High-contrast scenes at Ormiston Gorge, Central Australia
February 14, 2013 22 Comments
Ormiston Gorge isn’t as big as the Grand Canyon, nor as deep or as wide, but it does have a spiritual presence. The age of the rocks, the ruggedness of the terrain, the light spinifex grasses and the white trunked gum trees create an enchanting landscape. Around two hours west of Alice Springs, it’s not far from Glen Helen Gorge where we were staying for the night and we planned to be there for the morning shoot.
We awoke at a reasonable time, 5.00 a.m. which was an hour or so before sunrise. A short trip in our vehicle and we found ourselves at the mouth of the Gorge. From the car park, you can take a level stroll around a dry river bed and into the gorge itself. There are several deep pools locked by towering rock walls, but to walk further requires a more agile state of mind and some rock hopping. We went this way on a PODAS a couple of years ago with Kevin Raber, Ken Duncan and Jeff Schewe.
The other option is to climb up a path. There’s a great gum tree up the top of the rise and it can be photographed from a point half way up, or up at the tree itself. I went all the way to the top and spent a magical hour watching the light intensify, the sun rise and the light snake its way from the top of the gum tree down to the bottom of its trunk.
Just being up and out at this time of the day is wonderful enough, taking a few great landscape shots even better!
Across from the tree, a finger of land pushes into the Gorge, requiring it to dog-leg around. As the sun rises, its rays skim across the top of this land, lighting up the trees and grasses, but I’m also seeing the strong reds come through in the rock faces below and behind. To my eye, it’s a strong composition, but it requires a telephoto to make it happen. Although many people think landscape photography is best approached with a wide-angle or a panorama camera, I find a lot of my shots work better by simplifying the scene with a telephoto.
The accompanying image is photographed with a 110mm Schneider Kreuznach, so it’s only a mid-telephoto, but long enough to crop the scene and eliminate the sky behind. By removing the sky, the image has the feeling that the rock face behind goes upwards forever, plus it reduces the number of compositional elements to deal with.
And while I might be teaching most readers to suck eggs, when shooting into the light, it’s important to not only use a lens hood, but perhaps shade the lens hood with a cutter or your hand as well. It’s essential to keep any unwanted flare under control.
In Capture One, the processing was relatively simple, especially with the new High Dynamic Range algorithms running around inside.
However, to start I struggled with the colour balance a little. The natural or ‘correct’ colour was a little yellow to my eye and I wanted there to be more contrast between the colour in the sunlight and the colour in the shade. The camera had set the Kelvin at around daylight, which was very sensible, but I found by dragging the Kelvin slider down to 4600-4700 that I was able to produce a little coolness in the shadows, and this contrasted well with the warmth of the sunlight on the yellow grasses.
The exposure was pretty right, so next step was to increase the contrast and give the image some guts. This worked well, except in two places. The highlights on the grasses lost detail and appeared too light, while the shadow areas in the bottom left became a little muddy. No trouble, the High Dynamic Range tool is the answer.
Using the Shadow slider, I lightened up the shadows without going overboard. I still want this to be a dark part of the image, but I want you to be able to see what’s in it. Similarly, the Highlight slider allowed me to return detail and colour in the grasses up the top.
I find when using the High Dynamic Range tool that I have to return to the Contrast slider in the Exposure tool and, usually, add in a little more contrast. Not always, of course, but if you’ve been using the High Dynamic Range tool and struggling a bit, try using it in combination with the Contrast slider and between the three controls, Capture One Pro 7 is remarkably powerful.
Sitting back and looking at the image, I then increased the colour saturation (I like colour), cropped the top of the sky out of the image completely, added in a vignette to darken the edges and, finally, added a Local Adjustment to darken down the rock wall in the distance. This helps to emphasise the separation between it and the finger of land in sunlight.
Peter Eastway is a professional photographer and photography magazine editor based in Sydney, Australia. If you would like to accompany Peter and Tony Hewitt on a seven day Central Australia ‘Adventures in Oz’ workshop in August 2013, click here for more information.
And if you’d like to see a short movie explaining in more detail how Peter processed this file in Capture One, click here.
To see more of Peter’s photography, visit www.petereastway.com. Peter also offers an online Landscape Photography MasterClass. It contains articles and videos, outlining his camera and post-production techniques. Details can be found at www.betterphotography.com.