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Catskill View, Hudson Valley / Canon 1Ds mk III, f/5.6 @1/160 sec, ISO 200, 180mm, no filters

I hike many of the same trails over and over again in the Hudson Valley, partly for the exercise, mostly because it reminds me of how fortunate I am to have access to nature’s beauty on a continual basis. Nature relaxes me, helps me think and see more clearly, and more than any other activity, gives me a sense of presence I don’t get anywhere else.

The camera comes along as a way to capture some of these experiences, to express in a medium what I feel when I’m aware of every breath I take. Time slows down from my perspective, and composition is how I try to suggest to a viewer what that feeling is like.

Because the location is often the same, it forces me…no, it invites me to look more deeply at what’s in front of me. I rather enjoy the challenge of finding new ways to capture the familiar because it trains me stay curious, and curiosity is often the key that unlocks creativity.

So once again I made the long climb up Mt Beacon, not expecting anything more than what I had already been given, another experience in nature. Once I got to the top however, I knew I had the potential for a dramatic image. Far off in the distance, I saw lots of stratocumulus clouds directly over the Catskill Mountains with beautiful golden light flickering in and out of the many ridges.

I immediately switched to my longest lens, the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS, because I wanted to capture as much of that drama in the frame as possible. My initial captures seemed too complex, without a clear sense of direction. There were too many colors, to much for the viewer to take in, and that’s where I start to simplify and remove all but the necessary.

I continued to zoom in until I had reached 180mm, and that’s when I finally decided to make the image into a panorama. By that I mean that I cropped in my view finder, ignoring everything below and above the center of the viewfinder. I didn’t stitch because I simply didn’t think I would have enough time to setup the camera properly and take the necessary images.


This was the scene when I arrived at the summit. Within minutes, the light started to filter through the clouds in the distance, throwing magical light on the distant mountains. That was my focus and I forgot about everything else in my peripheral vision.
This was my final capture, and the red rectangle shows what I approximated in my viewfinder as the final panorama.

Why a panorama? I thought he strongest composition needed to emphasize the interaction between the clouds, the mountains, and the light. For that to work, I needed to get rid of anything the didn’t add to that group of three things, like the extra clouds and sky above the main cloud, and the near foreground, which would just be a distraction.

Getting the right composition in camera is really important because any subsequent cropping would compromise print size. so I really made sure to double check my left and right edges and find a nice balance of the ridges from left to right.

The composition itself is all about rhythm and pattern, left to right, top to bottom. There’s the energy between the mountains and sky, and for that to work mainly due to the colors that pull you towards the center, from cool to warm. It’s a very simple image, yet so much going on so I think it’s the uniformity of the layers that make the image look and feel unified. Take away any part if the clouds or light in the ridges and that uniformity and balance is lost. 

Developing in Lightroom

My imported RAW file – notice that I purposely “exposed to the right” to take advantage of the sensors sensitivity and capture as many tones as possible. It looks washed out, but a simple reduction in exposure (see below) adds the richness I saw and provides a cleaner richer data file.
Notice how I recover the richer tones by lowering the exposure, but I’m working with richer tones and data because I exposed to the right initially.

Editing in Lightroom was straight forward, and the first thing I did was crop to the desired panorama. From there I optimized the tonal values using the white and black point sliders, added vibrance and clarity to taste, and added some subtle dodging and burning to the mountain ridges to emphasize tonal variation and increase depth.

The Print

Once again I selected a matte paper to emphasize the richness of the colors and light, and also add to the drama of the image without making it look “photographic.” I want to convey the feel of the scene, not the actual content, and for that a matte paper is better suited than a fiber or luster paper which will emphasize contrast and a literal interpretation.

Canson Infinity PrintMaking Rag seemed ideal since it’s subtle but velvety texture would complement the changing textures in the image, from the foreground to the clouds in the sky. Because the image relies on colors, shapes and tones for separation, the texture unifies the entire print adding depth and dimension.

Final print at 14×42 printed on Canon iPF8400 on Canson Infinity PrintMaking Rag 310gsm.
The beautiful texture of PrintMaking Rag adds depth and an organic look and feel that emphasizes the content and feel of the image.

I hope you enjoyed this photo journal entry as I try to deconstruct an image from my initial compositional thoughts to the selection of paper for printing.

Questions or comments, let me know! Thanks for reading!

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This Post Has 9 Comments

  1. Robert, Absolutely beautiful photograph!

    I am looking forward to the workshop in Moab in a few weeks! I am traveling with my photo buddy, Martha Villada. See you soon!

  2. Hi Robert,
    Thank you for sharing this, both the appeal to the discipline of creativity and the technical side.
    I’m also particularly appreciative, because this is probably my favorite of yours. Why? Well, not only for the energy the image conveys, but mostly because it’s my place. I instantly connected to it because of place, and also because I know the feeling, I can feel the wind, and light, and fresh air! I can smell it! It’s invigorating!

    When I say it’s “my place”, I mean it’s the iconic skyline I grew up with! As a kid, I always looked across the valley to the ridge with the Mohonk Tower, whether illuminated by the rising sun, or in full midday sun, or watching the summer thunderstorms coming across the valley, or seeing it silhouetted at sundown; and then the Catskills in the background. This was my childhood playground: the Gunks and Catskills! So this one is very personal and special for me!
    Thank you!


    1. Thanks for the feedback Hillel, and for sharing your personal connection to the Gunks-while I didn’t grow up around them, they have certainly become a special place for me and my family over the past 20 years.

  3. Thanks so much, Robert, for taking us through the process of making an image from concept to print. So helpful and enlightening!

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