Southwest Shooting Issues with a Digital Camera
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How the Monument Valley Sunrise picture was taken

Raw Jpeg

Finished Image

Auto Levels


I used the Nikon CoolPix 5000 for all the images created on this trip except for the digital infrared.

We hired a guide to take us to the picturesque locations in Monument Valley for the sunrise. Not really knowing what to expect, I tried to explain that I was shooting digital and would have trouble capturing an image with the sun facing the camera. I was expecting to see blown out highlights and flare.

First let me explain how I shoot. I almost always use the camera on automatic. I keep the ISO set for 100 and always shoot with the flash turned off. In working with fast changing lighting situations, I vary my exposure (bracketing) by pointing the camera towards bright-lit parts of the scene, using the exposure lock button to hold the now darker exposure and recompose.

Itís important to understand what the camera is seeing and how itís reacting to the light. You canít begin to understand unless you use the LCD, which will show you what the lens is doing. In the three years Iíve been using digital cameras, not once have I used the viewfinder opting to see through the lens. I always recommend using the Xtend-a-View LCD magnifying hood. I never use the camera without it. For pictures like these, or any pictures for that matter, itís imperative.

You canít get the beautiful sunrise picture that I captured unless you can properly capture the raw file. If I had been shooting slide film (you canít capture images like this using negative film and taking it to a one hour photo lab for processing) I would have probably shot two rolls of film at various exposures (bracketing) to capture my vision of what the scene looked like. Using my technique described earlier, I bracketed the exposure with the camera on Auto by centering the lens on the sun and locking the exposure and recomposing. That gave me a darker exposure than the camera would have given me just shooting. Composing was very precise but easily done because I was using a tripod. I also shoot two frames of each exposure to make sure I get the sharpest possible image. You never know if the tripod will move even slightly, or something will affect the image.

How did I get the raw file to look like the beautiful sunrise. I edited the images looking for the best to put on the web site. I picked the image with the best exposure that didnít contain washed out highlights. One of the first steps I always do is try Auto Levels. Sometimes it improves an image dramatically and sometimes it doesnít do anything useful. Running Auto Levels showed that the CCD had really captured color where the bland tan colors were showing. There were light blues and light reds showing that were visible during the actual sunrise. The exposure just needed to be darker to bring the colors out that captured my vision of the event. I experimented with picking black and white points but that didnít really do it. What made the difference, after running Auto Levels, was running curves and pulling down on the diagonal line (darkening) until the colors really popped.

In using Photoshop 7ís curves to darken and saturate the colors, I was able to capture the exact same image post processed that I would have captured in camera if I had been shooting slide film and bracketing.

Using a Polarizing Filter

Without Polarizer

With Polarizer

I've never been a big fan of using filters on a digital camera and have always thought that most any affect could be added in Photoshop. But the difference was immediately apparent between using and not using the polarizer filter.
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