I spent several days last week attending a work conference in Denver, Colorado. I had never been to Denver before, so I didn’t know what to expect. What I did know was that my time for photography would likely range from very limited to none at all. Nonetheless, like a Boy Scout, I went prepared with all of my camera equipment. After all, you just never know what opportunities will present themselves, and you have to be ready when they appear.
After spending all day dealing with airports and airplanes, I arrived in Denver on Tuesday evening. All I wanted to do was get something to eat and go to bed, and that was exactly what I did. My conference started the next day. Looking at the agenda, I was beginning to think that I had brought my camera for no reason.
As the first day of the conference came to a close, an announcement was made that all of the approximately 200 attendees were invited to dinner at The Fort, a western-themed restaurant located in Morrison, Colorado, southwest of Denver. I was a little apprehensive about taking my camera because I wasn’t sure what I would do with it while I was eating. I was strongly leaning toward leaving it in my hotel room, but one of my co-workers strongly suggested I bring it. So, when our departure time arrived, I, along with my trusty camera and tripod, joined the large crowd to board one of the four charter buses to the restaurant.
As we made our way out of downtown Denver, the scenery became ever more impressive. As we got closer and closer to our destination, I began seeing numerous photographic possibilities. We arrived at the restaurant and disembarked from the buses. The views were amazing. Some of the guests immediately pulled out their phones and began snapping pictures of the rugged mountains. I considered the lighting to be less than optimal, so I used the time to walk around and scout out various possibilities.
Finally, it was time to eat dinner, and I had a decision to make: eat or stay outside and wait for better lighting. Fortunately, there were several large windows by our table, so I decided to eat while I kept a constant vigil on the outdoors. About halfway through the meal, I saw the lighting had improved dramatically. I excused myself, gathered my equipment, and headed outside to one of the spots I had scouted earlier.
I took several pictures of this mountain with the sunlit clouds overhead but the lighting contrast had become greater than my camera could capture. If I shot just one frame, then either the sky would be overexposed or the mountain would be underexposed. An overexposed sky would ruin the picture, so that was not an option. Underexposing the mountain would create a silhouette. That can sometimes work, but, in this case, I wanted to include the details and texture of the mountainside. To accomplish what I had in mind, I used the HDR technique and shot three frames using 1-stop increments.
When I returned home, I combined the three frames into a single image using Photoshop’s HDR Pro, which allowed the picture to show the detail in the side of the mountain while preventing overexposure of the sky. I then used the Tonal Contrast filter in Nik’s Color Efex 4 which brought out some of the finer details in the clouds. Then, again using Photoshop, I used the Levels slider to reduce the overall tonality slightly to better represent the scene as I saw it with my eyes. Finally, I used the healing brush tool to eliminate some very distracting power lines and power poles.
Settings: Canon 5D Mk II, 115mm, f/8