Recently my wife and I went on perhaps our most epic photo trip ever to places we have always wanted to visit… 16 days, 4328 miles of driving, 8 states, 6 National Parks, 2 National Monuments, 1 National Battlefield, 1 National Wildlife Refuge, 2 National Forests, and 1 National Grassland. We experienced dramatic weather, wonderful scenery and magnificent wildlife!
I will be using some of my favorite Topaz tools and techniques that I use everyday (including the recently upgraded Texture Effects 2) to demonstrate how easy it is to create wonderful art and memories, hoping to show you just a sample of the enhancements you can achieve using this incredible software!
We chose 2016 for this trip because it is the Centennial Year of our National Parks, celebrating all of our Parks, National Monuments, Wildlife refuges, and Forests. At first there was no clear management, budget, or unified direction for the parks that had been set aside. So, in 1916 President Woodrow Wilson signed the legislation creating the “National Park Service to conserve the scenery, the natural and historic objects, and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such a manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.” Will our descendants 100 years from now still be able to enjoy these wondrous places? There have been and will continue to be many challenges, but I certainly hope so!
The name Devils Tower originated in 1875 during an expedition led by Col. Richard Irving Dodge when his interpreter misinterpreted the name to mean Bad God’s Tower, which then became Devil’s Tower. All information signs in that area use the name “Devils Tower,” following a geographic naming standard whereby the apostrophe is eliminated. It is an laccolithic butte composed of igneous rock and rises dramatically 1,267 feet above the Belle Fourche River. The Tower is sacred to several Plains tribes, including the Kiowa and the Lakota who called it “Brown Buffalo Horn.” We followed the edge of a massive thunder storm to get this dramatic photograph!
One of the best features available in all the latest versions of Topaz programs is the masking tool! By utilizing this tool, you can select specific areas of a photograph. By using an inverted mask and Detail to do that in the cover photo and then converting it to black and white with one of my custom presets provided just the image of the approaching thunder storm that I was looking for. Quite often when I am out shooting and come upon a scene such as this, I try to envision in my mind’s eye what I would like the final outcome to be. The second photograph was taken just after the storm passed and using Detail and custom Clarity presets, you can see the final dramatic result!
Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park is in Montana and borders Canada. The park is huge, covering over 1 million acres, having 130 named lakes, more than 1,000 different species of plants, and hundreds of species of animals. This vast pristine ecosystem is the centerpiece of what has been referred to as the “Crown of the Continent Ecosystem.” The region that became Glacier National Park was first inhabited by Native Americans.
Of the estimated 150 glaciers which existed in the park in the mid-19th century, only 25 active glaciers remained by 2010! Scientists studying the glaciers in the park have estimated that all the glaciers may disappear by 2030 if the current climate patterns persist! There were wildfires in Montana during our stay. By using the same techniques I just demonstrated, I was able to create this iconic view of St. Mary’s Lake. During the week we stayed there, driving the roads of the park daily and stopping often, we were privileged to see some of the iconic wildlife in the Park as well!
National Bison Range
One of the great things about traveling on these adventures with my wife is discovering new places not in the original plan! So she found the National Bison Range (NBR), a National Wildlife Refuge, located in western Montana established in 1908 by Teddy Roosevelt to provide a sanctuary for the American bison. The NBR is one of the oldest National wildlife Refuges in the United States, consisting of approximately 18,800 acres and is home to many other animals. It was like driving on a game preserve and was one the best wildlife refuges we have ever visited!
During our two hour drive there, we were blessed to see many wonderful creatures and scenery, including a mother black bear and her two cubs walking right next to our truck! The rules are, you do not get out of your car! I would be remiss if I did not give credit to my wife, as she always holds my Sony Alpha cameras with the big Sigma 50-500 mm IS lens for me while I drive for just such occasions! All of these photos were taken from the driver’s seat!
They were done with Clarity custom presets, also using a layer of the recently upgraded Simplify at 85% opacity on Mother bear. I also created a Custom Preset (Natures Way) in Texture Effect 2 that I shared with the Community. Perfect for subjects such as this Bighorn Sheep just enjoying the sun on a hillside by the side of the road! I made a duplicate layer in PaintShop Pro and adjusted the opacity to 75% for the final result.
Arches National Park
We spent two days at Arches National Park in eastern Utah, which is adjacent to the Colorado River. It is home to over 2,000 natural stone arches, including the world-famous Delicate Arch, along with other unique geological resources and formations. It contains the highest number of natural arches in the world. It lies atop an underground evaporite layer or salt bed formed 300 million years ago by a sea that flowed into the area and evaporated, which is thousands of feet thick in places, and is the main cause of the formation of the arches, spires, balanced rocks, sandstone fins, and eroded monoliths. Although the park’s terrain may appear rugged and durable, it is extremely fragile and more than 1 million visitors each year threaten this high desert ecosystem!
