The Return of the King

Sunset on the Kansas Prairie

A few weeks ago I mentioned that I was going to have to find some image to use for the finale of the Lord of the Rings trilogy in celebration of the release of the Extended Editions on Blu-Ray. Well, that release happened yesterday, I received my copy and it’s sitting there looking pretty, waiting to be watched.

The first two movies have been used already, so it was The Return of the King that needed an image. And this is what I came up with.

It may not look like anything from the movie. In fact, I don’t know how to even lie and make you believe it came from it. This is the Kansas prairie. Doesn’t remind me of Mordor, or Gondor, or Rohan…or even the Fangorn Forest (nerd alert!).

But if you are just going off the title, I kind of dig it. For me there is this majestic, powerful feel to the sun bursting through the clouds. It makes the surrounding landscape feel small and trivial compared to this explosion of light. As if something awesome were making an appearance after a long sleep.

If I failed to mention it before, these movies are near and dear to me. The books made a huge impact with me as a young kid. I can’t explain it, but they did. And years later they decide to make real movies about them, and somehow they create a world on-screen that almost completely matched what I had imagined as a I read the stories. It was amazing.

I loved the originals, but once the extended versions came out, there was no reason to watch the shorter one. They just weren’t the “real” story anymore. So to finally have these guys in beautiful Blu-Ray, 1080p high-definition is awesome. Cannot wait to find time to watch these guys from start to finish.


I’m wordy today, sorry. This image is a bit inspired by my buddy Jesse Pafundi whom I admire big time. His work has changed this year and it’s been awesome to see. At the same time we both had been moving away from HDR being so involved in our workflow…him more than me. I think he’s done away with it entirely. I still use it a lot but with a different approach. But we’ve had long chats about this subject and how we’re changing.

The photo above…I tried it as a tonemapped image and it failed. I couldn’t get it right. And then I realized I didn’t need to. Why was I forcing it? I liked the composition, the clouds, the sun…it just needed a little weathering to look how I wanted it to. Took 20 seconds.

Anyways…don’t be afraid to leave something behind that used to be so dear to you. It was just part of the journey to get you where you are today.

(canon 5d mark ii, tamron 17-35mm 2.8, 17mm, f/22, iso 100, 1/50)

16 replies
  1. Dave DiCello
    Dave DiCello says:

    This is breathtaking Mike, and you are spot on with the write up. I relied really heavily on HDR for a long time (and I still do), but I find myself just taking shots more and more, and not worrying about the bracketing. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that I will ever stop shooting HDR, but I am not JUST shooting HDR like I used to. I absolutely love this image, from the sun, to the silhouettes, to the composition. Awesome LOTR reference too, this is my favorite movie!!

  2. Brian Furbush
    Brian Furbush says:

    Nice shot Mike, and a good message on the processing debate. I don’t think we need to weigh in or revisit the topic, but I agree with your sentiment – changing your workflow and vision is an important part of being a photographer…sticking with one technique in some instances begins to become a crutch of sorts.

  3. Curt Fleenor
    Curt Fleenor says:

    I really like this Mike and I think it fits with the movie theme! The post is spot on and hits pretty close to home for me. I realized over the weekend the I had made HDR such a core of my routine that I was having trouble with the basics when I needed them.

  4. Chris DeAngelis
    Chris DeAngelis says:

    The title works great with this image! Great processing too! You just need Gandalf riding out from beneath that sunburst on Shadowfax 😉 Good thing you have the long weekend to watch all those movies!

  5. Toad Hollow Photography
    Toad Hollow Photography says:

    Mike, I always learn so much about myself as well as our craft through your eyes. What a profound blog post today. Love this image, that’s for sure! It’s so pure and powerful. Awesome capture, and great words to accompany. Love it.

  6. Heather
    Heather says:

    “don’t be afraid to leave something behind that used to be so dear to you. It was just part of the journey to get you where you are today.”

    While I love both title and photo, the above statement couldn’t be more true to my life right now…thanks Mike…

  7. Jesse
    Jesse says:

    First off, this is a powerful image. Nerd alert, love it.

    Secondly, I am beyond humbled with the shout out today. The inspiration goes both ways. Visiting your blog and reading what is on your mind is something I look forward to daily. Watching you evolve and turn into a professional is just an awesome thing to witness. Keep it going brother.

  8. Chris Wray
    Chris Wray says:

    Moving image and story. I completely agree with your last statement. Oh so many times I’ve discovered myself trying to overwork a photo, when minimal processing is all that’s required. Firm believer in the KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) principle.

  9. Viveca Koh
    Viveca Koh says:

    A stunning, lyrical image …. sometimes they don’t need much persuasion at all …… and I love your closing words about the journey – something that I need to remember too …

  10. andy gimino
    andy gimino says:

    Great image and post mike! I had a moment of clarity today about hdr images with clouds in them…they suck and i am never shooting that type of imahe again. I like this post amd your willingness to change and grow as you continue on your photography path.

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