Starry Night at Mount Assiniboine

With a group of photographers, I undertook a photography expedition to Canadian Rockies in September 2012. During this trip, I have experienced couple of very impressive photography situations that I had not faced before. I also made couple of unique images of Canadian Rockies. In this article, I will talk about how I made one particular image:



This image has become my first image published on 1X that received over 100,000 unique views. Making this image was not only of certain technical challenging, but also a good example of making modern landscape photographs with creative ideas.

(2) Planning

When I planned my recent trip to the Canadian Rockies, Mount Assiniboine was the first priority on my photography wish list. It is probably one of the most beautiful mountains I have ever seen. However, making a distinguished image of this location is challenging, not only because there have been so many stunning images of this place made by other landscape photographers, but also due to limited composition options around this area. Hence, it was my primary goal of this trip to make a photo that is significantly different from others.

Generally, it is believed that the Nub Peak is the best location to view Mount Assiniboine and its surroundings. However, many people only reach the Nublet; a platform just below the Nub Peak, as climbing to the Peak is more physically demanding. During my four days stay in Mount Assiniboine, I climbed to the Nub Peak twice, and just once stopped at the Nublet.

It is a 5 km hike one way from Mount Assiniboine Lodge to the Nub Peak. I have found that under different weather conditions, both the Nub Peak and Nublet could be good locations to make nice photographs of Mount Assiniboine; the Nub Peak gives you a higher and wider viewpoint, while the Nublet is a better location to capture some subtle details of mountain reflections in the lakes under good lighting conditions.

This image was taken from the Nublet on 21st September 2012.


It was a clear yet featureless afternoon, but we still decided to go to the Nublet to try our luck, as we had very limited time in the Mount Assiniboine area. After arriving at the Nublet before sunset, I carefully composed the frame and specifically considered to include Lake Magog and Sunburst Lake into the frame to ensure some reflections. Sunburst Lake would be used to show some clouds and stars reflecting from the dark sky. After sunset, the sky started to dance and the moonrise added a unique feature to the sky. I knew my chance would finally arrive.

(3) Taking Shots

This image was made with my Canon 5D Mark II camera and 16-35mm f/2.8L II lens. I used my light Benro C2980T tripod and B2 ball-head to support the camera and lens with an RC-1 canon remote release to trigger the shutter.

In order to make a fine night image with this composition, I made a number of master shots before the sky got completely dark, so that the mountains, golden trees and foreground rocks could be clearly revealed in full of detail. Then I selected one of these shots as a Master Copy for processing later.

First shot (master copy):
16mm, ISO 100, f/7.1, 30 seconds, 2-stop soft GND filter.

After 30 minutes, the sky became very dark, while the moon had moved right behind the peak of Mount Assiniboine. I started to shoot again, mainly focused on the sky and its reflection in Sunburst Lake. The following second shot was then used from one of many shots during that time.

Second shot:
16mm, ISO 1600, f/2.8, 8 seconds, no filter.

The second shot remained the same composition as the mater copy (first shot), but with a higher ISO (1600) and the biggest aperture, which revealed more stars in the sky but still retained the digital noise under control.

After about 30 minutes many more stars appeared in the dramatic sky, so I decided to make one more final shot. But this time, I carefully tilted up my camera so that 2/3 of the fame filled with the beautiful starry sky.

The final shot:
16mm, ISO 3200, f/4, 20 seconds, no filter.


(4) Processing

The process was undertaken in two stages. The first stage was to blend the Master Copy with the second shot together (note that these two shots had exactly the same composition).

I opened the raw files of these two shots via Camera Raw 6.7, made a correct White Balance adjustment so that the colour for these two images became consistent. I also made a small adjustment for both files by increasing both Clarity and Vibrancy to 12. I then loaded them into Photoshop CS5.

In Photoshop CS5, I carefully blended the two images together to form an intermediate image that remained the Master Copy every detail except the parts of the sky (including moonlight) and Sunburst Lake which were from the second shot. After this stage, the intermediate image was a beautiful picture in its own right.

