City of Silver – The Infrared of Bryce Canyon

City of Silver. Bryce Canton National Park Utah, Infrared. Spring 2011, Gavin Seim

The spires of Bryce Canyon make me think of the ruins of an ancient city. They feel timeless, their detailed pattern texture glaring into my eyes as they’re struck by the light. The place is absolutely stunning.

But it’s not simple. It’s vast and intricate, so bringing its sun-washed beauty into a two dimensional frame is a challenge. With this scene, the simplicity of a black and white image allowed me to focus on the study of line and tone, leaving the color we’re familiar with from the Utah red rock to be filled in from our own minds.

For Photographers. How it was made…

Canon 5D MK2, 24mm TE-e, f13, ISO200, 25sec

I came into Bryce at sunrise, but I saw this scene at Fairyland Point on my way out when the sun was fairly high in the sly. The light was bright sunshine, nothing like the subtle glow of sunset or sunrise. Yet, I’ve found that sometimes with a monochromatic image, the light does not always work the same way. Not that good light becomes in any way unimportant, but it may differ.

I planned a black and white image right off, but then went further, adding a Marumi 700nm infrared filter to completely alter the way the light was absorbed. The 5D MK2 has built in protection against IR light, so I believe the effect is quite different than if I had used an infrared modified body. The filter blocks nearly all visible light, and the limited sensitivity of the camera to IR light meant a long exposure.

Even in bright sunlight at 200 ISO, I exposed this for 35 seconds. I’ll post the very red result below. This is not the soft color infrared that we sometimes see from an infrared converted camera. When converted to black and white, however, everything changed. See the second example.

My process here was intensive. In the initial conversion, the scene is very light, but no white clipping is present. The main concern for me was similar to what I deal with in many intricate or broad landscapes: keeping the scene clutter-free and simple.

I used a combination of black and white settings and finally went into Photoshop to spend a good amount of time working the tone with burning and dodging. I worked very carefully around the towers, using the light that was there, but increasing and decreasing its tone and variations to control the way the eye scans the scene and makes each tower stand apart from the others.

Gavin Seim

The plain image from camera using the IR filter.
The initail LR processed image after presets and tweaks, but before detailed tone controll in PS.

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About the Author

Glad you're here.

I'm from WA State USA and started studying photography in 97. I started work as a pro (using that word loosely because I sucked) using film at age 16. I learned fast but was not as easy to find training then. Sometimes I beat my head against the wall until I figured stuff out.

As digital dawned I went all in and got to study with masters like Ken Whitmire. In 09 I founded the Pro Photo Show podcast. I started promoting tone-focused editing. When Lightroom arrived, I started developing tools to make editing and workflow better.

20 years of study and photography around the country earned me a Master of Photography (M.Photog) from PPA. I got to see my workshops and tools featured in publications across the industry. Once I even won the prestigious HotOne award for my "EXposed" light and tone workshop.

Wanting something calmer, I moved to Mexico in 2017. It's a land of magical light. I'm here now exploring light and trying to master my weak areas. I make videos of that for my Youtube channel, sharing what I learn. I hope you'll stick around and be part of Light Hunters Tribe... Gavin

Gavin Seim

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