Part of my photography process is to review other photographer’s work for inspiration. I do this for many reasons:

  • Find new locations to photograph
  • learn compositional techniques that are unfamiliar to me
  • learn post-processing techniques that are unfamiliar to me

Occasionally, I come across an image that piques my interest for all three reasons. Recently, a photo of the Three Sisters by Paul Lynch (good friend, great photographer, and WorldPix compadre) is one such case. The image I came across was beautiful, dreamy, and moody, perfect addition to my collection.

The Three Sisters, image by Paul Lynch.


The hunt is on!

I had to have this Three Sisters image, or at least something closely resembling it. I guess I could buy a print from Paul, but it is not the same as collecting it for myself. The first step in capturing the image is to know the location where it was shot. Kathryn and I already know how to get in the general area of the Three Sisters. It’s about 75 minutes from our home, around the backside of Superstition Mountain, in Gold Canyon (we photographed Gold Canyon during our first workshop nearly ten years ago but not the beautiful Three Sisters). 

A few days later, our handy sunset predictor indicated that a good sunset was in the offing. We set off for the Canary Springs Trailhead where we hiked up about .6 miles, veering left onto the Lost Goldmine Trail. After about .5 miles we turned right, crossing over a barbed wire fence, working our way another .25 miles up to the base of the Three Sisters. How did I know where to go? I employed my human GPS, Kathryn. She got us in the general area, but our angle on the Three Sisters wasn’t quite right. The sunset was a complete bust, but we captured a few photos anyway. What else is a photographer to do?

We got home and studied our photos, comparing them to the reference photo. We were in the general area. How were we going to find the exact location? I decided to contact one of the photographers who took the inspirational shot. He told me to keep hiking higher. That was not much help as we already hiked fairly high. Then Kathryn found a funning looking saguaro cactus in one of her photos that matched a saguaro in the reference photo. Aha! Luckily a cactus does not grow much from year to year, perhaps just a few inches per year. This allowed her to make the match. Now we knew the exact location from where to shoot. Except we had to wait for a good sunset.

We did not have to wait too long. A few days later our sunset predictor indicated another good sunset. Now armed with the location of the funny looking cactus we headed back to the Three Sisters. We gave ourselves extra time, arriving an hour before sunset. After a few moments, we found the cactus and the hunt was over, or so I thought. The sunset was beautiful as the rocks turned red. However, the clouds above the Three Sisters dissipated. The sky was beautiful to our right and behind us but not over the mountain. I captured a few sky images and we headed home to look at what we captured.

Not much of an image. But it will become invaluable. Just you wait.

I looked at my images and they were nice, but the Three Sisters looked very small.

The Three Sisters must grow! 

When I was shooting the mountain, it looked quite large to my eye, but not in my photo. Why did the Three Sisters look so big in the reference photo? Then I remembered a video I saw from an on-line instructor that I like (Matt Kloskowski). This video demonstrated a technique for enlarging mountains when shooting with a wide-angle lens.

Almost complete, just needs a good sky. I am not worried about the light blue halo over the mountain as it will be covered when the new sky is inserted.

To finish off the image I need a nice sky and a way for replacing the blue sky – enter the sky image I shot. Also, a new version Photoshop was recently released with a new tool: Sky Replacement. And Matt Kloskowski did a video on its use, how convenient.

Using the sky image and the magic of Photoshop, this is the final image. 

There are significant differences between Paul’s version and mine. His was taken in the spring while mine is during the heart of winter. His photo looks to be taken just prior to sunset resulting in warm hues while mine is during blue hour which give cooler hues. Also, Paul shot closer to the ground, making the foreground cacti more prominent and reducing the mid-ground. For these reasons I like Paul’s version better than mine. I’ll need to return when the cacti are blooming and give this another try. However, my result isn’t bad and will become a temporary addition to my collection.

Remember, it’s all about the light (and the hunt)!