Dawn over the Golden Gate

July, 2018

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I haven't written one of these in a while, and as tends to happen, habits and styles have changed a bit since the last post I wrote up on processing. Part of what makes image-editing fun and creative is that there are usually a great number of ways to accomplish a particular task - what matters most is finding the style and approach which works for you.

Lately, I've been using Smart Objects without exception and conducting the majority of my edits as Smart Object filters. The most obvious and practical benefit to this is that all of the changes made through these methods are non-destructive, and can easily be tweaked or altogether erased without any destruction to the hierchary of your overall workflow.

The Shot

This image was taken during sunrise. It was characteristically windy up on the headlands, and unfortunately, very noticeably so right where I wanted to set up for this shot. I did my best to shield my camera and tripod from the gusts - which frankly, in terms of aeronautics, I'm not convinced is actually an improvement or a detriment. The resulting image came out surprisingly sharp, so I was pretty stoked on that front.

This was one exposure only. I had wanted to shoot with the 10 stop ND filter on, which obviously only enhanced the challenge with the wind, but again, it all worked out, so I'll drink to that and move on.

Nikon D850
Nikon 20mm f/1.8
B&W 10-Stop ND Filter
ISO 100
  1. Exposure: F-Stop 8, 262 Seconds

Post Production

I took the shot and opened it into Photoshop as a Smart Object, then duplicated that as a second Smart Object. First, after this, I created a luminosity mask for the bright areas. If you don't have any experience with Luminosity Masks, I'd suggest checking out Jimmy McIntyre's introduction to them here: Luminosity Masks in Digital Blending

Moving on, I edited the first layer in Adobe Camera Raw in order to process things how I liked for the base of the image - the foreground hillside, the bunker, the bridge, and some of the foreground water. The second layer, which sits on top of the first, I edited for the sky, with additional Clarity to that of the base, more contrast, and a sharp reduction in Highlights. I then used my Luminosity Mask and some additional Dodging and Paintbrush to mask in just the portions I wanted. The finished product here is a balanced but well represented image showcasing the entire range of the image.

There wasn't much I really needed to do beyond this point, but the overall color of the image was still a bit flat, and so after some tweaks in Nik Effects to brighten some of it and spike the contrast a bit, I used three different Gradiant Map adjustment layers. Gradiant Maps are an excellent tool to manipulate the tones of your image in a completely non-destructive manner, and I tweaked all three with various colors and gradiants to enhance the colors of the ocean and sky while masking out the bridge and foreground.

Few finishing touches included reducing the saturation to the bridge itself, which had become a little overly blown out in color and intensity in Nik's Pro Contrast and the Gradiant filters. I then added a subtle vignette using Curves and brightened the foreground a bit more with another Curve layer.

The finished product was the image you see here, and that's about that. If you have any questions you can feel free to reach out to me and I'll shoot you a response. Otherwise, thanks for reading and peace out!

The Art of Knowing

June, 2018

A process blog from my 2018 travels through China and some general advise for all photographers on ensuring that we are best equipped to obtain the shots we desire.

Central Hong Kong Light Trails

April, 2017

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It's been a while since my last post. This one is a feature of a shot I took several months ago while in Hong Kong. Before my trip, I'd spent an abundant amount of time planning in intrinsic detail many of the locations I wanted to photograph, but as is often the case, many times all of that obsessive pre-planning didn't always wind up delivering exactly what I'd expected, and often I found myself taking a photograph I loved a great deal in a place I never planned to be. Such as was the case here, when I stayed too long on one of the buses down from Victoria Peak and wound up at the depot near the harbor. Wandering back toward Central, I found myself staring at this intersection for a moment while waiting for the light and decided it was one of the coolest "downtown" views of HK I'd seen during my trip.

The Shot

This image, as with many light-trail photographs, consists of a number of exposures. Eight, to be exact. I first took a base exposure, which is the one I used for the overall scene, and then I snapped seven more at various times as cars zipped by me. This intersection had cars coming from 4 different directions, so it worked very well for this type of image.

