Grand Canyon Sunset, Arizona, USA by John Freeman

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Picture Story

Point Sublime lies at the end of about 12 miles of rugged 4x4 trails. This was my second attempt to shoot at this location. The first time 9 months earlier, the entire canyon was fogged in. I knew I wanted to try to catch a sunset shot so we left our camp about 3PM. My friend Bill and I navigated the road in my Jeep Liberty. When we arrived the sun was obscured by clouds and the lighting was poor. I could see that there was clear sky near the horizon and knew that as the sun neared the horizon it would shine under the clouds and likely light up the underside of the cloud formations.

I knew from past experience shooting sunsets at the canyon that bracketing would be required. I sat up my tripod, Gigapan head & camera and waited for the sun to shine through the gap between the bottom cloud layer and the one above it. Once it did I only had a few seconds to set my exposure metering using spot metering, on the bright sunlit area of the sky to avoid over exposure in the -3 stop bracket. At the same time I had to make sure that the darkest areas in the deep canyon still had some good exposure for the +3 stop bracket. I then programmed the Gigapan up to capture a 5 row x 35 column set of images taking 3 exposures at each location starting at the far left column. I waited until the sun was below the bottom cloud layer and started the Gigapan hoping that it would finish all 35 columns before the sun dropped too far towards the horizon. To make matters worse, the clouds were moving towards the west and to the right. I knew I only had one chance at making it all work out. Thankfully, my planning paid off and by the time the Gigapan had panned to the part of the scene where the sun was it was still positioned between the cloud layer and the horizon. I was excited how the sun was making crepuscular rays through the cloud formations and casting long shadows into the canyon.

This is an HDR image shot bracketed with Canon 5DSR, Canon 70-200mm lens @70mm, bracketed f/13, 1/50th, 1/400th and 1/6th sec. exposures, ISO 100. It is made up of 525 bracketed images processed to yield 175 individual HDR images, 5 rows x 35 columns 35% overlap in portrait orientation to produce final image measuring 61" x 192" (18415 x 57515 pixels) weighing in at 1.06 Gaga-pixels. Processing was done with Camera RAW to convert the RAW files to tiff format. I then processed the bracketed images to HDR using Olone PhotoEngine. I experimented with PhotoEngine until I got good results with both the brightest areas of the image and the darkest areas. Using the batch processing capability of PhotoEngine I exported all of the 175 HDR images to tiff files. Then using Kolor Autopano Giga, I stitched the final image together. I then opened the stitched image in Photoshop and did some final edits tweaking the exposure up slightly to brighten the darker areas.

The biggest challenge in shooting this shoot was dealing with the changing light conditions and getting the right exposure settings. Getting the timing right as to when to start the sequence of taking 525 images in the window of time that one has for a sunset shot requires quite a bit of experience and a certain amount of luck. This was without a doubt, the most difficult Gigapan image I have ever attempted, and what I consider, one of my best.

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