Window View at Sunset
One of the most iconic vistas in Big Bend National Park is the Window View, formed by a break in the cliffs of the Chisos Mountains through which the distant, rugged landscape becomes visible. And perhaps the best time to catch the view is at sunset.
When we were at the park earlier this month, the spring season was still too young for us to see the setting sun actually break into the Window View for a truly spectacular vision. Nonetheless, the nearby rocks and the distant landscape turned golden in the waning daylight.
This has proved to be the most difficult of all my pictures from the trip to process—even more so than the panorama that I posted yesterday. I often auto-bracket my photos, especially if I have a tripod along and I know it’s a scene with drastic contrasts that won’t be exposed properly with a single image. Sometimes I auto-bracket and find that the middle exposure is all I need to bring out details in both the shadows and the highlights—especially if I shoot RAW and I’m using Lightroom. A sunset, however, is just too hard to capture properly in one exposure, unless you can live with a completely silhouetted foreground and/or blown highlights in the sky. I found that for this particular scene, I really couldn’t capture its essence as I remember it without using all three of my auto-bracketed images.
Since I don’t have special HDR software, I must manually combine the images using layer masks in Photoshop Elements. I’ve tried this on a number of images, and I don’t usually find that the labor involved is worth the results. Quite frankly, after the hours it took me to complete the image you see here, my opinion hasn’t changed much. I tried a few different tricks to combine the images so it doesn’t look like there are actually three different photos represented here, a significant feat if you are as averse to “halos” in your HDR images as I am. I think I more or less succeeded in avoiding the halos, but I’m still not convinced that the final image captures the jaw-dropping beauty of the original scene well enough to call it worth the detailed work it took to get there.
My favorite part is the rock on the left-hand side of the Window View that is reflecting the last moments of the golden sunset. I cropped the image so that it would be right in the “rule of thirds” placement in the hopes that it would be a focal point for the viewer. It reminds me a bit of some of the paintings from the Hudson River School, representing the works of phenomenal landscape painters who mastered capturing the light of nature as skillfully as anyone ever has. Unfortunately, I don’t feel much of the rest of the image deserves such comparison.
What do you think?