This is a five frame composite B&W image of a single Reddish Egret patrolling a small pool of water at the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.
There was some interest in how I did this and it’s relatively simple, so I thought I’d show you the steps.
To start with, the light was very strong, so I overexposed to get details in the bird and this washed out the water / background. I’d made several frames, so I processed all of them identically in Lightroom to force the background further to white and then loaded them into layers in Photoshop.
I selected all the layers and set their blend modes to “Darken” which forces only the darkest parts of each frame to show through. This is a key step – with the right background, the blend mode does all the work and you don’t have to do any selection / cutting / pasting.I made the canvas larger so I had room to work:
Then I used the move tool (top of the tool bar) and selected each layer so I could place them:
Once I moved them to where I thought they looked good, I use curve adjustments on each layer to reduce brightness differences and followed with the clone tool to smooth a few remaining variations. After cropping out the extra canvas, and adding a bit of clarity to the bird shapes I was ready to return to Lightroom.
In Lightroom I finished tweaking it (white and black points, sharpening, vignette, etc), converted to Black and White “and Bob’s your uncle“.
I’m sure there are other ways to do this, but I found this method easy enough. If you have any questions, please let me know in the comments. And if you’ve tried anything like this, I’d love to see your images.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos! And maybe some composites too!
Let’s go fishing! Two fishermen head out before dawn.
I’ve made this kind of photo before – you can see some examples in this set on Flickr. I think this one turned out better than my earlier tries. I used a different approach and because it’s been a while since I’ve written a “behind the scenes / how-to post”, I thought I’d fill you in on how I made this.
The boat ramp at this little park where SR 520 crosses the St. Johns River is pretty busy around dawn. It seems to be a popular place for fishermen to put in. I waited several times while they cleared my frame and the water calmed down before I could make my next exposure. So I decided to make an image that included a boat.
It’s a challenging shot. I wanted to capture the intense sunrise colors so I had to be careful not to over expose and blow out the sky. I also wanted some detail in the boat, so I needed to over expose there a bit, but still minimize motion blur. At sunrise, I normally use a low ISO for the best quality image, and a small aperture for good depth of field. This results in a long shutter speed, which is bad for photographing moving boats. And if I want to bracket and use multiple frame HDR to capture the huge contrast range in the scene – that’s even worse for moving boat photography. So how did I make this image? Glad you asked!
The secret is to carefully capture two frames and blend them together by hand. The first frame is exposed for the boat: I used a high ISO and a wide open aperture to get my shutter speed as fast as possible, and I overexposed slightly to capture a little shadow detail in the boat and in the vegetation on the shore. With my camera set and on a tripod, I composed and waited for the next boat to get to the right point in the frame. Here’s that RAW file:
The second frame was my main exposure and I wanted it to be the best quality possible. I also wanted to slightly under expose to capture color and detail in the sky. I waited until the boat was gone and the water was calm again and then made this exposure:
When I got home, I preprocessed the two raw files using identical color balance and paying careful attention to noise reduction (especially on the higher ISO frame with the boat). I’ve used DxO Optics Pro lately when I want the best RAW conversion. It does a wonderful job on both lens corrections and noise reduction for supported equipment. After a few tweaks to exposure in each file, I brought them into Photoshop on separate layers.
The next thing to deal with was the boat. Even though I’d pushed my shutter speed as high as I thought I could, 1/20 second still left a little motion blur visible. The “Filters / Sharpen / Smart Sharpen” command in Photoshop has a “Remove Motion Blur” option and I’ve found that it works well in situations like this where the direction of motion is known. I used it selectively on a duplicate layer to enhance detail in the boat. Here are before and after crops at 200%. I think it’s a nice improvement:
Next I used layer masks to blend the multiple frames together. I worked carefully around the boat and painted it into the main / second frame. I like a little detail in my shadows instead of a straight silhouette. Since I’d slightly overexposed the first frame (and was careful with noise reduction) I painted some of that into the vegetation. Here’s the first merged result:
The only filter I used on this was Topaz Clarity – I like the way it increases mid-tone contrast without adding halos.
After selective sharpening on a separate layer, I returned to Lightroom for final adjustments (black and white points, vignette, etc) to get the first image in this post.
I struggled some with the cropping. I tried a 16×9 aspect ratio, but because I wanted to keep all the sky, I thought the horizon ended up too close to the center. I decided to keep the original composition since the dark water at the bottom holds my eye in the frame. I might play with it some more.
I like how it turned out and I hope you do too. I also hope the info helps with your photography. If you have any questions on details or other photography related things, let me know in the comments.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now, go make some photos!
It’s been a while since I posted an in depth technique article, so I thought I’d do another one. Warning: Major photo geek out ahead. If you’re not into HDR, panoramas, post processing, etc. please move along.