Then the second stage was to integrate the third shot (starry sky) with the intermediate image. After doing a small adjustment on the raw file in Camera Raw 6.7 for the third shot by just increasing Clarity and Vibrancy to 12, I loaded the raw file to Photoshop CS5, where the intermediate image was already opened. I first extended a sufficient large Canvas for the intermediate image, and then added the third shot on the top of it. By matching the two images with respect to the mountain ridges, I then carefully painted the upper part of the sky from the third shot into the intermediate image. Finally I cropped the image to produce a square-framed picture and saved it as a PSD file.

After producing this square-framed PSD file, the following process is quite standard. But one specific technique I used was so called TK mask luminosity. By applying this technique, I was able to adjust pixel brightness at different levels to achieve certain balance that I wanted.

(5) The Outcome

I was quite satisfied with the final effect after such tedious processing. Specifically, the square framed image represents a vast view of Mount Assiniboine, while the dramatic starry sky illustrated beautiful and mysterious mountain scenery that I have never experienced before.

This is also the first image I published on 1x attracting more than 100,000 unique views within three months.

It was a memorable day and was lucky to witness such an amazing night over Mount Assiniboine. This image was also the most unique work I made from my entire trip in the Canadian Rockies.


(6) Three Hints

As a landscape photographer, I believe the following three things are important to produce a high quality landscape image:

– Exploring the location thoroughly before setting up your tripod. As Mount Assiniboine was a new place for me to photograph, getting familiar with the location was very important to identify a good viewpoint. In that afternoon, we arrived at the Nublet around 4.00pm, so we had plenty of time to explore the surrounding area before starting to shoot.

– Composing in square frame sometimes is a key to make a successful picture, especially for capturing full details of foreground, middle ground and background. Making a square composition is also more challenging, that needs more careful planning for the overall procedure for shooting and post processing.

– For sunset shooting, waiting a bit longer is useful even if the best light has passed. Very often, we could not get great sunset light, but the night sky could be magnificent, just like this image. In this case, we waited longer until darkness fell.

Morning Delight

Morning Delight

When I ventured into White Pocket last spring, one of the areas that caught my immediate attention was these unique sandstone ridges on the ground. They appeared to me like an amphitheater from another planet. I started to work on it as soon as I arrived there. This area slopes towards east, it became obvious to me that the best time to photograph here is at early morning when the sun just lights up the sandstone. After trying various compositions, I determined my favorite angle – shooting the scene with a vertical towards north so that the sandstone ridges lead to the hills at distance.

I arrived at the scene every morning before sunrise. However, I was facing the common dilemma in landscape photography – the light. For three days, the sky towards north was featureless. My composition will not work without an interesting sky because that is where these ridges lead viewer’s attention to. So, I decided to camp one more night before I give up and go back home. The fourth morning when I got out of the tent, the sky was so cloudy that I could not see the stars. But I still hiked in there, even knowing the chance of a good sunrise is slim.

The magic happened at sunrise. The cloud at east opened a narrow gap to let the sun lit up whole sky. I was there, and ready. No need to think about composition and camera settings. I knew exactly what to do. I quickly took a few shots with various exposure compensations. Five minutes later, the light faded away and never returned.

Two exposures that were used for the final image were taken with 16mm, f16, iso200, one with 1/8 second exposure for the foreground, and the other with 1/32 second for the sky.

I loaded both images into two separate layers in Photoshop, with the darker exposure at bottom and the brighter exposure on top. I carefully selected the sky of top layer and deleted it, then merged two images together. More post processing was done to enhance the color and contrast. The result is exactly what I hoped for. The light and composition came together. The light adds warm glow to the sandstone, while the ridges lead attention to the sky.

So, tips of the day are:

In an uncertain or high contrast light condition, always take several pictures with various exposure settings to capture the entire range of light. Memory is cheap but opportunity is priceless.

Don’t give up too easily. The last moment at scene might turn out to be the best moment. But when the moment comes, you better be ready.

