Behind the Shot: The Shadow Towers
In this article I'd like to take you on a nighttime adventure to the remote Torres Del Paine National Park in Chilean Patagonia. This highly photographed park has attracted many photographers, and for good reason: it offers incredible mountainous landscapes and wonderful weather conditions, making for very interesting photography.
There are many hiking routes in the park, which range from relatively easy to hard. After visiting Patagonia in 2014 to scout for my 'Giants of the Andes' workshop and Fitz Roy Hiking Annex, I regretted not being able to explore more of the hiking trails. I swore to go back and do some more hiking and shooting. I did just that earlier this year, just before guiding my groups. It was a bit of an adventure, and things didn't always go as I had planned, but I got a few results I'm happy with. This article is about one of them, entitled 'The Shadow Towers'.
|'The Shadow Towers', Parque Nacional Torres Del Paine, Chile.
Canon 5Ds R, Samyang 14mm F2.8
Getting There and Being There
The Torres Del Paine are the distinctive three granite peaks of the Paine Massif. They are visible from long distances away, but to truly appreciate them, you really need to hike closer. It's a day hike, taking a few hours to reach the base camp at the bottom of the Torres and another hour or two (depending on your fitness level) from camp to the lagoon from which I took the shot. This last leg is pretty tough with several hundred meters of elevation gain, along a path which is sometimes quite steep.
My planning went more or less like this: I had rented a car from El Calafate, Argentina, a few days before, and planned to drive all the way to Torres Del Paine and do the hike all in one go, if weather agreed. The moon was going to be full, and it was going to rise directly opposite the Torres, which I had hoped would illuminate the tops of the peaks and make for a very interestingly-lit shot. A couple of days beforehand the forecast indicated clear skies, and it seemed like everything was going as planned.
Back to El Calafate. I picked up my car early in the morning and made the 6-hour drive to the park. Upon reaching the start of the trail, I packed the necessities - tent, sleeping bag, some food and all my photography gear in a backpack (which weighed in at a not-too-comfortable 15+ Kg) and began hiking. The sun was shining strongly and I was wearing a light shirt and shorts for most of the hike, even though it was already autumn.
The hike to base camp wasn't too hard. It seemed long after all the driving but elevation gain was moderate, at least after the first several km. Beautiful sights were abundant throughout. After about 4 hours I reached camp in the late afternoon and set up my tent. I was a bit tired but I couldn't get any peace. I decided to climb to the viewpoint that same evening.
I left the tent - and everything else which wasn't crucial - in camp, and started the steep hike. It wasn't easy at all with the heavy weight on my back, but I made the effort and after 1 or 1.5 hours, I was standing on the rocky edge of the glacial lagoon at the Torres viewpoint - Mirador de las Torres. Last light was approaching and I used the remaining visibility to find a sheltered place to put my sleeping bag for the night. I had heard that there was a cave nearby but didn't have the time to find it, and so I settled for a spot surrounded by rocks, which would shelter me from strong winds. I did a bit of scouting around the lagoon before dark, to find a suitable composition.
|My sheltered bivvy spot. Pardon the cell phone shot.|
Darkness fell and I had to rest a bit from the long day and tough hike. I was waiting for the moon to rise when clouds began rolling in. I was very disappointed, since that meant I wasn't going to get the kind of light I was hoping for. I kept on waiting and viewing the movement of the clouds and moon. At some point the moon began peeking between the clouds and producing interesting patches of light on the lagoon and the mountains. It was then that I knew I had an opportunity to create a good shot.
The light was changing very rapidly at this point, and due to the strong moonlight, I could see very contrasty shadow moving over the lagoon, which was exceptionally beautiful and exciting. I took several shots in the changing light. At some point, the moon was strongly illuminating the lagoon and foreground rocks, while the Torres themselves remained in shadow. It was an awesome sight, and I tried to convey what I saw with my camera.
|Another shot I took on the same shoot, with different composition and light conditions.|
After finishing my shoot I went back to the sleeping bag and rested a bit, hoping to shoot some more later with different light. But as it often is with nature photography, things began to deteriorate quickly. More and more clouds came over and I decided to try to get some sleep before trying again. I got perhaps half an hour of bad sleep when it started to rain on me. This was an unexpected turn of events and I was afraid I'd have to sleep in a wet sleeping bag, which was really not how I had planned to pass that night.
