The Edge of a Horseshoe

Into the Abyss

I am feeling remarkably alive as I sit cross-legged on the edge of a lethal drop. A drop straight into the Colorado river, running through the meander known as Horseshoe Bend in Arizona, USA. I stare into the abyss, the abyss stares into me. My heart pumps at a loud volume. I am also staring straight into the setting sun. If I lean forward just a tad I look down a 300 meter drop. I am just a few centimeters from learning to fly. My camera and tripod at lowest setting stands between my legs. I hope to create a magical dusk landscape but my brain is very occupied staring into the abyss, feeling incredibly alive. 

The view is extraordinary, the wind gentle and the air warm and dry. This meander has been carved by the Colorado River snaking through the landscape but now dammed by Glen Canyon Dam. Something possessed the water to create a large perfect and dramatic horseshoe shaped bend; appropriately named Horseshoe Bend. The red sandstone light up like fire in the dusk light and I have once again summoned a few clouds. With the very last of the dusk light fading I create this image, Horseshoe Bend:


Horseshoe Bend, The Image

This is of course a High Dynamic Range image as no camera, and not even the human eye can capture the dramatic difference between the sunset and the dark canyon. The image is of a stitch of 2 horizontal images, for both images 3 exposures were captured at +3, 0 and –3 stops. Shot at 17mm as the bend is actually very close to my position, much closer than the 17mm shows it. The bit of foreground you see in the left bottom corner is the rock I sit on, staring into the abyss. The image of Horseshoe Bend looks desolate and dramatically otherworldly remote, I really like that. In reality it is very accessible, just a short hike from the US route 89 road outside of Page, Arizona. A few other photographers had joined me but from my viewpoint on the edge I could see only the abyss.

My HDR process is completely manual as I dislike the output of all the HDR software I have tested. No matter how I process, the image is overdone, overcooked, flat and washed out. For me, manual HDR is the only way. I load the exposures in Photoshop after developing them in Lightroom and begin a long process of manually blending the layers. Tedious but I do like the results. The image of course looks otherworldly and ‘supernatural’ as your eyes would never see it like this but I very much like the dramatic effect of this abyss.

What is your view on the image and my manual HDR process?

34 Comments on “The Edge of a Horseshoe”

  1. Greetings,

    I came across your site while perusing Jesse Speer's latest efforts with his new site.

    This is a superb image of the Bend, and I quite agree with you regarding hand 'development' of multiple images vs. automated software. Yes, it's a tedious business, but with results like this, how can one argue with the superiority of manual blending?

    Anyway, your site is fast, intuitive and chock full of excellent work! I especially appreciate your photography of the Colorado Plateau region, where I hang my hat and my heart.

    Cheers, and all the best to you!


    1. Thanks very much John, thanks for visiting and commenting. Jesse did the design of my site, the reason it is so awesome! I am glad you like my site, my work and the Horseshoe Bend image. I am jealous of your extremely beautiful location in the world.

  2. I wouldn't have picked that as a HDR image, though now you've said it, I can see that it is. Big thumbs up for manual HDR. No falling into this whole with it: 😀

    I love the experience of that Edge. The photo somehow brings out that experience, it's very epic. I imagine the history this river has seen from when man came to be born, live, love, settle, leave, fight and die along its path. More layers of history than the mind can comprehend.

    1. Yes manual HDR rocks, HDR without looking like HDR. Love the graph, fortunately I never fell into that particular hole (far too busy falling into so many other holes!).
      If this river could tell stories. I think it can. We're just not listening. Must visit the edge again soon 🙂

      1. haha i like that graph! the HDR hole is one i fell into. cant stand photmatix and those programs now. it makes me want to curl up in the corner and die haha

  3. Hi Flemming,

    First off, its a great image I love the red tones all the way through it, it has a very warm and inviting feel to it.

    I agree with your manual HDR process, in fact I have been using it more and more myself. I call my process natural HDR as I'm trying to acturately represent what I actually saw. I still use filters for a lot of my shots but I'm probably using natural HDR for 40% of my shots and I can only see that amount growing.


    Jamie Paterson

    1. Hi Jamie, cheers mate. Your natural HDR process also works really well for your wave shots. The trick to HDR is making it look natural so the human brain does not go "wait a minute I cannot figure this out" but naturally takes in the image.

  4. Hi Bomont,

    Yep a great capture indeed, but I think I would like to see just a few more shadows where they should be given the sun is straight out as there is not enough definition in the structures closest to the camera.

    But yep a great capture and well processed!

    1. Thanks Markie, and you are spot on. I think just a bit more shadow and definition would be nice. But I already processed the hell out of the file to get any definition and shadow. The sun has long set here, the whole canyon is in shadow and it is all reflected light so there are no shadows and very little definition to work with in the file.

  5. Hi Flemming,

    The other thing I'm doing with my natural HDR is taking 5 images at 1 one stop apart. I'm finding that its giving me more choice to choose from and the changes are more gradual in between each exposure which again is still allowing me to have that natural look.


  6. This is a gorgeous image. I'm not normally a fan of HDR, but I agree with the above commenters: your manual processing is subtle enough that it enhances the image, rather than dominates it. I really want to get to Arizona one day, and pictures like this aren't helping to quell the urge!

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting, I am glad you like the image and my HDR process. Oh and Arizona is one stunner of a location, could spend a year just in Arizona shooting and not cover half of it.

  7. Hi Flemming,

    I do a fair bit of exposure blending too. Rather than bracketing I tend to spot meter off the elements in the scene i want to exposure corretly, to get my set of exposures. I find this results in a more representative set of exposures for the scene rather than just smashing a couple of stops either side. I usually focus at the depth of what im exposing for too. I.e. if I am exposing for the sky I will focus on the sky. If im exposing for the foreground I will focus for this. I know there can sometime be issues with focus creep but im yet to experience it as an issue. I find this technique gives you a set of exposures that represents the scene, and when blending them manually in photoshop you are also manually focus stacking at the same time.

    Cheers, Matt

  8. I reckon this shot is pretty good in it's own right. These days not many photographs look 'real' anyway and I'm not saying that that is a bad thing. I really like this shot and you're the perspective you took in taking it.



  9. as i've mentioned to you before on your fern pool image where you blended exposures, i love shadows in images. as long as it's now a big black hole, having a small section with no detail doesn't exactly ruin an image. and i'm definitely not a fan of the overdone HDR images.

    this however is magical. i still remember seeing it on your screen shot when you were processing it and i was looking forward to seeing it. well worth the wait! 🙂

    i guess it'd be interesting to see what it looks like with Mark's suggestion of adding some shadows, but if it manages to improve on this image then it'd be an amazing image you end up with. i really love this one man 🙂

    1. Thanks very much Stephen, very happy you like it. I agree on the shadows part. This image however has been released and I don't think I shall tinker any more with it. There are new images to be developed, this one is done and released for me.

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