John Fan

Flying Dreams

Flying Dreams

Flying Dreams

Crane is a graceful creature that captures my imagination. Each winter, I take several trips to Jasper Pulaski Wild Life Refuge in Indiana where tens of thousands of cranes congregate in the area during winter migration. They take off at dawn and return at dusk. One can hear them from a couple of miles away. The sight of thousands of cranes taking off at the same time always keep my heart pounding.

The first attempt of photographing bird in flight is to freeze the motion with high shutter speed of at least 1/500 second. But I want a different effect to reveal a sense of motion. My answer is to photograph the bird with a slower shutter speed. How slow? It depends on how fast the bird moves. After many attempts, I found that a shutter speed somewhere close to 1/20 second is ideal for a large bird like a crane. At this shutter speed, the wings will be blurry to the extent that shows movement, but not too slow that becomes a featureless smear. Photographing bird in flight with slow shutter speed is harder than it seems. The challenge is to keep the other parts of body, especially the head, relatively clear. Otherwise, the whole image will look like an out of focus waste. This requires a steady camera support, good panning technique, a lot of practice, and even more luck.

I have my camera supported with a Wimberly Sidekick, which allows me to pan smoothly. The camera is set to continuous focus, and I start to lock on the object, preferably the head, a couple of seconds before I pull the trigger. After a sequence of high speed burst is over, I still follow through with a continuing panning motion. Even so, 90% of the images are total waste that will be deleted immediately after I transfer them to the computer. But when I am lucky, there will be one that captures my imagination.

Family Spirit

Family Spirit

John Fan

Decisive Moment

The Golden Coast

The “decisive moment”, according to Henri Cartier-Bresson, “it is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as the precise organization of forms which gives that event its proper expression.”  A “decisive moment” is what elevates a photograph to a higher level.  One of Bresson’s most iconic images, the man leaping over a large puddle and touching it with his heel, showed the “decisive moment” turn an otherwise ordinary image into a master piece.

It is fairly straight forward with photojournalism and wild life photography to capture the moment.  In landscape photography, I feel that the “decisive moment” is what gives a photograph its soul.  A major problem with landscape photography is that an image is reproducible.  Once an image becomes reproducible, it loses some of its value and visual impact, no matter how hard one tries with composition.  What is a decisive moment in landscape photography?  It could be a special moment in light situation, weather condition, season or movement.

During my recent trip to Oregon, my first stop was Cannon Beach.  This is a beautiful place by any standard.  However, Cannon Beach and its famous sea stack have been shot to death.  I don’t know how many millions of photos have that rock in the frames.  My chance of capture anything unique is fairly low.  Then, one night, I was wondering on the beach at sunset.  The sunset was not spectacular, but I did not leave.  15 minutes after the sunset, the sky at west became more interesting and I noticed orange reflection on the wet sand.  As the wave retreated, it left behind wet sand as smooth as a mirror.  At an angle towards the west, the reflection was the most visible.  With each wave, the reflection left behind was different.  I quickly setup my tripod and started to compose the image.  I chose a position where the distant light house was in between two rocks that were closer, and more importantly, to avoid that famous sea stack on the beach.  I tried several times to time my exposure at the right moment when waves advanced on the beach.  Finally, I captured one moment where reflection was at the exact position as I wanted.  15 minutes later, the light started to fade away and the show was over.

John Fan

Set Fire to the Sky

Admit it: To a large extend, luck plays an important role in landscape photography.  You can have great artistic vision and superb techniques, and you are in the right place with right equipment. However, if you are not there at the right moment, you will not get your dream images.

The question is:  when opportunity knocks, are you ready? Can you foresee what will come and be prepared?

Mono Lake is an iconic location among North American landscape photographers. It is so popular, in fact, that images from there can be visual clichés, and I’ve heard many people saying that they don’t want to visit there.

