by Scott Sady
Monique and I set off Sunday in search of fall colors. We knew that the aspens were looking good around South Lake and Sabrina Lake near Bishop, but when we got down there, we found a brief storm a few days ago had frozen the turning leaves and made them go an ugly black. Nothing to see here as the old saying goes, so we spontaneously changed our plans to backpack in this area shooting fall colors and decided to head another hour south to the Alabama Hills, always a cool place. We figured in the middle of the week in October, nobody would be there. Boy were we wrong. Take note, it just happened to be Columbus Day weekend (does he still merit a holiday?) which is the same weekend that Lone Pine was hosting it’s 22nd annual Lone Pine Film Festival.
Despite the much higher than usual campers in the area, we were still able to find nice secluded areas to camp in solitude as well as shoot undisturbed sunrise and sunset shots. The only thing I didn’t feel like doing was hanging with the 10 other photographers in the area, who all congregated around the one well known arch all day long. There is only one marked hiking trail in the Alabama Hills that I know of, it starts at an obvious turnout off the main road (Movie Rd.) and has signs directing people to “the arch.” Well, we went exploring for hours among the coolest rocks in the world and found a couple of arches of our own with not a sole around. Funny thing is, I didn’t realize there was a “The Arch” here, so at one point a photographer rolls into our campsite and asks if I knew how to get to “The Arch,” I gave him some really difficult directions involving some route finding and a lot of hiking to get to an arch that I liked. The next day I drove by “The Arch” turnout. I hope he didn’t listen to me, because if he did, I’m sure he must think I am out of my mind.
This was the trip when I finally decided that I am done with split grade neutral density filters. Sacrilege you say? I have been using high-end Singh Ray filters for a decade. But after getting home and playing with what Photoshop can do now with smart object stacking (stacking multiple raw images in a way that not only allows you to access the Camera Raw features for each image in the stack at any given time, but also allows you to mask and blend however you want) I just convinced myself that I can get better quality by bracketing a few raw exposures and stacking them as smart objects and blending with gradient masks as well as painting specific masks where I want them.
I also did away with another relic of my film days on this trip, the long time exposures. Digital has always had it’s limitations with long night exposures such as those found in star trail shots. Once again I finally proved to myself that stacking multiple, shorter exposures, then blending them via the maximum mode produces a higher-quality star trail image and allows me more control.
One last little experiment we did on this trip was with a converted infrared camera. I had a Nikon D300 converted to photograph only in the infrared spectrum in Black and White which we had used for a cool effect in our wedding photography. This was the first time I had it out for strictly landscape use, and it did not disappoint! I used that probably more than our color body. We had a full moon during our trip, so many of these images were actually taken at night, but on a long exposure under a full moon, it just looks like a daylight shot….with stars.
All of these images, and many more are available for license or for sale as prints, just search my archive using keywords such as Alabama Hills, etc.