OK, now that it’s just us photo nerds left, wanna see some sausage made? Let’s get started.
My question to you: What if you want more pixels in your final image, more dynamic range in both highlights and shadows, and better depth of field, all by using a much simpler technique than you might normally use? How would you go about it? I’ll explain one approach I used recently to make this lead photo from my previous post:
Finished image (click to view on Flickr)
I made this with a 12 megapixel Nikon D700, but my final image file is 4238 pixels wide by 5776 pixels tall (about 24.5 Megapixels). It has good depth of field with objects from very close out to the horizon in focus. It also has good dynamic range with both the ground and the sunrise & clouds well exposed.
If you were going to create an image like this using conventional techniques, it could require 6 or more exposures. You’d mount your camera on a tripod and manual focus. You might analyze the scene to decide on an optimum exposure. Then you’d make three bracketed exposures around that, first of the lower portion of the image, then shifting your camera viewpoint up toward the clouds – three more bracketed exposures. Then you’d use panorama software to combine the three pairs of images at each exposure value, followed by HDR software to combine the three resulting panoramas into an HDR file and tone map it. You might have to play with the result quite a bit to eliminate noise, ghosting, etc. introduced by the HDR software. And if you wanted to stretch the depth of field, you might go through this twice with different focus points, and combine them too. In some situations, you could also try using graduated neutral density filters to control dynamic range.
Whew – that could be a whole lot of work! I didn’t do all that. Instead, I used a much simpler idea. Basically, I just combined two images manually in Photoshop.
If you’re still with me, read on (it might look complicated, but it’s actually harder to read about than do). Here are the details.
I hand held my camera and used an image stabilized lens so I didn’t have to worry too much about longer exposures. The camera was in landscape orientation. I used aperture priority, with matrix metering auto exposure, and auto focus using the center focus point. When I made these, I held my camera very carefully to make sure there was no side to side movement and that the horizon was level so there was no rotation between shots, and I made sure there was at least 30% vertical overlap between the two images. I also shot in RAW mode for the best dynamic range and control over processing.
For this first photo, I pointed at the sky and let the camera auto expose for the bright clouds and sunrise. It also auto focused on the clouds in the middle of the frame. It’s at 16 mm, ISO 200, and f/8 @ 1/160 sec. Here’s the unprocessed RAW source image for the sky:
For this second photo I pointed down at the ground and this time the camera exposed for the dark foreground. It auto focused on the ripples in the water just short of the first coot (again in the middle of the frame). It’s at 16 mm, ISO 200, and f/8 @ 1/25 sec. (almost 3 stops more exposure). Here’s the unprocessed RAW source image for the ground:
Then I processed the RAW photos. I used Capture NX2 and converted them to TIF, but you could use Photoshop to convert them and not need CaptureNX2. I set picture control to neutral, white balance to daylight, enabled distortion correction, and tried to bring both photos closer in overall brightness. Here are the two processed images:
Next I loaded the files into Photoshop as separate layers in the same file, and used Photoshop’s Edit / Auto Align Layers function to place the two images relative to each other.
At this point, I added a layer mask (reveal all) for the sky image and then painted black to remove the portions below the horizon that I didn’t need. It was fairly easy to blend the images by changing the brush opacity and either erasing or painting in until it looked correct.
The final steps then are the same ones used for any photo: crop, sharpen, levels, apply any creative filters you like, etc.
Once you go through this a few times, it’ll be easier and you can, of course vary some of these steps based on your own preferences.
I think this “Two Image Pano / HDR / Focus Stacking” technique can be really useful and it has several advantages over standard approaches normally used for this kind of image.
It’s simpler than conventional techniques, and yields very good results.
You can hand hold in many cases, especially if you use an image stabilized camera or lens.
It uses the camera’s auto exposure effectively to expose correctly for the different areas of the image.
You can post process with just Photoshop – other software isn’t required.
It greatly increases the dynamic range of the final image without requiring HDR processing or software. It doesn’t require a straight line horizon like graduated neutral density filters would.
Depth of field can be increased over that in a single exposure or in a conventional pano / HDR approach.
It also substantially increases vertical field of view.
This technique is situation dependent: It’ll only produce portrait or perhaps square orientation output images (although you’ll have lots of pixels to crop to other formats). It only works where the scene is easily divided into two portions where the brightness varies vertically. Also,the dynamic range increase available from just two images may not be enough in all situations.
So, should you use it?
Why not? Under the right conditions, it can generate very good results with minimal effort. Now that you’ve heard about this technique, you can watch for scenes where you may be able to use it.
Then you can try it – and please let me know how it works for you.