Anyway, on one hot, dry summer afternoon last month, I finally was at the shore of the lake, fascinated by those interesting formations of tufas.  This was my first visit to Mono Lake. On a not-to-distant hill, there was a huge bush fire burning, causing by lighting. A thick column of smoke rose up, and there were some extremely dramatic smoke clouds in the sky. It was near sunset time, and people were alarmed or excited to witness such an event. Tripods were up everywhere. Shutters were pressed. The fire was a bad news for the US Forest Service, but it provided a once-in-a-life time opportunity for landscape photographers to record an extremely unusual perspective of this iconic location.

However, although the sun was setting, I knew I had to wait. The best show had not started yet.  I anticipated that if I waited (see Waiting for the Light), the sky might be even more dramatic and the ground would bath in some very rich and saturated light, especially there were so much smoke and dust in the air. I also wanted to capture the warm glowing light from the fire itself, for which I had to wait until dark.

When the sun went down, people started packing their cameras and leaving. Time to work! I went to the parking lot and got my tripod from my car, and went back to the shore and started shooting. What a show!  To say I was not disappointed is an understatement.  I will post some images with dramatic sky next week. Today I am sharing with you the last image I took on that unforgettable evening.

It was getting dark, and I could hardly see anything around me. Maybe it was time to leave, and indeed everyone was gone except for only one photographer.  However, it was actually the best time to shoot such a rare event.  The bush fire was virtually the only light source now. Without the pollution of the cool blue colors of the evening ambient light, the fire projected some very intensive red and orange colors on the sky. To capture the very dime but strong glowing colors, I set the ISO of my Canon 5D Mark II to 320 and started a two-minute long exposure. To better record the details on the foreground tufas, I took out a Canon 580EX flash, mounted a ½ CTO gel on it to warm up the light, and I manually fired the flash multiple times toward different parts of the foreground during the long exposure.

And here is the result, a dramatic and very unusual rendition of the famous Mono Lake tufas, mysterious and hauntingly beautiful. It will probably become one of my favorite images.

My biggest challenge on that evening? Finding my way back to the parking lot in almost total darkness without getting hurt by the rocks and tufas  — I left my headlight and flashlight in the car in a hurry. And I thank my young daughter for her patiently waiting Daddy doing some boring long exposure stuff in the darkness.

Yiming Hu

Companions of Darkness

Companions of Darkness

White Pocket was once considered to be a frontier for landscape photographers. But thanks to the popular web site of Steffen Synnatschke and the famous books of Laurent Martres, “Photographing the Southwest”, the images of White Pocket have appeared all over internet. Nevertheless, its beauty has captured my imagination for years.

During my recent adventure, I decided to shoot Milky Way at White Pockets. I got up very early and walked in there in total darkness. Even with the help of a GPS, I could not figure out the exact location I scouted during the day. Fortunately, this is White Pockets, I can just setup my camera and shoot in any direction. It will turn out just fine.

The picture was blended with two exposures taken about an hour apart without moving the camera. The first exposure was taken about two hours before sunrise with f2.8, 30sec, ISO3200. 30 second exposure time was chosen to minimize the movement of stars. The difficulty of this exposure was to decide the composition when foreground elements were in total darkness. I used a flashlight to illuminate the foreground element while I looked through view finder. Then I took a few test shots with 10sec exposure at ISO 6400, and made fine adjustment after each shot. When the final composition was determined, I set the focal distance at infinity and made a couple of exposures. At that time, the sky was becoming less dark that Milky Way was fading away.

In the first exposure, the foreground was completely black. To reveal some details in foreground, I decided to take a second exposure at pre-dawn. I left camera untouched on the tripod and waited in there for an hour or so until it was close to dawn when foreground was visible. Then I made a second exposure with f/8.0 30s ISO 400. I used manual focus to set focus at hyper focal distance.

Back at home, I loaded both images into two separate layers in Photoshop. First exposure at bottom and the second exposure on top. I carefully selected the sky of second exposure and deleted it, then merged two images together.

White Pockets is a surreal place. I wanted to make a surreal image to capture viewer’s imagination. I decided to convert the image to black and white and add some blue filter in photoshop to give it some out of this world feel. The Milky Way, the foreground, as well as the choice of monochrome theme helped to emphasize the mood.

