Porcelain Basin HDR – Story Behind the Shot

Device Model/Make: Pentax K20D
Focal Length: 18mm
F number: 5.6-8
Shutter: 1/750 - 1/90s
ISO: 200
Taken: August 2010

Based on the unexpectedly large response to my uploaded picture, it was pretty much a no-brainer for me to put this in my ‘digital portfolio‘. Every picture (even if you’re a digital photog-spammer) has a story behind it, and I personally enjoy reading about them. I’m hoping some of you guys do too (otherwise this post would be pointless).

Back in 2010 my family decided to take trip to Yellowstone, driving up from SLC and back down through the Grand Tetons. I was a little younger back then, and a lot more inexperienced with a camera. But most of all, I had never been thrust so deep into a National Park before. I had seen the Grand Canyon by road, hiked a few of the shorter trails in Zion Canyon… but I’d never been to as remote and incredible location as Yellowstone.

The first day we arrived at Yellowstone was after a long drive from the Craters of the Moon National Monument. The sun was getting low in the sky, we were all tired and couldn’t wait to get to (I think it was) Canyon Lodge, but we figured we’d stop by at least one point of interest before it got dark. We didn’t want to wait another 12 hours to get a taste of the park.

The location we decided on, having entered Yellowstone from the west, was the Norris Geyser Basin. Some of us had to use the restrooms anyway, so it was a convenient stop. But as we got closer to the head of the Porcelain Basin trail, my feelings of not-quite-fatigue-induced-apathy quickly melted away.

alien world

Through the trees, I could see golden shafts sunlight diffusing through plumes of steam. The noxious odor of sulfur smacked me in the face as I approached. And then this alien world opened up before me. It was nothing short of awesome, but I didn’t have too long to explore because it was getting dark fast. We made a note to return to Porcelain Basin another day, but preferably towards the end of the day. The plumes of water vapor intensified by the chilly evening temperatures and golden hour were what I was addicted to now.


The next day we returned, after driving part of the northern loop. We got there a little earlier so we could walk the back basin loop. My parents were walking slow, and while the small pools and geysers were nice, I was still anxious to find a good spot to watch the sunset.


I also wasn’t sure we’d get a sunset at all. The clouds were coming in and out, threatening to ruin the best 15 minutes of the day.


As we finished up the Back Basin Loop, I snapped this HDR of the sunset.

I had to crop it slightly, because my field of view wasn’t perfect. And my exposure settings weren’t completely right so even with the auto-bracketing, the end result wasn’t as crisp and noise-less as I would have liked… I was quite excited to be sure, but the end results didn’t ‘wow’ me (not that I would know until later).

A little further down the trail, I got an even wider opening in the trees. I could shoot wide at 18mm without any trees cropping up on the edges of the photo. The sun was also a hair closer to the horizon so it didn’t blow out my shot as much.

As it turned out though, when I was processing my photos in 2010 I saw the first sequence of sunset photos and not the second. It wasn’t until I was digging through my digital archives for pictures of my mother, who sadly passed away recently, that I came upon a set of pictures I didn’t recognize.


I processed the bracketed photos, and with my understanding of image editing techniques improved since my attempts in 2010 I arrived at the image you now see at the top of this post. I tried to preserve the warm glow of the sun, and contrast it with the chalky terrain of the basin. The lens flares, like them or not, are an artifact of the cheap camera lens I was using (a Tamron 18-250mm: jack of all trades, master of none).

You can view a larger version of the picture here: and save it as a desktop wallpaper (up to 1600 px wide I believe). I direct you there to save a little bandwidth on this site. I don’t know what server package my friend has, and he’s sharing it with me out of the kindness of his heart… And you can leave a comment here or there if you like it.

Anyhow, that’s it for this portfolio post. Hope you enjoyed it.

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