The Window, Part 1

The Window is a feature of the Chisos Mountain Basin in Big Bend National Park. It’s a notch in the mountains that ring the Basin, and it’s the primary drainage path for rain water. It’s also a great “frame” for watching and photographing the sunset (you face west when looking through The Window from within The Basin).

These two photos (below) were taken at sunrise when the light was hitting the Window directly. I spent two mornings in a row, during our recent trip to the park, observing and photographing the sunrise from atop a large boulder in the Basin.

click for slightly larger pic

Canon 5D with Canon 17-40mm f/4L
17mm, f/11, ISO 100, blend of two exposures: 1/4 & 1/2 sec.

I try to avoid photographing subjects that are cliché and obvious because they’re often overdone and boring. The Window is one of the primary features of Big Bend that most park visitors get to see and photograph. If you’ve been to Big Bend, or you’ve seen published photos from the park, chances are you’ve seen the Window, Casa Grande, Santa Elena Canyon, and/or the South Rim of the Chisos. The park’s website even has live photos of the Window from a webcam permanently mounted in the Basin.

But, as I continue to work on my Big Bend project, I realize that I do not have any good photos of this well-known icon. Our recent trip gave me good opportunities to photograph it because we were staying at the lodge in the Basin and taking things very easy (my wife is 8 months pregnant; i.e. we were not doing our usual routine of backcountry camping and all-day hiking). I woke up early for the sunrises and wrapped up my shooting sessions just about the time the sweet light was ending and my family was finishing up breakfast and ready to depart for our morning venture.

click for slightly larger pic

Canon 5D with Canon 17-40mm f/4L & polarizer
23mm, f/11, ISO 100, blend of two exposures: 1/5 & 0.40 sec.

It’s not impossible to come up with fresh, interesting photos of well known subjects but it’s certainly a challenge. Fortuntely, there are an infinite amount of combinations of camera positions, focal lengths, lighting conditions, weather, etc.

I’m not sure I pulled off some good shots here – you be the judge of that. I decided to feature the great clouds present during this shoot and make the Window (the notch in the lower left) smallish in the frame by using wide focal lengths. These compositions also feature another great aspect of Big Bend – the skies. The frequent, huge, and unobstructed views throughout the park allow people to see for miles and that’s quite refreshing for those park visitors confined into city living back home. One thing I always look foward to when visiting the park are the amazing vistas.

At the time these photos were taken, the light had lost its early morning warmness and become somewhat harsh. The scene’s colors were a little boring and muted. I tried two approaches to create more interest – 1) using a color-enhancing filter, and 2) black and white.

The black and white helps viewers to really focus on the subject matter and its form, IMO. Effective monochromatic photos are sometimes hard to make, but having a good, strong composition (and nice clouds :-) ) certainly helps. For me, this works well because what I’m most interested in is the rugged line of mountains (including the notch of the Window) and the wide-open, huge view of the sky. These are quintessential features of Big Bend.

For the color shot, I used a Singh-Ray gold-n-blue polarizer. I’m new to using this filter, but it can produce some garish results. I “dialed” in the filter to a nice warm spot somewhere between its two points of maximum effect. In post-processing, I further subdued the effect of the filter by fine-tuning the white balance in RAW conversion. The end result, as you see above, is a warm, pastel color scheme that I think looks more like the sweet light that comes immediately after sunrise.

Anyway, I’ve got more sunrise shots of the Window from my second day of morning shooting in the Basin. I’ll have these up in the next few days.

2 thoughts on “The Window, Part 1

  1. I think in this case my preference is the color version. I really like the subtlety of those pinks and blues in the sky. I’m really surprised to read that this is the effect of the gold-n-blue, I never would have guessed it was filtration – the result is quite natural looking.

  2. Thanks! That’s what I was going for – a natural look. The G-n-B polarizer is too easy to overdo. I played around alot with it, and have a load of garish shots from the trip that you won’t see here :-)

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