Images of Bryce Canyon National Park – Utah

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)

Nikon D7000, 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 VR, f/11, 1/500, ISO-400
Nikon D7000, 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 VR, f/11, 1/500, ISO-400

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.

Nikon D7000, Nikkor 70-300 f/4.5-5.6 VR, f/6.3, 1/1000, ISO-400, 70mm
Nikon D7000, Nikkor 70-300 f/4.5-5.6 VR, f/6.3, 1/1000, ISO-400, 70mm

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.

Nikon D7000, Nikkor 70-300 f/4.5-5.6 VR, f/7.1, 1/800, ISO-400, 75mm
Nikon D7000, Nikkor 70-300 f/4.5-5.6 VR, f/7.1, 1/800, ISO-400, 75mm

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.

Nikon D7000, Nikkor 70-300 f/4.5-5.6 VR, f/5.6, 1/800, ISO-400, 70mm
Nikon D7000, Nikkor 70-300 f/4.5-5.6 VR, f/5.6, 1/800, ISO-400, 70mm

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.

Nikon D7000, Nikkor 70-300 f/4.5-5.6 VR, f/7.1, 1/800, ISO-400, 70mm
Nikon D7000, Nikkor 70-300 f/4.5-5.6 VR, f/7.1, 1/800, ISO-400, 70mm

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.

Nikon D7000, Nikkor 70-300 f/4.5-5.6 VR, f/7.1, 1/800, ISO-400, 98mm
Nikon D7000, Nikkor 70-300 f/4.5-5.6 VR, f/7.1, 1/800, ISO-400, 98mm

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.

Nikon D7000, Nikkor 70-300 f/4.5-5.6 VR, f/8, 1/250, ISO-400, 70mm
Nikon D7000, Nikkor 70-300 f/4.5-5.6 VR, f/8, 1/250, ISO-400, 70mm

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.

Nikon D7000, Nikkor 70-300 f/4.5-5.6 VR, f/9, 1/320, ISO-400, 70mm
Nikon D7000, Nikkor 70-300 f/4.5-5.6 VR, f/9, 1/320, ISO-400, 70mm

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.

Nikon D7000, Nikkor 70-300 f/4.5-5.6 VR, f/6.3, 1/640, ISO-400, 70mm
Nikon D7000, Nikkor 70-300 f/4.5-5.6 VR, f/6.3, 1/640, ISO-400, 70mm

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.

Nikon D7000, Nikkor 70-300 f/4.5-5.6 VR, f/5.6, 1/500, ISO-400, 70mm
Nikon D7000, Nikkor 70-300 f/4.5-5.6 VR, f/5.6, 1/500, ISO-400, 70mm

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.

Nikon D7000, Nikkor 70-300 f/4.5-5.6 VR, f/6.3, 1/640, ISO-400, 70mm
Nikon D7000, Nikkor 70-300 f/4.5-5.6 VR, f/6.3, 1/640, ISO-400, 70mm

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.

Nikon D7000, Nikkor 70-300 f/4.5-5.6 VR, f/8, 1/400, ISO-400, 70mm
Nikon D7000, Nikkor 70-300 f/4.5-5.6 VR, f/8, 1/400, ISO-400, 70mm

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.

Nikon D7000, Nikkor 70-300 f/4.5-5.6 VR, f/8, 1/400, ISO-400, 70mm
Nikon D7000, Nikkor 70-300 f/4.5-5.6 VR, f/8, 1/400, ISO-400, 70mm

Now let’s look at 100% crops of the same images. Here is the original jpeg.

Bryce Canyon Image 14 crop

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.

 

Bryce Canyon Image 15 cropa

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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12 thoughts on “Images of Bryce Canyon National Park – Utah”

  1. Hi Tom
    Don’t you use for landscape any filters such as a GND or a polarizer,? if yes what makes and models ?.

    Your pics looks as good as the first time you posted them.

    regards
    Luc

    1. Hi Luc,

      I have a 77mm Nikon polarizing filter that I used with my FX and DX gear when I was shooting with those formats. Now I occasionally use it with my Nikon 1 gear if I’m using a lens like the 10-100mm f/4.5-5.6 PD zoom as I only need a small step-up ring. From time to time I use polarizing filters with my Nikon 1 gear, usually B+W. I am leaning more and more to using my set of Lee graduated neutral density filters (soft edge) with my Nikon 1 gear as I find I can hold them in front of a small sized 1 Nikon lens quite easily and get the effect I want.

      I did not use any filters when I was shooting the Bryce Canyon images, relying on the terrific dynamic range and colour depth of the Nikon D7000. I took some images with a D600 on that trip as well, but unfortunately I had serious issues with oil on the sensor and after the first couple of days I had to use my backup camera (D7000) for the balance of the trip which included Bryce Canyon.

      Tom

    1. Hi Mike,

      My wife and I would go back to Utah in a heartbeat! It has some of the most magnificent scenery we’ve ever seen. If you ever plan a trip to Utah I’d also recommend Monument Valley, Arches National Park, and Zion National Park to name a few other great places in the area.