John Fan

Call of the Wild

This is one of my most popular images and has received many honors, including First Place Award Winner, Outdoor Scenes, 11th Annual New Mexico Magazine Photo Contest; Photo of The Month and Cover Photo, Nature Photographer Online Magazine; and finalist, the 3rd Annual Sony Art of Expression Contest. I will detail the making of this image in this post. The image was taken with my Canon 5D Mark II and Canon 17-40mm F4 L lens.

Bisti Badland is a wildness area located in the high desert of New Mexico. This remote area offers some of the most unique and interesting scenery on the planet.  The strange and haunting beauty of the landscape is beyond description.  Camping under the stars, surrounded by the surreal hoodoos and other rock formations, was such an unforgettable experience.

I wanted to record my experience of this magic location, and my picture should be more than just pretty landscape photograph.  It must tell a story. As a result, the location of the tent is very important, since the environment tells a lot about the unusual geographic features for this area.  My photog buddy John Fan and I carefully selected a camp site. We pre-visualized the result before the camp was set up. Of course the location has to be flat so we could sleep, however, I also wanted the final picture to include some of the representing hoodoos and hills, and our location must have these features.

 (a)     Determining the Exposure values for the sky
Modern digital cameras need a combination of large aperture, high ISO, and long exposure, to properly capture the stars of the night sky.  Because the earth is rotating, if the exposure period is too long, the stars will not be recorded as sharp dots. They become unsightly mini star-trails. To determine my exposure time, I normally rely on the so called 500 rule:

Exposure Time (in seconds)  <=  500 / focal length (in millimeters)

Since I wanted to capture the night sky, the tent, and the surrounding environment at the same time in order to tell the story, I decided to use a 17-mm wide-angle lens.  As a result, my exposure time was set to 500/17 = 30 seconds.

Please note that the rule is just guidance.  If you plan to produce huge, 60-inch fine-art quality prints, than you should use even shorter exposure times.  On the other hand, if your photos are only used for web viewing, you can get away with longer shutter speeds. Moreover, if you point the camera toward North Pole (or South Pole) you can use longer exposure times, as stars near the North Pole and South Pole show less apparent movements than those near the equator do.

My final exposure parameters were 17mm, ISO 4000, F/4 (the maximum aperture of my Canon 17-40L lens) , 30 seconds.

(b)    Capture the features on the ground

The above-mentioned parameters work great for the night sky.  However, the landscape was too dark to be recorded using such an exposure combination.  The area is relatively small, and in theory I could have used a few strategically placed lamps to illuminate the scene so the landscape could be captured with the stars in a single exposure. However, the use of high ISO and a wide-open aperture would have resulted poor image quality.  The ground would have been grainy, noisy, and not as sharp as it should be. While it is relatively easy to reduce the noise in the sky, it is very difficult to clean up the landscape portion without sacrificing the image details. Such single-frame techniques may be OK for a small size magazine picture or web picture, but they are often not adequate for fine-art large prints.

I decided to use the double frame technique by taking two exposures and blending them together in post processing.  The first exposure was taken at night when I could clearly see the Galaxy. I carefully positioned the camera such at the direction and locations of the Milky Way, as well as the position of tent, were ideal.  I made my first exposure, using the parameters mentioned above, to capture the stars.  I then left the camera on the tripod, and went into the tent to sleep — it is such a remote place and nobody was around, so I didn’t have to worry about the safety of the equipment.   My alarm clock woke me up very early the next morning, long before the sunrise. I made the second exposure to capture the landscape. I used ISO 100, F/11 and 4 seconds to ensure the optimal image quality.

 (c)    Lighting the Tent

The key to the success of this picture was the lighting of the tent properly.   If you have a companion, you ask him/her to turn on a warm-colored camp light inside the tent when you make the long exposure. By changing how long the light is on, you can control the brightness of the light.

I used another approach.  I used a Canon 580EX flash with double CTO (Color Temperature Orange) gels. The CTOs changes the bluish light of the flash to lovely, warm light.  The 580EX was placed inside the tent as was remotely triggered by the camera with a pair of PocketWizard MiniTT1/FlexTT5.  The solution works well if you travel alone.


