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Take a risk
This photograph of Blue Lakes, situated in the Indian Peaks Wilderness of Colorado, is a culmination of calculated risks. Timing was a critical factor in capturing this image. It required hiking up to the lake in early summer when there is still ice on the lake, but during the melting phase, so there is exposed water with ice floating near the shore. At this time of year the trailhead is still closed, so you must extend the hike even further from a lower trailhead. The trail was snow covered the entire way, with only a few others who had attempted to reach the lake. There was initially a trail, but this quickly disintegrated, from other hikers taking their own approach or turning around. We had to blaze our own trail.
Attempting this shot at sunset was a risk in itself. The sun was setting behind the peaks, normally an unfavorable condition. The only way this shot could be pulled off was with the addition of dramatic clouds. During the hike up, the clouds were questionable at best; it was mostly a gray, dreary afternoon. As we reached the lake, the clouds began separate, allowing the sun to peak through at times. Our hopes were rising. Despite the rugged trail conditions, we had made good time and had plenty of of it left to explore the area for compositions. As we were searching, the sky slowly began to glow, as fog rolled in and out of the valley while lightly grazing the peaks above. Over the next 15 minutes the serene colors gradually turned into an explosion of color. It was time to get to work.
I had found a piece of ice that was pleasing to my eye but, due to the vastness of the scene, a 16mm lens in portrait orientation was not able to fully capture its massiveness. I decided to not make compromises on my composition, and mounted the camera in landscape orientation to take a three-image vertical panorama, which lead to the square composition. To complicate matters further, the scene had a high dynamic range, more than the camera was capable of capturing. To overcome this, I set the camera to bracket three shots, one stop apart, another risk I had to take in this moment. It was a risk because I knew the post-processing would be an extreme challenge, with a high chance of failure.
Back in the digital darkroom, I performed my basic adjustments to the raw files in Lightroom. I used PTGui to stitch the images first, to ensure the exact same stitching was used for each bracketed exposure. This can be done in PTGui by stitching the first set of images and then replacing the files with another exposure. At this point I had three tiff files ready to be blended in Photoshop—I layered them into one document and hand-blended the exposures using techniques from Tony Kuyper's Luminosity Masks video series. Finally, some creative dodging and burning put the finishing touches on this risky image.
About David Kingham: I create artwork to trigger an emotional response in the viewer, to remind them of all the beauty in the world. I want them to leave their stresses behind, no matter how large or small they may be. I began working with photography when I had a burning desire for something more in life. There was a creative side of me that I didn't know existed until I found photography. Once I started, my passion was unleashed, and any other type of work seemed mundane. I knew I had found my purpose in life and could never return to normalcy.