      Tom

  2. Hi Tom
    Thanks for your great response. A few years ago, Scott Kelby was showing how to prepare images of sunsets, and I like that he mentionned that it doesn’t matter what was the white balance at the shooting time, its more important he said to choose at post the WB that gives the image the look you feel adds the most power saying only you was there at the shooting time so nobody can negatively comment you are selecting the wrong value. Tom please don’t change a winning strategy whatever the others have to say about it. I use LR for years and got trained by kelby training and I know I can not get theses kind of results only using it. Many photographers such as Matt Klowskosky use other softwares such as Photo perfect suite “dynamic contrast” to add some magic in their photos, while others like you use Topaz or Nikk plugins. I will surely try to follow your advises.
    Many thanks again
    regards

    1. Hi Luc,

      I think that was good advice from Scott Kelby. At the end of the day it all comes down to what we individually want our finished images to communicate and there are many routes to take us there! There are all kinds of software solutions on the market and individual users can get great results from various platforms. The most important thing is for each of us to find something that works for us that helps us bring to life the images that are in our minds. Experimentation and experience both play a hand in that.

      The Pro Contrast adjustment in the Color Efex Pro 4 portion of Nik is a dynamic contrast setting. You may want to play with this setting as well as the polarization setting with your landscape images as both can help add some ‘pop’ to your final images. You’ll need to be careful though as adding too much of either one tends to put some grain back in your images. If that happens you could run a quick Define 2 auto scan to remove it and not hurt your final image too much.

      Tom

  3. Hi Tom
    Amazed by the results with such a basic combo … The saturated colors, the details (no sharpness halos) showing very professionnal work. I already have used “Clearview” but with mix result. After seeing your pics it shows me clearly that I am probably not doing the right thing. I also have the Nikk plugins, that I never took the time to learn except for the module “dfine 2”

    1. Hi Luc,

      Thanks for the positive words – always appreciated!

      Clearview can be a bit tricky to use and is best done sparingly at first. I have found that the best thing to do when starting to adjust Clearview is to grab the slider and drop it on the extreme left hand side, after that then I slowly move it towards the right. When I get an overall level that’s getting close to the idea I have in my mind then I stop and make some adjustments with highlights, shadows etc. I find this helps me avoid too much Clearview adjustment. Also, using Smart Lighting in conjunction with Clearview to get the ‘foundation’ look I want to achieve can be helpful.

      The Nik Suite has got a couple of programs inside it that I really like for landscape work: Viveza 2 and Color Efex Pro 4. If you start playing around with these programs you’ll find some interesting ways to help execute ‘final tweaks’ with your images such as the polarization and pro contast in Color Efex Pro 4, and the structure adjustment in Viveza 2. I suspect that similar adjustments can likely be made with other programs but when I find specific adjustments that really work for me I’m not hesitant to use multiple software programs to achieve the exact look I want. I’ve been criticized for this in the past, but it really doesn’t matter to me. I just do what works for me.

      As far as the ‘halo’ effect that can result from too much sharpening, this is always a challenge as most of us tend to be a bit fanatical when it comes to having images look ‘sharp’. Part of the challenge is that as individuals we tend to see images somewhat differently. To achieve the look I want I don’t put too much emphasis on the ‘sharpening’ adjustments, and when I use them I try not to overdue them. I incorporate some contrast, micro contrast, structure and other things from time to time to get a mix that my eye perceives as ‘sharp’. I guess its the same as all of us being chefs – we all start with the same ingredients and how we choose to combine them ends up in the final meal we prepare. As long as a lens is covered by the lens softness tool in DxO OpticsPro 10 I never use the sharpening function in OpticsPro 10. I haven’t used the sharpening adjustments in CS6 for quite a while – and to be frank – I never liked using them anyway.

      Hope this has helped…

      Tom

  4. Fantastic shots Tom! I must admit that we lived in Salt Lake for 8 years and didn’t make the short trip down to southern Utah until we moved to Texas (a much longer journey!).

    We discovered the magic of that area, Arches, likely being our favorite and the wonderful small towns like Moab.

    We need another visit there for sure! Thanks for sharing…

    Mike

    1. Hi Mike,

      Thanks for the positive comment about the images…much appreciated! My wife and I would love to go back to Utah and the ‘four corners’ area in general It has some of the most spectacular scenery we’ve ever seen, and many small, friendly towns. We also enjoyed Arches National Park as well as many of the other natural wonders in the area. I’m planning a few more articles using images from that trip, and possibly a trip we did to Arizona.

      Funny how we often miss the sights that are right under our noses…you during your time in Salt Lake City…and me living here in the Niagara Peninsula.

      Tom

  5. That clearview feature is quite interesting. Presumably one could achieve the same/similar result using Clarity, Contrast, Local Contrast, and Sharpness, but having one slider that removes haze opens up possibilities.

    Thank you for the review of DxO Clearview! 😉
    Christopher

    1. Hi Christopher,

      Yes, I think the effects of ClearView could be replicated in other software programs. I agree with your assessment that it combines things like Clarity and Contrast. The improvement with apparent sharpness likely has more to do with the DxO Lens Softness function than with ClearViewa although it would contribute somewhat. From the overall effects of ClearView it appears to also make some changes in Vibrance and Saturation. I also used the DxO Smart Lighting presets which adjust dynamic range.

      Tom

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