The two exposures were captured in RAW format.  They were opened in Adobe Lightroom. I chose the fluorescent white balance so the night sky and stars have a cool blue tone.  I then exported the two images to TIFF files.

The TIFF files were opened in Photoshop and copied into two layers of a single file. The bottom layer contains the night shot (the first exposure). The top layer contains the second exposure taken at dawn. I then selected the sky of the second exposure, deleted the sky, and merged the two layers.


Most of my work is landscape photography, which emphasize the majestic beauty of nature.  However, in this photo, my goal was to tell a story of our relationship with the nature and our needs for wilderness.  I hope that I have succeeded to some extent, and I am glad that many of my readers, editors, and judges like this photo.


Stars and Milky Way photographs are become incredibly popular recently, and they can become a visual cliché if not done properly.  Remember that in a “starscape” photo, the role of the stars and the Milky Way are just like that of clouds in a regular, daytime landscape image.  Nice clouds are important but not enough. You need beautiful landscape and great composition to make a memorable landscape image.  I often joke with my friends that “Milky Way is the new cloud in landscape photography”.

If you want your image to standout, your picture must be able to evoke our deep feeling about nature.  You must tell a story, or must show some mesmerizing landscape, under the velvet sky and brilliant stars.

Yiming Hu

Journey into White Pocket

White Pocket was considered to be a frontier for landscape photographer. But thanks to the popular web site of Steffen Synnatschke and the well known books of Laurent Martres, “Photographing the Southwest”, the images of White Pocket have appeared more and more often. Nevertheless, its beauty has captured my imagination for a few years. I have done more reading and preparation for this trip than any other photography trip to the west. Two professional photographers, Fred Drury and Charly Moore, offered me great insights in reaching this remote location.

The drive to White Pocket was the most difficult journey I have ever embarked. The road, or I should describe it as trail, is alternating between rocks and deep sand. I was mentally well prepared to drive in the deep sand – maintain constant speed and do not stop. It sounds easy except when you see the rocks, you must slow down to a crawl immediately before risking a flat tire. I was fortunate that it rained a few days ago.  The sand was more compacted.  For the most part, my Jeep Wrangler kept me going without too much difficulty. There were a few hills that presented challenges that I had to back down and then speed up to gain enough momentum to reach the top. At one spot, my vehicle was completely stuck in the deep sand. I had to use shovel to dig my way out.

I realized all that effort was worthwhile as soon as I saw White Pocket. The Brain Rocks under the sun looks, well, just like brains. Stepping on it, I can almost feel the brain activity. The entire White Pocket area is fairly small. One can cover all the grounds in an hour. However, it packs so many geographic features that one can spend a whole week there to photograph.


John Fan

Li River Sunrise

For many years, Li River has been viewed as an iconic symbol of oriental beauty. It is one of those a few places of China that is so popular by attracting lots of tourists every year but still remains its natural purity

Li River Sunrise

This photo was taken in Xingping County along Li River on 11 October 2011. The local photographer said that it was not an ideal time to make pictures of Li River from April to October each year because an overcast weather over Li River was very common during this period. But it was an exception this time. I was told that it had been continuously raining for an entire week but just stopped on the day when I arrived in Xingping. Then I knew I probably would be lucky enough to witness some beautiful sunrise and sunset moments during my trip. Indeed, on the third day, I encountered a spectacular sunrise over Li River.

The image was taken with my Canon 5D Mark II camera and 16-35mm f/2.8L II lens. I used tripod Gitzo GT2531EX CF6X Explorer 2 (BH-55 Ballhead) to support the camera and lens, and a RC-1 canon remote release to trigger the shutter.

To balance the light between the sky and foreground (river), a Lee .6 GND soft filter and a Lee .3 GND hard were used. I found that this filter combination provided the best effect without causing any visible grey line between the water and mountains.

