Awakening of the Granite Giants Picture of the Week

Golden morning light illuminating the rugged landscape of Granite Dells, with Glassford Summit in the background.
Awakening of the Granite Giants – A mesmerizing view of the Granite Dells under the soft glow of the morning sun, casting a beautiful light on the weather-worn rocks with Glassford Summit standing majestically in the distance.

My calendar page flipped to August this week, and that means that summer’s half over. In standard years, we would have been inundated with monsoon rains and antsy for the wet season to end. But, in this most unusual year, we’re waiting for the rains to start. We often see afternoon clouds here in Congress, Arizona, but they’ve only been a tease. The new month also means a new photo project, and I decided to stay in the high country—if you consider Prescott the highlands. We will wander the trails in the Granite Dells to capture its natural beauty and fill in my Website portfolio. The exposed cracked and worn boulders are common throughout Arizona, but this patch is the only city park.

The Granite Dells of Prescott, Arizona, is a geological wonder with around 1.4 billion years of history. Their formation began deep beneath the Earth’s surface, where molten magma slowly cooled and crystallized into hard, dense granite. Over hundreds of millions of years, erosion wore away the rock layers above, revealing the granite bedrock. Once exposed to the atmosphere, the granite underwent spheroidal weathering, a process that smoothed its corners and edges into the distinctive, boulder-like shapes we see today. This weathering, coupled with millions of years of further erosion, has sculpted the Granite Dells into their current, stunning form, with the boulders providing unique habitats for diverse flora and fauna.

Close-up study of Common Mullein stalks, brightly lit against a darker, out-of-focus background.
Majesty in the Ordinary – An intimate view of Common Mullein stalks bathed in the golden morning light, their unexpected elegance highlighted against the darker foliage of the Granite Dells.

We will start this month’s photo tour of the Dells with a long shot I took at dawn while hiking the Constellation Trail. At that hour of the morning, I thought I’d have the place to myself, but the parking lot was half full when I arrived, and true to form, I was in everybody’s way as I trudged along with my camera. I was in the middle of the loop when the sun emerged above the cloud layer along the horizon, casting a golden light on the rock formation before me. I can’t begin to tell you how delighted I was to see how it showed off the rounded shape and texture of the granite boulders. The Dells have a sense of anchor in their surroundings with the radio-tower-topped Glassford Summit. I call this week’s image Awakening of the Granite Giants.

We’re so glad that you joined us on the trail this morning. Throughout the rest of the month, we’ll share more images taken on tracks running through Prescott’s most significant city park. And you can count on us to dig up more interesting trivia about the Granite Dells. If you’d like to examine larger versions of Awakening of the Granite Giants, you can visit its page on my Website by following this link (Jim’s Website). You can also pixel peep on my Fine Art America posting by following this link (FAA Post). Be sure to return next week when we present another image of the intriguing Granite Dells.

Till next time

Techniques: Restoring Dark Areas In Back Lit Images

In last week’s session, I showed how I manage shots to prevent blowing out the highlights when shooting in lighting conditions too broad for the camera’s sensor to capture—like the dawn, dusk, or back-lit situations. We concluded that discussion by predicting that the darker areas would be too dark to be pleasing. In this post, I will explain how I balance the exposure in Photoshop so the image looks natural.

Quick Selection Tool - I use this tool in the Tool Palate to select the areas that I want to work. It's the fastest and most accurate selection tool in Photoshop.
Quick Selection Tool – I use this tool in the Tool Palette to select the areas I want to work on. It’s the fastest and most accurate selection tool in Photoshop.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has recently been in the news, with stories ranging from how it helps doctors find cancer in patients earlier to how it will eventually eat our brains—like Zombies. Well, Adobe has an AI-driven tool in Photoshop that enables you to select complex areas of your images. It’s called the Quick Select Tool. It seems to be mainly used to cut models—and their fly-away hair—from one background so they can be pasted into another. I use it to select the dark areas in my landscapes that need lightening. My process involves three steps: Selecting, Refining, and Correcting.

Refine Selection Workspace - With this tool, you can nudge and perfect which areas you want to be active within your adjustment layer.
Masking Workspace – With this tool, you can nudge and perfect which areas you want to be active within your adjustment layer.

After doing my color corrections and setting my Black and White points in my workflow, I try to balance my image’s exposure. Using the Quick Select (QS) Tool, I roughly select the area I want to work with, and that’s usually everything below the horizon. At this point, I’m not trying to be precise. After I drag the QS brush over the area I want to modify, I click on the Select and Mask button at the top of the workspace, which opens a Masking Workspace showing the selected areas of the image. I use a red mask set to 40% opacity to see which areas of the image will be affected by the following steps. Within the right panel, there’s a bunch of number settings that I’ve fiddled with over the years before settling on these: Radius=0, Smooth=2, Feather=2.5px, Contrast=25%, and Shift Edge=-2% (be sure to check the tiny little box tabled ‘Remember Settings‘ otherwise you’ll constantly have to reset these values). Using these values, I choose the Brush Edge Tool—the second from the top in the brush palate—and run it along the edge of the selected areas. What the AI does for me is pick out all of the little trees and other objects (like the leaves in the second photo this week) and separate them from the sky—an otherwise impossible task. Once I’m happy with the selection, I click ‘OK,’ the screen returns to the original workspace with the selected area now outlined with ‘dancing ants’—a term used to describe the animated dotted line showing the selection.

