Badlands National Park – Castle Trail and Notch Trail Images

These images are from a trip to Badlands National Park in September of 2017. As is typically the case, sunrise and sunset images provide the best light, but there are exceptions.

Feature Image Details

The feature image and the next three images that follow were taken with the Canon 11-24 F4.0 L lens

I typically use it from 11mm to 17mm or so. If I had my say, I would have set the focal length to that area. Then the lens could have been smaller, lighter or alternative brighter than a maximum aperture of F4.

That said, I am suggesting improvements to the single best wide-angle zoom on the planet, by any manufacturer, by far. That’s how exceptional this particular lens is.

Why do I primarily use it from 11mm-17mm? Because it overlaps with my Canon 16-35MM F4 L Lens which in turn overlaps with my Canon 24-105MM F4 L Lens.

The 16-35mm and 24mm-105mm weigh a lot less and I typically have one of them on my camera for weight purposes.

Castle Trail

The Castle Trail is a 10.7-mile loop that starts near the lodge and visitor center. One does not have to walk that far.

I walked less than 1 mile total, mostly off trail, at sunrise. The best light was gone after a half hour or so, and then I met my wife Liz for breakfast.

The feature image was taken at 11mm, the next three, in order were 15mm, 12mm, and 15mm.

At these focal lengths, you must be right on top of the subject. I do want to stress “right on top”, especially at 11mm-14mm.

That white clay in the feature image is about six inches or so from the camera. If it looks like the footing on that image was unstable and precarious, it’s because the footing was unstable and precarious.

The third image has a similar effect except I am on flat ground. Foregrounds are extremely enhanced at 11mm-14mm.

Focus Stacking

All of the above images are focus-stacked.

Focus-stacking means I took several shots, first focusing on the closest part of the scene, then the middle of the scene, then the distant part of the scene. I blended the images in Photoshop after correcting them first in Lightroom. These images are a blend of only two shots each, one close the other far.

Notch Trail

The Notch Trail is a 1.3-1.6 moderately-strenuous out-and-back trail. If you explore the overlooks and wander around a bit as most do, it’s longer than the rated 1.3 miles.

If you are afraid of heights, “moderate” is not the best word. You climb steep wooden ladders in spots and the trail winds along ridges with straight-down drop-offs. Other than that, it’s moderate. The elevation gain is only 100 feet, but it feels like much more.

Despite the backlighting and foreground-to-background distances, I was able to capture the exposure in a single image. For the above image, I used my Canon 16-35MM F4 L Lens. The exposure was 1/500 of a second at F16, ISO 200, at a focal length of 18mm.

I focused about 1/3 the way up the ridge, under-exposing slightly. The histogram showed everything was in range, no blown out highlights other than the center of the sun which would always be blown out, and no black shadows. One shot was all it took. I prefer not to blend images if I don’t have to.

Starburst Explanation

It is easy to produce a natural looking starburst without filters. The star is caused by light bending around the diaphragm blades of the lens.

Some lenses produce better starbursts than other. The 11-24 mm lens is 9-blades as is the Canon 16-35MM F4 L Lens. Both produce an exceptional star. Canon’s 14 MM lens only has 4 blades and produces a relatively poor star.

An even number of diaphragm blades provides that many rays. An odd number provides double.

For another set of starburst images, please see Joshua Tree National Park – Barker Dam Petroglyphs and Zion National Park – Autumn – Lower Emerald Pools Part 2 (After a Rainfall).


Those interested in my equipment and recommendations can find it here: Mish’s Equipment List.

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Mike “Mish” Shedlock

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