Greg Benz Photography » Minneapolis based cityscape and landscape photographer; luminosity masking fiend

A huge thanks to Karen Hutton for the suggestion to visit Bonsai Rock.  These hearty bonsai trees have somehow established a foothold in the cracks of this large boulder near the shore of Lake Tahoe.  There were a couple other photographers down around me, but the area had this very zen-like feeling that the photo portrays.  Everything was calm, and the cloudless sky just had a beautiful warm glow at sunset as I looked over the frigid lake.

Click here for a map to Bonsai Rock.  To get there, look for the handful of cars parked by the side of the road in what appears to be nowhere, and look for a trail down the hill.  The hill is somewhat steep, and the footing very loose, so be careful and be sure to bring some kind of flashlight or headlamp if you’re trying to shoot sunrise or sunset!

Bonzai and the Tranquility of Tahoe

One of the things I love about photography is how it makes you step back from the obvious and explore the little details in life.  Monterosso al Mare is both lovely and at the same time, the most overrun with tourists of all the villages of Cinque Terre, Italy.  Many of its main streets have this somewhat hollow feel of a tourist town, where signage and trinkets have been traded in the interest of commerce for the beauty and heritage of the most heavily trafficked parts of the town.  But just a few steps away from the main streets and you see scenes such as these blue jeans hanging below old painted shutters that speak of more simple and tranquil times that existed before Rick Steves (or whomever) put Cinque Terre on the tourist map.

Blue Jeans

They say that cameras don’t lie.  But I think they lie all the time.  Anyone with a camera has faced that dreaded moment when the sky looked amazing in real life, but just pure white in the photo.  No camera is as capable of seeing as much color and contrast as the human eye.   Thankfully, there are some techniques to address this.  I’ve created a short tutorial video on the manual exposure blending (luminosity masking) techniques I used to create bring color and fire back into the sky in my image “Horseshoe Dawn” (Horseshoe Bend, Page, AZ).   This technique allows you to combine several exposures in Photoshop in order to capture all of the color and detail you saw in real life.

I finished my drive from Salt Lake City, Utah to Page, Arizona somewhat late at night. And, I’d gotten in a day earlier than I’d originally planned, but forgotten to change the dates on my reservation. I travel frequently without booking in advance, but Page Arizona (in September) isn’t one of those places. I’m not above sleeping in the car if I had to, but thankfully I found a hotel with a free room for the night. So, I had no chance to scope out Horseshoe Bend in advance, but I was ready for three things: an early morning, a spectacular view, and THRONGS of photographers jockeying for a spot on top of a 1000 foot cliff (some poor Greek guy fell off the ledge a few years ago – there are no railings here!).  Luckily, I was wrong about the crowds(they weren’t nearly as big as I’d feared), and I got a nice spot to shoot – even though I’d only arrived shortly before sunrise.  Needless to say, the view was spectacular!

Exposure Blending Tutorial - Bring the FIRE back into a sunrise

There’s something very striking about the cemeteries around Cinque Terre.  They are full of beautiful stone and set in beautiful locations.  But what what really stood out to me is how close the family ties must be here.  There are photos of many of the deceased and flowers everywhere.  Lots of fresh flowers, that show a lot of caring and regular visits.  And in the midst of all that, I found this one plastic sunflower in the cemetery in the lovely village of Monterosso al Mare.  And it had aged so much that it was breaking apart.  And all I could wonder is, “why?”  Was this person kind of a jerk?  Was this person alone – the last of their friends and family?  Were the people who loved them too old or physically unable to visit as often?  Who knows, but it must be wonderful to live in a place where the plastic sunflower is so rare.

Plastic Sunflower