The next step is to correct for the darkness, and to do that, I choose a new Exposure layer from the list, which opens with the new mask in place. In the new layer, I use the slider to adjust the area to the lightness that looks good to me—usually between ¼ to a complete stop (.25-1.0), but with the sensor on my Sony camera, I’ve been able to lighten the dark areas by 2½ stops without causing a loss of detail in shadows or other unwanted digital artifacts (such as pixelation or banding).

Remember, by working with layers, you can go back and change your adjustments later. Also, remember to save your work frequently, especially after making significant adjustments.

Pete Picture of the Week

Pete - the opportunistic pelican waits at the end of the Avalon Pier for someone to bring lunch.
Pete – the opportunistic pelican, waits at the end of the Avalon Pier for someone to bring him lunch.

When you’re on an extended stay at a resort town, there’s only so much time you can shop for T-shirts, scarf down gelato at Scoops, or inhale pastrami hoagies under the umbrellas in front of Antonio’s. You need a break in the routine—we crave adventure. Tour operators know this, and that’s why they do well in high-traffic attractions like Avalon. They’re the carnival rides at the State Fair. Instead of riding grease-stained high-speed Merry-go-rounds, these carnival barkers use gimmicks like parachutes, steel cables, bungee cords, or jump from a perfect airplane to take money from your pocket. Being the big fella I am, I don’t have faith in those contraptions.

When Queen Anne and I planned our week in Avalon, we poured over the adventure packages the town offered. Given our advanced stage of dementia, superior physical fitness, and risk of cardiac arrest, we chose to look at stars through a telescope, ride a boat with a glass bottom, and take a drive in a Hummer. None of those activities involved walking, climbing, or jumping. The only exertion we made was finding a seat.

The stargazing was a bust. The hostess doesn’t offer tours until the warm summer months. That’s because you need clear skies to look at stars, and the cooler months have persistent fog. All that you would see through the telescope would be cloud bottoms.

Garibaldi - the little golden fish doesn't go after the chum. Instead he's protecting his nest from the other fish.
Garibaldi – the little golden fish, doesn’t go after the chum. Instead, he hopelessly tries to protect his nest from the other fish.

The boat was fascinating but less exciting than we had hoped. There are two versions of this tour; the original glass-bottom boats and another they call a submarine. The former is open to the sky and looks down through the hull. In the latter version of the ride, you climb into a tube, sit,  and look through windows along the side. The sub never submerges. Since it’s dark inside the sub, you can see better through the dirty windows. After everyone is loaded, the sub (ours was painted yellow, of course) motors to a small bay south of the main Avalon harbor, where the crew tosses food into the water. The food attracts so many fish that they cover the windows. It’s cool, except their advertisements hint that you might see marine mammals, sharks, or mermaids. Chances are that you’ll only see the locals. We thought it was a fun hour-long boat ride through the kelp forest.

Mike Bison - Our jeep driver, Chief, spotted Mike napping in the grass and drove to where we could take his picture.
Mike Bison – Our jeep driver, Chief, spotted Mike napping in the grass and drove to where we could take his picture.

The ridgeline jeep tour was our only chance to see other parts of the island. On these tours, they load 4 to 8 people in the back of an open Hummer and drive the dirt roads along the mountain ridges. I suppose you could walk or bike around the locked gates, but that’s exercise. It was foggy during our trip, so we didn’t enjoy any grand vistas possible from the mountain tops. There were times when we saw the city below and caught a glimpse of an empty west-coast bay through the damp mist. One of the tricks the guides routinely pull on the unsuspecting tourists is to stop at a steep fire break that crosses the ridgeline. After explaining how firefighters built the gap to slow spreading wildfires, the driver shifts the Hummer into low range and begins to drive up the steep ridge until the passengers all scream for him to stop. But, after riding with Fred in the San Juan Mountains, I’ve done worse. The highlight of our ride was the ‘puppy’ our guide—Chief— spotted napping in the tall golden grass. Chief stopped the Hummer and got him to sit up so we could take Mike’s picture.

Another thing we considered—but ruled out—was hiring a fishing charter. The captains claim that there are some nice fish to be caught off the island’s west side. In Avalon, you’ll see people carrying fishing gear, so there must be some truth to their claims. Some locals will go to the pier’s end in the mornings and fish for shad and other bait fish. Then they head for deeper water in boats and fish for big trophies. That brings us to this week’s picture that I call Pete. Pete was an opportunistic brown pelican perched on the pier railing waiting for one of the anglers to drop their catch. Why plunge into the cold ocean for lunch when someone brings it to you? He must be used to people because he let me get this close-up shot without flinching. He was content sitting there until a young girl tried to touch his feathers. That was a step too far. We watch Pete drop 20 feet to the water and skim along the blue surface. Without flapping his broad wings, he picked up speed, then circled overhead the girl and her father walking hand in hand along the boardwalk, and then he expressed his displeasure—splat.

You can see the larger version of Pete on his Web Page by clicking here. Come back next week to see another Avalon photo and read about our adventure.

Till Next Time