Longs Peak is fairly photogenic from Trail Ridge Road inside Rocky Mountain National Park. Depending on where you are, there are several very good vantage points that afford excellent views, and during most summer months, the angle of the setting sun is just right to create dramatic side lighting and shadows, such as seen in this image.
The views are so common, in fact, that I would venture to say if you spend a fair amount of time in the park on a regular basis, you can become somewhat inured to them. That was the case for me, anyway, when I was spending several nights a week during the summer of 2012 photographing in the park. Not that I wouldn’t see the views and appreciate them, since they are indeed quite spectacular. But you can only take so many “trophy” shots of Longs Peak at sunset before they kind of start to look the same.
On this particular evening, there was a stunning show taking place in the sky. The cloud formations and changing light were simply awesome, just not over Longs Peak. I had parked my car in a pullout alongside of Trail Ridge Road and hiked a short distance to the north, where I became engrossed in shooting the changing clouds and changing light over the wide, flat expanses of high alpine tundra as the sun went down. The conditions were changing quickly, and I was absorbed in my viewpoint facing north. Fortunately, I paused to take in the grandeur of it all, which included a look over my shoulder at the view to the south. Sure enough, when I wasn’t looking, these clouds had moved in behind Longs Peak, creating to my eye the effect of a curtain, in front of which the peak cut a sharp figure and leading me to title this image “Longs Peak, Curtain of Clouds.”
This image also is one of the first where I was conscious of the idea of apparent contrast. Apparent contrast is the contrast within the mid-tones of an image, and can lead to perception of improved overall sharpness of an image. As an aside, it’s my understanding that this is what photographers often are referring to, at least in part, when they say a lens has “good contrast” or “good sharpness.” Regardless, I used the clarity slider in Adobe Camera Raw (+20) and the structure slider in Nik Software’s Silver Efex Pro 2 (+15 in the mid-tones) to try to bring out these qualities in the image, and I noticed a definite increase in my perceived sharpness of the lines defining the peak as well as the details in the clouds behind the peak.
For those who are interested, there is a good article in the February, 2013 issue of Outdoor Photographer discussing apparent contrast and the clarity slider of Adobe Camera Raw. Regarding the structure slider, I first became aware of this control in Nik Software’s Silver Efex Pro 2 from one of my favorite photographers, Bret Edge. Bret provides great information on using Nik software products on his blog, including a little on the structure slider of Silver Efex Pro 2 here.
But mostly what I remember in creating this image was that I would have missed it entirely if I simply hadn’t paused and looked over my shoulder. In the field, it’s pretty easy to become very absorbed in photographing the scene you’re working on, at least for me. But thanks to this image, now I remember you should always check your surroundings to see what else may be developing!