This was probably the hardest I’ve worked for a photo in a long time. Mt. St. Helens seems to be one of the most stubborn mountains I’ve ever had the privilege to photograph. It seems to shy away from the photographic spotlight, well at least for me anyways. This photo was taken on my third attempt this month at photographing this gorgeous area. In the previous two times I was promised gorgeous conditions by amazing forecasts only to be socked in dense fog on the ridge line near the mountain. With my dreams and hopes dashed I had all but given up but decided to try desperately one more time and man was the reward sweet. I literally ran to my car after work and left as soon as I could in hopes of avoiding the rush hour commute toward the mountain (it’s an almost 4 hour drive one way). I arrived just in the nick of time; 30 minutes before sunset and scrambled around like a crazy man trying to find a good composition. The sunset was one of the most intense I had ever seen; it burned and lingered for almost two hours. The intense reds and oranges faded to soft magentas and purples. As an added bonus the clouds broke up just enough to allow the super moon to rise up just to the east of the mountain. It was a memorable sunset to say the least. I also ran into two local photographers I had never met in person before. We chatted and snapped away as the glow faded and the stars began to shine like tiny diamonds in the sky. The sunset was still lingering and a light pink glow illuminated the western side of the mountain while the bright moonlight from the super moon enveloped the eastern side of the blast zone. It was at that point that I decided to put together one more photo to end the night and this was the result. It was a very long and tiring drive home but well worth all of the effort in the past three weeks. It was a night that I wont soon forget.
I set my camera up maybe 6-8 inches or so from the flowers with the lens pointed down at a slight angle and took 6 separate exposures to ensure that all of the foreground flowers were in focus. I then followed that by taking an additional photo of the mountain, the moon and clouds to ensure that it was in focus and at the correct exposure for dynamic range.
6 photos focus stacked at 16mm, f/2.8, 1/4 sec, one more for dynamic range
I used the auto-align action in Photoshop CS6 to align all of the photos and then used the auto-blend action to blend the photos by selecting the sharpest pixels. I had to go back in and fix several areas due to wind blown flowers not blending correctly. I then blended in one more exposure for the mountain, the moon and the stars and clouds. This sounds like a lot of work but it is what is needed to see exactly what the eye sees. Many folks say this is “photoshopped” the bottom line is your camera can’t see everything in focus in one shot at certain focal distances. In order to get everything in focus you absolutely have to use multiple exposure blending techniques. I then applied several post-processing techniques to maintain details in the shadows while giving the photo a dark and natural look in Photoshop.
Camera: Sony a7r, MetaBones Canon Lens Adapter
Lens: Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L II
Tripod: MeFoto Road tripper
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