Rodney Campbell's Blog

Blending Lines…

by on Sep.04, 2014, under Life, Photography

This was actually my first shot at our session at Camp Cove. What’s unusual (at least for me) with this image is that it’s a manual blending of two images

With landscape and seascape images especially on the cusp of the days (sunrise, sunset & twilight) I almost always use some form of graduated neutral density filter to hold down the usually brighter sky to match that of the darker foreground. This is so I can achieve a nicely balanced exposure (or as close as I can get to it) in one shot. I prefer to do as much as I can to get it right out in the field so I have as good a source material as possible and am left with very little to do back in post processing

This was the case here as I used the Lee 0.9 (3 stop) GND for the shot however I was also stacking this with the Lee BigStopper (10 stop ND) to greatly lengthen the exposure time (out to minutes). We were getting a bit of cloud movement in the right sort of direction so we figured some long exposures were in order

Blending Lines

Blending Lines

NIKON D600 + 16.0-35.0 mm f/4.0 @ 16 mm, 62 sec at f/11, ISO 50

When using heavy ND’s – especially in rapidly changing light (here it’s about 5-10 minutes to sunset) it can be a bit of a guessing game selecting the right bulb mode shutter time to get the right long exposure for the shot. Normally I look at what the exposure would be without the ten stop ND (in Aperture priority mode) then switch to Manual (bulb) mode. I then add the BigStopper and then start the shot and whilst it’s going work out roughly how long I want to shoot for (ten or so stops more). I often add another half to one stop – especially in falling light (sunset)

My first shot of the session (144 seconds) was slightly overexposed for that bright patch of sky right on the horizon and on the water just below (but the foreground rocks were very nicely exposed)

I could straight away see some blinking highlights in the image review, I suspected I might be able to save most of them from the RAW file in post (since the histogram in camera is based off the 8 bit JPEG preview which has less dynamic range than the 14 bit RAW file). However the image was looking a little too bright for what I wanted overall anyway so decided to take another shot

My second take with the same overall settings except that I more than halved the shutter time (62 seconds). This had a much better histogram – almost touching the right side and also having no crushed blacks but pretty much touching the left. The exposure for me for the top two thirds (and the bottom right corner) of the image was just about perfect but that bottom left corner where the green covered rocks and around it in the shadowy darkness was too dark for me

As I mentioned earlier I almost never blend images in photoshop (except for stitched panoramas and star trails) however this was a case where I had a perfectly usable source frame. I likely could have extracted detail from the shadows in that bottom left corner but it’s always better to use well exposed source data than try and rescue underexposure

I opened the two source images as layers in photoshop with the second (better overall exposure as the top layer) and just added a simple layer mask and lightly painted in the better exposure for that bottom left corner (mostly the rocks) from first (overexposed) image I’d taken for a little blending to take effect. I was using a large brush with very low flow and opacity so the blending would appear seamless. Whilst I was there it also allowed me to paint in some of the better exposed shed which sticks up above the horizon into where the grad was covering it, and also slightly lighten up that top left corner which I felt was just a bit too dark

The finished image is above and the two source frames are below

NIKON D600 + 16.0-35.0 mm f/4.0 @ 16 mm, 144 sec at f/11, ISO 50

NIKON D600 + 16.0-35.0 mm f/4.0 @ 16 mm, 62 sec at f/11, ISO 50

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