So I recently did a shoot at San Diego Harbor, A was looking for a city lights shot with some boats in the scene.
Trying to do this with normal photography provides enough challenges iteself: Capturing the dynamic range between the water and the building lights, Using a fast enough shutter speed to stop any motion in the boats on a water necessitating a higher ISO which can translate into higher noise in the image. Even if you didn’t have to worry about the boat movement, capturing city lights can be difficult because it may take long exposures and digital sensors suffer from some noise problems from the long exposures.
But on top of this I wanted to do HDR’s which added more problems because now not only did I have to worry about the movement of the boats in one image but across 3 images of very different shutter speeds, so even if one of the exposures had a shutter speed fast enough to stop motion , surely I couldn’t get three that did AND then capture that motion all at the same spot.
For this shot and for most city light shot, normally I wouldn’t want to shoot when it is dark. I will try to shoot during the dusk period or sunset to a 1/2 hour later ( Dusk is longer the farther away from the equator you are). But I had already used up that period trying to get the other shots I wanted for this evening. I did not see this shot till later on the way back to my truck.
It was a difficult shoot and also a lot of work in post but I think I accomplished what I wanted. To show it as it was in person. So let’s break it down and see just what it took.
Of course as always my Canon 5D was mounted on a sturdy tripod. And using the timer mode, AV mode I fired off three shots.
Because of the darkness and the need to stop the boats in motion on at least one of my frames (hopefully the 0EV one) I set my ISO to ISO 500 and using a Depth of field calculator ( There are some great phone apps for this) I determined that with my 24mm Lens and distance to subject I could shoot as open as f/5 and still maintain a DOF from 6 feet to infinity ( The hyperfocal distance for those that follow this stuff was 12’7″ and everything in my frame was past that distance) being able to shoot that wide open help immensely since I could shoot at a much lower ISO.
So here are the three images I shot, at shutter speeds of 1/6, .6 and 2.5 seconds respectively
My next step was to take the three image into Photomatix Pro 4.0 and use it’s powerful De-ghosting tool in the first menu ( See my tutorial on how to do that HERE)
I selected the dinghies only and used the 0EV shot as the de-ghosted one. Even though that image was .6 second, the baywaters were still enough that I didn’t get any motion blur in the dinghies. With that area de-ghsoted I moved onto to tone mapping the image.
Using my usual tone mapping preset recipe of 70 Strength, 70 saturation, high smoothing and -1.20 Gamma. I finished out in Photomatix with this image
OK, that looks pretty nice, some good detail fairly nice range, lots of color. But the truth was that wasn’t how I saw it. The colors were way too poppy and I didn’t have the detail in the buildings I really wanted. So I need a solution to fix both those problems. I try desautrating the color, different level and curves adjusments but they really didn’t fix what I wanted or if they did they caused others
So to fix my “Color” problem i turned to our old friend… Black & White. Black & white is great for detail and contrast so I am going to turn to that for some help.
In Photoshop, I opened the image and then made a duplicate layer, That layer I converted to Black & white using a Gradient Map process (* Google it). The result was this:
Perfect just what I wanted. Now here is where the magic comes in. I am going to duplicate the bottom color layer again and move that above the black & white layer. Magic time. Now I moved to the Blend mode and changed it to “Darken” on that top color layer.
Wow, now that was exactly what I was looking for, the colors while much more muted and were faithful to what was actually there. The sky became more of the black it was at that time of night and the detail and intensity of the skyline buildings came back to where it should be and as it was to the eye.
Then after taking the image into Neat Image to clean up a little bit of noise on the boats and then some sharpening of the image with a Low Pass Filter Sharpening ( I will have a quick turtorail on how to do thsi soon) My Image was done, Just what I saw that night
Awesome article and tip for processing!!
Thanks for the tips, your info on the mpix forum was always so great- glad I started following your blog as well.
You tip save me again. I went out yesterday and shot a old Mill and after processing and trying different things was getting close but either lost the punch or had to much. I did this process and WOW it looks great and added more depth to the overall image. Thanks again. Keep the tips coming!!!
[…] This was one of the most difficult shoots I have done, Both in Camera and in Post. It took a lot of work to get it right and to make it show “As it was”. In fact I will use one of the images for an upcoming post on the HDR Image. and Here it is : Anatomy of a Shot- Harbor Lights […]
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