Selection of January 2021: Nautilus by Alex Noriega

Nautilus by Alex Noriega

This image was made in Zion National Park, March 2020. It was found by chance - my girlfriend and I were simply passing through Zion on our way to another destination one day, and we stopped at a pull-off on the east side around midday. We got out to enjoy the scenery, and saw a path down into the shadows. We began exploring and within 10 minutes I had found this swirling wall of sandstone. I ran back to the vehicle to grab my camera gear and returned immediately.

I had decided on my composition for the shot before I even went back to the vehicle for my camera. It was easy to visualize because there was almost nothing else of interest around me, just this single, beautiful fold in the wall and the nicely scalloped mud from a recent flood. The natural landscape provided distractions outside the edges of my frame, which made framing easy because the scope was naturally limited. I only had to decide which orientation provided the best visual flow, and I believe I initially shot it as a horizontal. The most difficult aspect of the composition was setting up the tripod legs against the smooth sandstone walls and in the mud - a tripod was absolutely necessary because this was a dark slot canyon in the shade.

The most impactful change I made in processing was probably enhancing the color. All these colors are natural and I hardly shifted the hues at all, but I did saturate them quite a bit to bring out the differences, as the original colors were all basically shades of gray with slight color tints. I also did a fair amount of balancing the exposure - there was reflected light spilling into the frame from the right side and it was distractingly bright compared to the sandstone wall, so I evened out the overall luminosity. I did quite a bit of cloning out tiny distractions - sticks, holes in the mud, et cetera, while being sure to leave in any imperfections that were interesting and not distracting. I ended up deciding on a rotated vertical orientation and "squished" the image into a 4:5 aspect, my preferred ratio for verticals - something that I would hesitate to do with a known subject such as a famous peak, but hardly matters on nearly-abstract anonymous subject matter such as this. I believe that my biggest contribution to this image was simply recognizing that a photo was there in this unassuming corner of a random slot canyon. I didn't have to do much creatively in post processing to imbue it with my vision. It was simply a lucky and unplanned find, as most of my favorite images are.   

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