How the Art Happens - Sunset at the Dike

May 19, 2021  •  Leave a Comment

Sunset at the DikeSunset at the DikeThe last light of the day paints Ruby and Owen peaks with red alpenglow along the West Elk Loop near Crested Butte, Colorado.

Sunset at the Dike

The West Elk Loop scenic drive offers lots of opportunities for great landscape photos. This overlook at Horse Ranch Park is one of the best and most popular places in Colorado for capturing fall colors at sunset. It can be a great place to find famous and infamous photographers from all over the world in early October.

I have been making pictures from this spot for over 30 years and it still hasn't gotten old yet. It does come with some challenges though. First, the sun needs a straight shot to the peaks of Ruby and Owen Mountain. That doesn't happen every day and sometimes it doesn't happen for a week or longer. The second thing that I need to happen is having some interesting clouds in the sky. That doesn't happen every evening either. Another significant challenge is that the colorful aspen forest below the peaks is in deep shadow by the time the peaks light up. This is where technology can come to the rescue.

After photographing this scene dozens of times with neutral density filters and also trying to pull detail out of the deep shadows, I decided to try something different. There is a process of using a variety of multiple exposures and combining them in Adobe Photoshop to create a single image with detail in both the bright and dark areas of the scene. This technique is called HDR. I discovered that it can also be successful using a single exposure in a program I use for my real estate photos. The program is Aurora HDR and has a few advantages over Photoshop but takes significantly longer to process a file.

As I was "playing" with some older images a few weeks ago it occurred to me that I may be able to reprocess this image from a few years ago and get it to a place that I may want to print it. After a little trial and more than a few errors, I was able to get everything looking correctly balanced. While the scene never really looks like this to the naked eye, it does feel like this when the magic happens. I hope you enjoy "Sunset at the Dike".


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Crested Butte, Colorado photographer, Dusty Demerson creates fine art photography displayed as prints and canvases and provides private photo tours in and around western Colorado.

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