This image was also a result from blending three successive shots taken within 15 minutes. When the sky started to change, I made a shot with aperture f/22, focal length 29 mm, ISO 50 and shutter speed 20 seconds. This long exposure made the river have a peaceful and tranquil feeling, where the cloud reflection was clearly presented in the water. After a moment, I found the clouds became even more dramatic, so I made the second shot focusing on the sky with aperture f/10, focal length 29mm, ISO 100 and shutter speed 1.3 second.  As the sky was getting bright quickly, the exposure time could not be as long as the first shot. Then a few minutes later, something interesting happened: a fisherman suddenly rowed into my frame – this was completely out of my expectation! I quickly made the third shot: aperture f/8.0, focal length 29mm, ISO 100 and shutter speed 1/13 second.

The first two shots were well planned, but the third shot was just by chance, which eventually played the most significant role to produce the final image.

I opened three images raw files in Camera Raw 6.3, made a small adjustment for each of these files by just filling a bit light for the first two images and increasing both clarity and vibrance to 12 for all three raw files. Then I loaded them into Photoshop CS5.

In Photoshop CS5, I first blended the first two images together: the intermediate resulting image combined the first image’s water reflection (lower part) and the rest parts of the second image. Then I further blended this intermediate resulting image with the third image by carefully painting the fisherman and the relevant water reflection into the earlier combined image. In this step, localizing the fisherman and his reflection was critical. Paint opacity should not be more than 5%, and gradually repeating the paint until the fisherman and his reflection smoothly appearing and merged with the rest part of the image.

After three images were carefully blended, a standard Photoshop processing was carried out. As an additional yet important stage, I further applied Tony Kuper’s mask luminosity technique to select “Expended Mid-tones Pixels” in Channels, and then select Curve to create a Curve layer. By adjusting this curve I could further enhance the contrast on expended mid-tones pixels, which made the overall image pop out nicely.

I was satisfied with the final image after processing. I think blending three images together was an important step to make an image illustrating such a beautiful scene of Li River that I have had in my mind for a long time.

On that day early morning, I traveled by a small boat for one hour to get to this location when the sky was still very dark, so I had plenty of time to set up my tripod and considered various compositions. From the dawn to sunrise moment, the light changed dramatically, and also the traffic became busy on the river as local people started to work as well.  Under this situation, the first shot was critical to capture the stillness of the water when no one was there. To me, the impressive sky and its reflection in the water were the primary feature I wanted to capture, while the unexpected fisherman captured in the third shot just added an exceptional highlight to this image.

Yan Zhang

Get Your Feet Wet

To get the best angle and perspective for your shot, sometimes you need to put yourself into some pretty inconvenient spot.

On a gorgeous weekend morning of May, I was shooting one of the endless creeks in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and I found this location with beautiful lush green trees and a sweeping open view of the creek itself.  I walked along the bank and tried many different frames, but I was not completely satisfied with what I got.  I realized that  I really need to get into the middle of the creek and shot from a low angle there.

Problems were, the water was running rapidly, and the rocks were slippery.  The creek was not very deep, so a mistake probably won’t cost one’s life.  Still, not photo is worth a broken arm or a leg, in my opinion.  Moreover, we nature and landscape photographers often trek along in the wild, so we need to be especially careful.

Luckily, I was prepared to deal with this situation. I removed my hiking boots and put on a pair of sandals. I then put a pair of my trusted STABILicers ice cleats on the sandals, which provide excellent non-slip traction to keep me from falling on these moss-covered slippery rocks.  I then carefully walked into the keen-deep water.  Boy, the water was so cold that I felt chilled to the bone.  I found a few rocks to securely place my tripod feet, and made a few exposures.  I tried a few different shutter speeds, with and without an ND filter, and I found that for this this particular composition, the 30-second long exposure version taken with a 4-stop ND filter is far more attractive than the one with shorter shutter speeds.

Canon 5D Mark II ,  Canon 16-35 II L,  Cokin Z164 CPL, Lee 4-stop ND,  16mm,  F11,  30 sec.

Yiming Hu