These three images, taken during my trip to Big Bend for New Year 2021-2022, have been some of my most challenging to work with. Some of that was technical errors on my part: I decided to trust my camera to pick the dynamic range, which it didn’t do a good job of; some of it was I likely had one or more filters, other than a UV filter, on my lens; and I think I chose the wrong lens for this. I was using my then-new Viltrox AF 33mm, which doesn’t appear to be great for landscapes with such great distance. The other issue I had on this entire trip was the type of cloud cover. The stratus deck I dealt with for much of the trip only served to scatter the rather feeble sunlight, leading to blown highlights and ground that was far too dark.
The camera-generated jpegs are pretty much useless.
I’ve tried editing these in LR and other software with mixed results. However, my recent work from the Texas Renaissance Festival (see Favorite Edits for examples) made me decide to work on them again. I think of previous attempts I had overused masking. My approach here was much more simple. I made general lighting and color adjustments (S-curve, pulled the highlights and whites down all the way, reduced the contrast), added a little dehaze, and softened the blues. I then used a linear gradient mast to add light, highlights, shadows, contrast, whites (where I could get away with it), and blacks (where I could get away with it).
The result of this approach was to remove almost all of the clipped highlights in the skies and most of the clipped shadows. While certainly not among my favorites, I think they turned out reasonably well.
All three of these were taken along FM-170 (the River Road), which runs along the Rio Grande, sometimes hugging it tightly. The particular location is known as the Big Hill, a very steep hill where the road climbs the flanks of a laccolith.