Bisti Badlands (4) – Tale of the Dragon

Tale of the Dragon

Equipment: Sony A900, Zeiss 16-35mm, RRS L-plate, RRS BH-55 head, Gitzo 3531LS Tripod.  F16. 1/45 second. Iso 200.

It was a cloudy day in January of 2010 during my first visit to Bisti.  I was busy photographing a field small hoodoos when I suddenly noticed a series of rocks behind me.  I stood up and took a good look at it.  In my imagination, it looked like a dragon lying in front of me.   I took a few pictures, but the result was not particularly satisfactory mostly because of the featureless heavy cloud hanging over the sky.  During my second trip to Bisti in April of 2011, a major storm was approaching from the west on our last day there.  I immediately realized that it was a golden opportunity to re-shoot the dragon photo I took over a year ago.

It was a single exposure.  No filter was used.  I used manual focus to roughly focus at hyper focal distance.  At 16mm and F16, the depth of field is enormous that one does not need to worry much about exactly where to focus.  A decision was made to use the ultra wide angle up close to give dragon’s head some visual impact.  I chose to shoot  vertically so that the dragon’s head anchors lower left corner, its body leads into the mid ground and the cloudy in the sky can be included.

I decided to convert the image to black and white because lack of color in the rocks especially under the cloudy sky.  After some simple adjustments for exposure and contrast in Lightroom, I exported the image to Photoshop CS5 where I did black and white conversion.  To increase the contrast of this rather flat image, I duplicated the layer and selected multiple with an opacity around 25%.  Then it was painstaking job of dodge and burn to enhance the dragon and darken the surroundings.  My favorite approach is to create a new layer with overlay mode, filled with overlay neutral color (50% gray), 50% opacity.  At this point, just grab the brush tool and paint on this layer.  Black brush will darken the image while white brush brightens it.  I usually set opacity of the brush to a low percentage and achieve the final result in multiple stages to ensure smooth transitions. The final step is sharpening.  My preferred method to sharpen a black and white image is to create a duplicate layer with overlay mode, add a high pass filter with a radius about 3 pixels, then adjust opacity to achieve the sharpness I like.

I wanted to present a dark and mystic image to capture viewer’s imagination.  The stormy weather certainly helped my goal.  In post processing, I deliberately darken the sky and the areas surrounding the dragon to help emphasis the mood.

Final thoughts:
We often travel far to seek inspiration, but good photographs are often made at an area that is familiar to the photographers.
Always re-shoot your favorite scene when the weather and light conditions are more favorable.
When using a ultra wide lens, do not afraid to step closer to the foreground element.


3 thoughts on “Bisti Badlands (4) – Tale of the Dragon

  1. Gushang

    It is so beautiful, and powerful!!! Thank you so much for your detailed description on sharing your experience!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s