There are many iconic photos of this place. The first photograph of Delicate Arch was taken from the overlook two miles away with that same Sigma 50-500 mm lens! The second panorama of “Park Avenue” is where the opening scene of “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” was filmed! The next three are of the “Windows,” “Balanced Rock,” which weighs in at 3577 Tons, and the “Courthouse” on which I used my custom presets previously described in Clarity to enhance all of these photos!
Canyon de Chelly National Monument
Canyon de Chelly National Monument was established on April 1, 1931 and is one of the most visited national monuments. It is one of the longest continuously inhabited landscapes of North America, preserving the ruins of the early indigenous tribes that lived in the area, including the Ancient Pueblo Peoples (also called Anasazi) and the Navajo. The monument covers 83,840 acres and encompasses the floors and rims of the three major canyons: de Chelly, del Muerto, and Monument, which were cut by streams from the headwaters in the Chuska mountains just to the east. It has served as a home for the Navajo people since long before it was invaded by forces led by future New Mexico governor Lt. Antonio Narbona in 1805. In 1863, Col. Kit Carson sent troops to either end of the canyon to defeat the Navajo population within. The resulting devastation led to the surrender of the Navajo and their removal to Bosque Redondo, New Mexico. These iconic photographs of White House Ruin and Spider Rock are a testament to that history and have been visited by many famous photographers including Ansel Adams.
Badlands National Park
We took another unscheduled side trip to Badlands National Park in South Dakota. It comprises 242,756 acres of sharply eroded buttes, pinnacles, and spires blended with the largest undisturbed mixed grass prairie in the United States. For 11,000 years, Native Americans, including the Lakota, have used this area for their hunting grounds. Before them were the little-studied paleo-Indians, followed by the Arikara people. Their descendants live today in North America.
Over the course of two days we visited The Mount Rushmore National Memorial. The first day was cold and rainy. The second was sunny and a local family we met walked along with us for awhile! Clarity Fur and Feathers worked great on them! Designed by Danish-American Gutzon Borglum and his son, the memorial is carved into the granite face of Mount Rushmore, a granite batholith formation in the Black Hills of South Dakota featuring 60-foot heads of four United States presidents: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln. The entire memorial covers 1,278.45 acres.
South Dakota historian Doane Robinson is credited with conceiving the idea of carving the likenesses of famous people into the Black Hills region of South Dakota in order to promote tourism in the region. This location had the advantage of facing southeast for maximum sun exposure. Robinson wanted it to feature western heroes, but Borglum decided the sculpture should have a more national focus and chose the four presidents whose likenesses would be carved into the mountain.
Little Bighorn Battlefield and Custer National Cemetery
And we finally arrived at the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument and Custer National Cemetery in Montana. It was a humbling experience to walk around the battlefield and reflect on the past. Much has been written about this battle that took place on June 25 and 26 in 1876 near the Little Bighorn River.
260 soldiers and other personnel met defeat and death in what was truly a clash of cultures that began when the first Europeans landed in the Americas. The Lakota and the other native American tribes were defending their territory and way of life. They won this battle, but later lost the war and their nomadic way of life! George Armstrong Custer and all who took place in this battle were men very much influenced by the times. There are several good books on the subject, which delve into this very complicated story!
Thanks to you all for sharing this continuing and wonderful journey with us. Many thanks again to all my good friends at Topaz Labs for their outstanding software and support!
More adventures to come!
About Gary Lamott
Gary Lamott has been a photographer for over forty years, starting with black and white film and now working exclusively with digital. He is a member of the New Hampshire Society of Photographic Artists (NHSPA), a Board Member Emeritus of the Seacoast Artist Association (SAA) in Exeter, NH, a contributing member of the Artist Advisory Committee of Main Street Art (MSA) in Newfields, NH , an award winning juried exhibiting member of the Plymouth, MA Guild for the Arts and a member of the New Mexico Art League, as well as a member of several photo groups.
He is a regular contributor to Topaz Labs Software. He has developed educational tutorials and content for Topaz products and has been featured in their software promotions, product pages and galleries since Oct of 2013. His photo “Island In the Sky” was featured in the Topaz Labs February 2014 promotion in Photoshop User Magazine.
He participated in Congresswoman Carol Shea Porter’s Art On Loan Program, including having a photo on display in her Washington, DC office. As part of their photographic quest he and his wife have traveled over 30,000 miles in the American Southwest, as well as New England and other places of interest.
“My vision is to create original images that represent the spirit of the places that we travel to. I think of Photography as an art form. I use both my cameras and today’s software to create my images, which provide endless possibilities for unique photographs. When taking photos I feel the Artist’s vision is the most important aspect of all.”