Last month, Scott Sheppard interviewed me over on Nik Radio. It was basically a 30-40 minute interview on how I got into photography and Photoshop, what inspires me and a bunch of other things. Here’s the link in case you missed it.

Anyway, back to our story. Toward the end of the interview, Scott and I started talking about how the story behind the photo is sometimes as captivating or interesting as the photo itself. So it got me thinking about a possible series of posts here on the blog. So… now that you know the story behind the story behind the photo (you may have to read that part twice but I’m pretty sure it makes sense), let’s get started:

The Photo
(click for a larger version)

Location: Dead Horse State Park, Utah (near Moab). Here’s a link to a website with a cool story about the area.
Date: April, 2009

The Gear

  • Camera: Nikon D300
  • Lens: Nikon 12-24mm
  • Aperture: f/11
  • Shutter Speed: 1/500 second
  • ISO: 200
  • Taken on a tripod with No Filters

How I Got the Shot
The plan was to get to Dead Horse Point to shoot sunrise. Whenever I shoot landscapes, I try to give myself enough time to walk around before the sun comes up (or goes down) to see what I want to shoot. I try not to shoot just one area. I find that we get caught up and just stand there shooting the same thing over and over again and end up with only 1 photo (well, 300+ photos, but they’re all of the same thing). So I make it a point to look around and get a plan together of several areas to shoot. So when the sun comes up, I shoot one thing for about 5 minutes (maybe more time or maybe less depending on how good it looks). Then I move to another location for 5 minutes and another… you get the idea. That way, within 30 minutes you’ve got a lot more chances for a great photo rather than just one. Now, it doesn’t always work out that way and there’s not always that many areas to shoot in one location – but the day I took this photo it did.

I setup for sunrise to shoot the vast canyons that you see at Dead Horse Point. It almost looks like a smaller version (but not that small) of the Grand Canyon. I knew I was only going to shoot there for a few minutes, and then move on to another view. Here’s one of the first photos.

(click for larger version)

Everything went as planned and that’s exactly what I did. But, on my walk over to the 2nd location I wanted to shoot sunrise from, I’m walking down this path and I see this tree. I think “That looks kinda cool” The sun was hitting the side of the tree and the rocks and the sky looked great. So I stopped, set my tripod down and took a few photos and that’s how I got the shot.

An Interesting Side-Note
About a year later, Scott Kelby was teaching a workshop in Moab and they went out to Dead Horse Point. He asked if I knew any good photo spots and I told him about the tree (and showed him the photo). The day he was there he calls me up and says “Dude, I had no idea that the tree you showed me was only 3-4 feet tall!”. I guess it just looks larger in the photo but if you stood next to it, I think it would barely come up to chest height :)

Post Processing
The first time I processed this photo was with Photoshop CS4. I used Photomatix Pro and CS4 but I was never really happy with it. I re-processed it when CS5 came out using the improved Refine Edge dialog to select the tree. That way I could adjust the tree and the sky separately and it worked out beautifully. Then I finished the photo off with Nik Color Efex Pro (the Tonal Contrast filter as well as a vignette).

Thanks for stopping by. Let me know what you think of the new feature and if I should continue The Story Behind the Photo. Have a great day! :)