Photography Travelogues by Peter Eastway – Karijini National Park 2/3
June 7, 2011 8 Comments
Dales Gorge, But Not Sunset
Things are not always what they seem! The strong reds and oranges in the photograph of Dales Gorge in Karijini National Park, Western Australia are not from an early morning sunrise or a late sunset. Rather they are from sunlight reflected off red canyon walls.
Australia’s ‘Red Centre’ is at its reddest in Western Australia and there are few places I have visited that are as colourful as Karijini. As you walk down into the gorges, steep textured cliffs rise above you and if they catch direct sunlight, it is reflected strongly into the water pools and cascades below.
It might seem like a relatively straightforward matter to walk along the base of the gorge, looking for reflections – and to a certain extent it is. But those reflections don’t stay in the one place for long and so you can find yourself constantly moving your camera angle to retain the light and the colour. For images like this, mid morning and mid afternoon are usually the best times because this is when the sun is strongest on the gorge walls, but the gorge itself is still in shadow. The dim surroundings contrast wonderfully with the rich colours reflected from the cliffs up high.
This image is taken with a mid-telephoto lens, ideal for the angle I wanted, but challenging in terms of depth-of-field. To make the most of the location, I wanted sharp focus all the way from the bottom of the frame up to the top. A small aperture (like f22) almost gave me what I wanted, but as you stop down a lens (use a smaller aperture), diffraction increases. Diffraction reduces image clarity and occurs when light is forced through a small aperture, so while a smaller aperture is increasing image quality with more depth-of-field, at the same time you’re losing image clarity through diffraction.
My solution is to use a wider aperture – such as f8 or f11 – and shoot a series of images, each focused at slightly different points.
This series is then ‘stacked’ together. A popular program for ‘focus stacking’ is called Helicon Focus (www.heliconsoft.com) and while originally designed for scientific applications, it can work wonders for landscape photography as well.
To get the best results from focus stacking, you need to ensure your camera is locked off on a sturdy tripod. Although the light was changing quickly, I forced myself to slow down and ensure I had a good camera angle. I use an Arca Swiss Cube head on my tripod and it allows very precise positioning and once set, the camera won’t move. With the camera ready, I switched to manual focus and took a series of six images with different focus settings, beginning close to the camera and extending out to infinity. It’s a good idea to use manual exposure mode as well to ensure the exposures are consistent.
In Capture One Pro, turning on the Focus Mask quickly shows you where each image is correctly focused, the green ‘mask’ covering the areas of critical focus. If you’ve focused accurately, you can determine which frame gives you best focus in the foreground, and then follow the exposures through until you find the one with the best focus in the background.
Once I had selected the five files I needed, I refined the exposure, colour and tonal settings on the first frame. Then I copied up these adjustments (using the upward sloping arrow icon) and applied them to the other four images (using the downward sloping arrow icon). The images were then output – I produced full size 16-bit TIF files.
With my five files processed, I then opened Helicon Focus, selected the files and further processed them into a single file where the small curve of rock in the bottom left of the frame is just as crisp and sharp as the small cascade in the middle up the top of the frame.
The result is an image with more clarity and sharpness than a single frame taken at f22, both in terms of the extent of focus, and the lack of any diffraction.
To see more of Peter Eastway’s photography techniques, including his Landscape Photography MasterClass, please visit http://www.betterphotography.com/.