The Southwestern United States has some magnificent scenery with many of its most spectacular locations protected as National Parks. Bryce Canyon National Park is one such treasure and should be on the ‘must see’ list of any photographer that loves dramatic landscapes. Bryce Canyon is named after the Mormon pioneer Ebenezer Bryce, a Scottish immigrant who settled in the area in 1874. The area was designated a National Park in 1928 and encompasses 56.2 square miles (145.6 square km). For more information about this inspiring national park click on this link.
(NOTE: click on images to enlarge them)
Bryce Canyon is actually not a canyon but a collection of giant amphitheatres. These are populated by rock formations called hoodoos which were formed by frost weathering and stream erosion. Their colours and shapes are simply spectacular, as well as their sheer numbers. Travel to Bryce Canyon is best done in the late spring through fall as it sits at a high elevation varying from 8,000 to 9,000 feet (2,400 to 2,700 m). As a result the area receives abundant snowfall in the winter. More adventurous folks may enjoy strapping on some snowshoes and following some of the marked trails during winter months.
We visited Bryce Canyon National Park a few years ago in late October and we were treated to an interesting mix of weather as we travelled along the scenic drive. This paved road provides access to 13 viewpoints overlooking the various amphitheatres. During the one day we spent at Bryce Canyon we went from bright sunshine and modest temperatures to intense, localized mini-blizzards, and back to sunshine again. The speed at which the weather changed was mind-boggling.
Since our visit was at the end of the season, and a bit rushed, we were not able to take advantage of the range of activities available in the park including camping, telescope stargazing, moonlit guided hikes and the ranger program. When visiting Bryce Canyon National Park you should allow a minimum of a ½ day to travel the scenic drive and view the outlook points.
All of the images used in this article were taken with a Nikon D7000 and a Nikkor 70-300 f/4.5-5.6 VR telephoto zoom. Even though this is a more consumer-oriented body/lens combination it performed very well.
As you view the various images in this article you’ll notice a significant variance in the lighting conditions: from bright sunlight that caused some haze and glare, to very dark threatening skies. As a result I really appreciated the dynamic range of the D7000.
I hadn’t looked at any of these images for a couple of years and started to go through them this week on a whim more than anything else. As I was casually going through them it struck me that they looked like great candidates on which to try the new ClearView function in DxO OpticsPro 10.
According to DxOMark the ClearView function is designed to remove atmospheric haze from landscape images as well as the effects of pollutants in urban scenes. Based on the jpeg versions of my images they certainly looked like they could use the help! Most recently I had played around with this new ClearView function with some bird images I used in some of my recent articles (yeah, I know this is not the use DxO intended but I always love to experiment) and found it capable of rendering some impressive results, although I did need to apply this function carefully.
I also thought these Bryce Canyon images were good subjects to test a few OpticsPro 10 presets and use some of its functions like DxO Smart Lighting and DxO Lens Softness. I think most folks shooting images on holidays don’t really want to spend a lot of time doing work in post so I experimented with some settings to see if I could come up with a general approach that generated good, overall results and was easy to execute.
The basic DxO OpticsPro 10 process I used was as follows:
1) Applied Landscape Standard preset
2) Moved DxO Smart Lighting to Strong
3) Set DxO ClearView to about 30
4) Set DxO lens softness Global to about 1.20 and Details to about 70.
Depending on the image some adjustments were made with Selective Tones (mainly highlights and shadows with the occasional Midtone adjustment). This approach generated files that looked significantly better than the out-of-camera jpegs and didn’t consume much time at all.
I then exported DGN files into CS6 for some additional adjustments, and then final tweaks with Nik Suite. I know it may seem strange to do this additional work in these other programs, but I’ve found there are a few adjustments in these other programs that are either unique to those programs, or just simply execute better in terms of generating results as I envision things in my mind.
Below is an out-of-camera jpeg. This image was taken with a Nikon D7000 and a Nikkor 70-300 f/4.5-5.6 VR lens, f/8, 1/400, ISO-400, 70mm. You can see how the image suffers from atmospheric haze, has an overall soft and bland look, and suffers from a lack of colour definition.
Here is the same image after the RAW file was processed with the basic DxO OpticsPro 10 approach noted above, and after some additional adjustments were made in CS6 and Nik Suite.
Now let’s look at 100% crops of the same images. Here is the original jpeg.
The softness of the consumer-oriented Nikkor 70-300 f/4.5-5.6 VR lens is clearly evident. Now let’s look at the processed image from the RAW file, paying special attention to the improvements generated by the DxO Lens Softness tool as well as ClearView.
If you are shooting with a lens that is not covered by the DxO Lens Softness function, there are sharpness adjustments available in DxO OpticsPro 10
Regardless of the camera and lenses that you are currently shooting with, if you shoot in RAW and use readily available and affordable software you can dramatically improve the quality of your images.
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