Here is the breakdown of exposures

Nikon D750
Tamron 15-30 at 17mm
No filter
ISO 100
  1. Base Exposure: F-Stop 11, 5 Seconds
  2. 7 Light Trail Exposures: F-Stop 9, 8 Seconds

Post Production

There is a simple method in Photoshop to blend an array of photographs (specifically with light trails where portions of the image will thus be much brighter) - Select all of your light trail images, placing them above the base exposure in the Layers palette, and then, click the dropdown menu for blend method, and change this from Normal to Lighten. As the difference in the individual layers with the brightest areas will be the ones to be blended with this method, you can see that immediately, all of your light trails will now be visible.

From there on, I ran a series of layers to adjust color tone. I used several color balance layers top decrease some of the yellow and deepen the mood of the image, but I applied luminosity masks as I did so, so that I was targeting specific areas in need of adjustment (to my own taste). I then used a luminosity mask to target the brightest areas (specifically, the light trails) and increased their Saturation using the Camera Raw Filter.

Finally, I lowered exposure a bit and applied a vignette mask to heighten the intensity of the center of the image, then painted in a few areas of the mask black where I wanted to maintain brightness in the buildings in the background. I created a new layer and, using Camera Raw once more, I increased the Clarity and Contrast on the image - again using a layer Mask to carefully paint in what I wanted so that the foreground was most affected and the background less so. Last, I did one final color adjustment, targeting the background with a simple layer mask, to lessen the intensity of the blue color adjustments I'd made earlier to those skyscrapers and the sky beyond them.

Downtown San Francisco

December 11, 2016

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The Shot

I'd found my way onto a rooftop on the edge of Chinatown with a few minutes to go until the sky began its deepening into shades of blue. I'd climbed up and begun to walk around as quietly as possible, given that the dog of the tenants living beneath me had already begun to bark endlessly when I ascended the ladder. Consideration in mind, I paced back and forth for a few moments until I'd picked an ideal spot, set up my tripod, focused in to my spot, and then took a walk around to engage in the other viewpoints offered by my location.

The image wound up taking me three shots. I took a fairly standard array using various shutter speeds to obtain one middle-exposure, a darker one, and finally a brighter one, and that was about that. I took the opportunity to snap a few more shots of Coit Tower and some other directions of SF's impressive skylines before I quietly snuck back down the ladder and stole away with my precious store of images.

Here are the breakdown of exposures

Nikon D750
Sigma 24-70 at 24mm
No filter
ISO 100
  1. F-Stop: 9, 5 Seconds
  2. F-Stop: 9, 3 Seconds
  3. F-Stop: 9, 1.6 Seconds

Post Production

To blend these three exposures, I used a range of luminosity masks to capture the portions of the brighter and the darker images and blend those over the medium-base exposure. I then spend a minute manually blending in or out a few spots that I felt were either over or under exposed.

From there on, I primarily used the CameraRaw filter to bring out some more contrast, masked out the sky to target it specifically for additional contrast, and then applied a subtle vignette to the lower corners to draw attention just slightly more to the center of the image.

Train Tunnel in San Francisco

August 11, 2016

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The Shot

This was a quick early-evening shoot, after work. I walkd down through the debris and across the tracks and set up to wait for a train to cruise by.

The complete image consists of four shots. I took 3 of the composition I wanted at various F-Stops, and then waited for a while for the train to come, while occasional people stopped from the road above and stared at me. One guy remained there for a while, and I assumed he was perhaps... admiring the pursuit of art or something of that sort, until he threw a beer bottle down the hill and walked off.

The shots were pretty basic. I didn't even adjust the shutter speed for any of them, actually.

Nikon D3300
Tokina 11-17 at 13mm
Tiffen 1.2 ND Filter
  1. F-Stop: 18, 2 Seconds
  2. F-Stop: 14, 2 Seconds
  3. F-Stop: 10, 2 Seconds
  4. F-Stop: 13, 2 Seconds (Train Shot)

Post Production

Production process was fairly simply. I blended the 3 background shots at different F-Stops using luminosity masks to emphasize the contrast, then masked in the Train itself from the final picture, and finished up with some Tonal Contrast adjustments and a bit of increase to the saturation of the Reds. Biggest learning experience was just how fast a train actually approaches once you hear it coming.