Luckily I had a very good sleeping bag (thank you Feathered Friends!) which was highly water resistant, and apart from some dampness in the zipper area, kept me protected and dry. Still, I have to admit lying there, hiding in the sleeping bag under pouring rain, utterly alone at night, more than an hour's hike away from any other living soul, wasn't too much fun.
After a few hours or rain, the sun was about to rise. Sadly, the Torres were shrouded in fog by then, rendering them completely invisible. The hikers who were arriving to see the sunrise were disappointed. I packed my gear and hiked back down, all the way to the car. Even the 2-minute drive to the nearby restaurant was agony, but once I got my big, juicy hamburger I was a happy man.
Settings and Execution
I took this shot with my Canon 5DsR and Samyang 14mm F2.8 lens. The image is focus stacked from 2 exposures, since I used F2.8 and depth of field was quite small. One image was focused on the foreground rocks, the other on the mountains in the background. Since I used an ultra-wide angle lens, 2 images were enough to cover the depth range.
I used ISO 800 and a 13 second exposure. Here are the 2 original RAW files.
The main element in the composition is a virtual spiral running from the big rock on the right, through the foreground rocks and all the way to the mountains. Here's an illustration.
I decided to leave a relatively large space above the Torres to show some more of the texture and movement on clouds, and to leave some room above the left peak.
The most important part of the image is the obscure silhouette of the Torres - giving it its mysterious feel, and, of course, its title.
As time goes by, I tend to do less and less post processing. This is both an aesthetic decision and an ideological one. The main things I put an emphasis on here are maintaining fidelity to the actual scene as I saw it and making sure the final image still looked like a night shot, while still keeping details in the dark areas.
The first thing I did was correct the lens aberrations using ACR's profile correction. I also made a few global adjustments, shown below. No local adjustments were done.
I then saved the 2 files as TIFFs and went on to Photoshop. I put the images as layers and used Edit > Auto Align Layers to align them. After aligning, I cropped the image a bit.
As to the focus stacking itself: to get the sharp parts from both images, I used the eraser tool to expose the right section of each of the shots. This was done by eye.
At this stage I had a focus-stacked, almost complete image, needing but a few last adjustments. Firstly, since the image was still too bright (as visible in the histogram), I used the curves tool to darken the image with more emphasis on the lighter parts. I wanted a darker result, to better convey the night atmosphere and to be more realistic, all that without losing detail in the shadows.
After taking the contrast down in ACR, I wanted to take it back up a bit in a controllable fashion. To do this I used luminosity selections. I selected a mid-range mask and applied a levels adjustment layer on it.
I also added a bit of local contrast using dodge and burn in LAB color mode, to avoid color shifts. I added some saturation, to bring out the natural colors in the lagoon and rocks, performed size reduction and some sharpening and I was done.
Erez Marom is a professional nature photographer, photography guide and traveler based in Israel. You can follow Erez's work on Instagram, Facebook and 500px, and subscribe to his mailing list for updates.
If you'd like to experience and shoot some of the most fascinating landscapes on earth with Erez as your guide, you're welcome to take a look at his unique photography workshops around the world:
Land of Ice - Southern Iceland
Winter Paradise - Northern Iceland
Northern Spirits - The Lofoten Islands
Giants of the Andes and Fitz Roy Hiking Annex - Patagonia
Tales of Arctic Nights - Greenland
Saga of the Seas and The Far Reaches Annex - The Faroe Islands
Desert Storm - Namibia
Selected articles by Erez Marom:
- Behind the Shot: Dark Matter
- Mountain Magic: Shooting in the Lofoten Islands
- Behind the Shot: Nautilus
- Behind the Shot: Lost in Space
- Behind the Shot: Spot the Shark
- Quick Look: The Art of the Unforeground
- Whatever it Doesn't Take
- Winds of Change: Shooting changing landscapes
- On the Importance of Naming Images
- Parallelism in Landscape Photography
After a massive leak last week, Profoto has officially debuted the Profoto A1: the company's first on-camera flash system that they're calling "the world's smallest studio flash."
"When the first hyperfocal distance charts were designed, someone decided that an acceptably sharp background contained some blur — enough to notice in a medium-sized print [...] After that point, nearly every other hyperfocal chart followed suit."
The Canon EOS Rebel SL2 (also known as the EOS 200D) is the company's impressively compact entry-level DSLR. Packing a 24MP APS-C sensor, DIGIC 7 processor and Dual Pixel AF, it promises a lot of bang for the buck. And while not mind-blowing, it handles most tasks very well.
