the vermilion cliffs by michael maersch


Red Cliffs, Cold Blue Shadows

spacer I’ve been a “big fan” of the Super-Saturated, Über Tone-Compression School of High Dynamic Range Imaging during all of that initial 30 minutes I allowed for assaulting my visual cortex as “HDRI” became the next “Fine Art” Gold Rush around/about 2004. (“DUDE! It’s like ab-so-lootly epic – those COLORS!" It ROCKS!)

- The trendy “grunge look" …

- The way-overly-defined edges – architecture and machines, lights sources, even water and clouds (fer chrissake[!] – elements that should balance a composition because it is in their nature to be “soft” and fluid, not particle storms of pixelization!)...

- The BEYOND-“surreal”-colors. OK; I get it! "It’s like SO-O-O-O-O-O MUCH FUN man; PUSH IT! For Real!!!” (barf.)

Sorry if my sarcasm sets anyone’s hair on fire; really. But come on, “Fine Art”?!

I have been up in red rock country working on an automotive catalog photo-shoot along the edge of Marble Canyon as a summer storm tore down off the Kaibab Plateau like a runaway freight train then witnessed that desert EXPLODE with effervescent red and orange light reflecting off the underside of clouds racing towards the horizon afterwards just as the sun was setting.

This event turned the entire landscape around us into some otherworldly, almost “Martian”-like spectacle to behold. And if it wasn’t for the fact we all were racing to capture this light on the automobile we were shooting in this landscape with a monstrous 8x10 camera mounted on a tripod that could easily support an elephant(!) I would have had personal photographs to prove it. But my memories – and those of the crew that witnessed this extraordinary event – will have to do.

I have seen “magical” light-related phenomena occur inside ancient buildings and upon landscapes where mineral particles glisten mid-air like jewels as the sun at just the right angle makes something unmistakenly wonderous happen before my eyes…

Point is you just gotta be out there often-enough looking, patiently watching, waiting for Reality to create the ‘mind bending’ events that do occur naturally – NOT this Over The Top shortcut to “remarkable”, making otherwise-boring compositions HDR “art”. (Like I said, “sorry”, but.)

The Nik Collection’s ‘HDR Pro’ software I use for building most of my ‘high dynamic range’ photo illustrations tends to push users towards over-enhancing both edge contrast and drifting colors towards ‘Tootie-Fruitie’ levels of saturation with their preset offerings... However, if one is careful and resolved to 'pull back on the reigns' it is possible to render an image that appears close-enough to what the ultimate lens – the human eye in tandem with our mind’s eye – provides the observant recordist.

As meticulously I spend my time with all the powerful options afforded within the Nik HDR-Pro user’s interface it was not until I spent a bit more time back in Lightroom that I was able to more subtly, even-more effectively walk the HDR effect back further to my satisfaction.

Those results provide me remarkable detail throughout the entire tonal range while maintaining accurate contrast even within the almost imperceptible shafts of light streaming through slot canyons. THIS is what I saw that late afternoon a few years back while out in one of my favorite parts of The West here I love to revisit often.

shafts of light spill across house rock valley from slot canyons in the vermilion cliffs

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