that in mind, I took another cut at the post processing, starting pretty early in my stack, somewhere between the original scan and what is labeled as "Original 2" above.

I did first try to do a better job of separating the tree and the canyon wall. I pushed green, saturation, and reduced brightness into the tree leaves (and the later into the branches), while lightening but not saturating (e.g., yellow) the canyon wall. I also tried the Orton like effect that Dan had suggested. While I am not sure it does much for the tree, I also applied it to the canyon wall behind, and I love the effect there. It smooths things out and helps let the tree pop, but also enhances the glow of the canyon wall, which is one of the things I was after. I increased the contrast overall (but this is relative to a pretty flat starting point) and brought up the shadows in the nearer walls on both sides. I still like these relatively dark, but nothing is at absolute black, so there is detail throughout. In print, I'd probably have to tweak these some more up or down, ideally dependent on whatever lighting I expect. I also pushed cool grading into the shadows and a little warm into the highlights. I did a little dodge/burn to darken the mound the tree sits on as well as some of the left canyon wall down near the bottom. Finally, I desaturated the whole thing, protecting the tree in this process, to further make the tree the star.

The two things I'd still consider playing with further are the warmth and brightness of the canyon wall behind the tree. I tried it a little warmer, which emphasizes the warmth of the sun on the wall, but it also diminishes the sense of brilliance and light glow. For me, the tree also pops more against the more neutral background, and a little less so on the warmer background. However, I have come very close to blowing things out (I have in fact clipped the reds a bit). I think it works aesthetically to have something close to white in parts of the wall, but others might disagree. With more time I might go back and be even more careful, but I feel I am walking a very narrow line between the brilliant sense of light I am looking for and blowing things out too far.

With crop, I am more on the fence now with the new look. So, I have provided both. In the horizontal I've just taken a little off of the top. I like the horizontal in it makes the most of the striations of different colored rock. The vertical on the other hand keeps even more focus on the tree. But maybe there is enough in the horizontal.

If folks have patience for providing more comments (or even reading this long post), they would be appreciated. Odds are I have corrected some of the original mistakes only by making a different set, so please let me know if that is the case.
  Posted: 09/12/2021 20:08:19
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Robert Atkins   Robert Atkins
And here is the vertical ...   Posted: 09/12/2021 20:09:00
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