Correct these four common composition mistakes and your photos will be more balanced, tell a better story, and lead your viewer's eye where you want it to go.
The rugged, compact 360° action camera Kodak unveiled at Photokina in 2016, the Kodak PixPro Orbit 360, is finally available in the United States.
iOS 11 launches tomorrow, and it'll save all of your pictures in a new high efficiency image format called HEIC. Fortunately, there's now a converter that will let you turn those photos back into JPEGs.
Photo protection company ImageRights recently released a new service that lets non-subscribers take advantage of their streamlined copyright registration system that checks for errors and fills out all the required forms for you.
What's the difference between a $200 circular polarizing filter and a $100 circular polarizing filter? Roger Cicala at Lens Rentals put six different filters through a few tests to find out.
A flurry of leaks reveal that GoPro's upcoming Hero6 will shoot 4K at 60fps, 1080p at 240fps, will cost $500, and is scheduled for announcement/release on September 28th.
Before he became the iconic director whose name we've all heard, a teenage Stanley Kubrick struck up a business relationship with New York’s Look magazine. No surprise: he was an incredibly talented photographer.
WD's new G-Technology G-Drive mobile SSD R-Series is a portable solid state option for photographers who want the reliability of an SSD in a rugged water and dust-resistant package.
Fast, stabilized and affordable is an appealing combination when it comes to lenses. With its latest 24-70mm F2.8, Tamron aims to upgrade autofocus speed and stabilization. We've got a full gallery from this updated full-frame zoom.
Photographer Clay Cook tells the story of his most ambitious photographic dream and career goal coming true: photographing A-list actress Jennifer Lawrence.
In an interview with a Chinese website, Nikon Japan's Director of Development dropped a bombshell, saying that a Nikon mirrorless camera "must be full-frame."
Here's a side-by-side spec comparison of two flagship devices with particular attention to the things that really matter – at least to people who prioritize photography features.
A month and a half after revealing the finalists of the 2017 EyeEm Awards, the photo sharing community and licensing marketplace has finally revealed the winners.
Photographer Josselin Cornou tells the breathtaking story behind two beautiful photos captured while snorkeling with humpback whales in Tonga.
The Sony RX10 IV is a fixed lens camera with a 1"-type sensor and 24-600mm equivalent lens that can shoot 4K video or stills at 24 fps, but that's not what we think is interesting about it. The addition of phase detection autofocus is pivotal to all those features.
The announcement date is set! Google will reveal their next generation Pixel phones—their response to Apple's shiny new iPhone X—on October 4th. Let the smartphone camera wars begin.
Sony just debuted three palm-style 4K camcorders that steal a bit of speedy phase detect autofocus technology from the company's RX10 IV. In fact, they kind of improve on it.
Earlier today, NASA's Cassini spacecraft plunged into Saturn's atmosphere, ending a 20 year long mission. Here are 21 of our favorite photographs captured by this incredible machine and its makers.
Fans of film photography should keep an eye out for the widespread theatrical release of Kodachrome, a movie staring Jason Sudeikis about the final days of the iconic film stock.
Photographer Manny Ortiz breaks down the pros and cons of shooting natural light vs off-camera flash, and explains why he chooses to shoot one, the other, or both in any given situation.
A leaked product page and a bunch of leaked photos shows Profoto is preparing to release its first ever speedlight: the Profoto A1 Air TTL
The Yashica camera brand disappeared in 2003, but a new teaser video and website hint at a comeback. Excited?
Western Digital just debuted a new, higher capacity WD Gold internal hard drive. The new drive offers 12TB of storage and class-leading reliability to the tune of a 550TB/year workload rating.
The new Godox XPRO-C is an affordable, highly capable flash trigger for Canon users that boasts a lot of useful features at a very reasonable price.
Tamron is working on a lightweight, durable and compact 100-400mm tele-zoom lens that will be available for Canon and Nikon cameras by the end of the year.
The Nikon D850 promises equal parts resolution and speed. On a trip to Bend, Oregon, we had the chance to try it out with fashion, sports, landscapes, and more. Check out our updated sample gallery to see how it fared.
A leaked photo of the upcoming GoPro Hero6 in its final retail packaging shows a powerful little camera that will be able to shoot 4K video at 60 frames per second.