Tag Archives: Sun

2015 Retrospective: Intense and Focused

Now that we are well into the year 2016, it is time for a retrospective look at my photographic journey in 2015.

The year can be summarised as intense and focused, as the majority of images I captured during 2015 were in the Mara North Conservancy and Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya, where we embarked upon an incredible seven-day safari with our friend and safari leader Mario Moreno.

Looking at my statistics, I shot more images in 2015 than I did in the years 2013 and 2014 combined.

Had the Kenya trip not happened, I suspect I would not have shot much.

Photographically, my year started quite late — near the end of April — with a macro/still life image of a new watch I had been given:

Certina 1888

Certina 1888

We had some family in town from overseas, so I took the opportunity to shoot some cityscape images from a location at which I had not shot before.

One afternoon we headed to the Glebe apartment and I waited for the right light to capture some views of the beautiful city skyline.

This was the result:

Dusk Descendence

Dusk Descendence

And a little later, during blue hour:

The View Sucks

The View Sucks

I also took the opportunity to capture this tight view of the Anzac Bridge as twilight fell:

Anzac Bridge

Anzac Bridge

In May, we all had an outing at the Wild Life Sydney Zoo in Darling Harbour.  I took a camera and a couple of lenses, but I did not shoot a great deal of images.

This image of a kangaroo was one of the more pleasing images I captured on the day:

One of Skippy's Mates

One of Skippy’s Mates

Later in the month, I felt compelled to head out and shoot another cityscape.

In the mid-to-late afternoon, I scouted for some vantage points along the western side of Circular Quay, and finally settled on the observation deck of the International Passenger Terminal, which affords a higher view, and additionally was empty and free from passers by.

I waited for the blue hour, and captured this view of Sydney which I have not seen (or photographed) before.

Circular Quay West

Circular Quay West

It had been a slow, but pleasing enough start to the year.

In June, the photography I had been eagerly anticipating since we booked the trip the previous year, would finally happen.

We headed to Kenya to spend seven days in the Mara North Conservancy and Maasai Mara National Reserve, where we would re-ignite our passion for wildlife and landscape photography.

So far I have published over 100 images from that trip, so I will not publish a great deal of those images in this article; but as the trip brought us a lot of first-time encounters, I will instead present some selected highlights from the trip.

We were based in the luxurious eco-lodge Elephant Pepper Camp, which afforded us total isolation and positioning right in the middle of where the action was.

This is a view of one of Elephant Pepper Camp‘s honeymoon/family tents:

Elephant Pepper Camp's Honeymoon Tent

Elephant Pepper Camp’s Honeymoon Tent

And this is a view of the camp at twilight, depicting the dining tent, lounge and camp fire:

Around the Camp Fire

Around the Camp Fire

Highlights of the trip included one of my finest bird images, which was my first frame of only two I snapped while this pied kingfisher was bobbing up and down in flight:



Just about every day, we were treated to lions — most prominently, the Cheli Pride.  One of the fantastic things about the Cheli Pride was its abundance of cubs, and on this trip, it was our first time seeing wild cubs, such as this cute little lion:

Lion Cub of the Cheli Pride

Lion Cub of the Cheli Pride

On one afternoon, we were fortunate enough to spend some time, in pleasing, afternoon light, in very close proximity to a lilac-breasted roller, where I captured this and a number of other images of the national bird of South Africa:



Naturally, a safari in Africa encompasses more than just wildlife — there are amazing opportunities for stunning, iconic landscape shots, and we certainly took advantage of that, rolling out into the plains in the pre-dawn darkness before other safari-goers were even awake.

This was one of my earlier landscape shots, captured during a moody morning:

The Moody Mara Plains

The Moody Mara Plains

On another morning, we captured the ‘postcard shot’ of a rising sun behind a lone acacia tree:

Sunrise on the Mara

Sunrise on the Mara

This particular tree is known as Mario‘s Tree, as Mario often photographs it.  We certainly did — several times — including one particular morning which greeted us with a colourful sky:

Lone Acacia

Lone Acacia

On only our second day on this trip, we were treated to a number of first-time encounters.  In the morning, we encountered our first Mara leopard, who was also also the first leopard we had seen in a tree; and in the evening we found our first male lion of the trip, again a member of the resident Cheli Pride.

We had gone back to Leopard Gorge to look for the young male cat, when we found a large, dominant male lion in the area instead.  If the leopard was around, he was hiding and would not be seen.

Here is the beautiful young male leopard perched high in an elephant pepper tree:

Leopard of the Day

Leopard of the Day

We not only encountered one male lion, but two!  His brother also emerged from the distance and joined him for some bonding and lazing before the night‘s hunting commenced.

Here is one of the stunning Cheli Pride males we encountered:



The day after we met the dominant males, we encountered numerous members of the pride, minus the males, feasting on a zebra kill the next afternoon.  This was another ‘first’ for us, as we had hitherto never seen lions feasting on a kill.  It was quite a sight, as this wider image shows:



The next day, we spent a dramatic afternoon with the Cheli Pride again, firstly as we encountered one of the mothers on her own, out in the open, calling for the pride.

Here is an image I captured of the lioness in the warm afternoon light:

Cheli Mother

Cheli Mother

Before long, a mighty rainstorm descended upon us, which made the big cat uncomfortable, as well as presenting challenges for us.  As the rain began to subside, camera shutters sounded like rapid gunfire as we captured action shots of the lioness shaking the water from her head.

Shake It Off

Shake It Off

Towards the end of the trip, we spent one day further south in the Maasai Mara National Reserve, where we experienced yet another first.

So far, the one species of African big cat we had never seen in the wild was the cheetah.  On that trip, we finally encountered wild cheetahs.  It was an exciting experience to firstly see them from a distance, and then drive to position ourselves optimally to be ahead of where they were headed.  It became more exciting as the cheetahs got closer, and I had a few opportunities to photograph the family, which consisted of a mother and four sub-adults.

Here is one of the nicer images I captured of these amazing big cats:

Portrait of a Young Cheetah

Portrait of a Young Cheetah

It had been a long wait, but finally we spent some time with wild cheetahs.

Our next morning in the Mara consisted of a portrait shoot with Maasai tribesman called Baba, with whom we travelled to Mario‘s Tree, where we shot some dramatic silhouette portraits of him as the sun rose on one of our final days in the Mara.

Here is one of the more striking images I captured during the session:

Baba the Maasai

Baba the Maasai

Our final evening in the Mara brought something we could have never predicted, and something which is quite rare to see: mating leopards!

At first, we spotted a young female leopard high in a tree during the warm afternoon light, but within a short time, a large, amourous male emerged from the thicket, and the two leopards began (or continued with) their ritual of rapid, exposive mating sessions, which can last for days.

We spent the rest of the drive witnessing this amazing sight, and the following image captures an intense moment as the female expresses her displeasure at the male’s advances:

Growl of the Leopardess

Growl of the Leopardess

The next morning was our final, somewhat subdued game drive in the Mara before we would fly back to Nairobi for a night and another day before departing Kenya.  We were fortunate to encounter a small pod of hippos in a watering hole, where I had the opportunity to capture some relatively close-proximity images, such as this large hippo on the bank, less than 30 metres away:

Hippo on the Bank

Hippo on the Bank

Before too long, this amazging photographic journey came to its conclusion.

After the intensity of our Mara trip, and my generally low photographic output before the trip, it was not surprising that I did not shoot much afterwards.  In fact, I shot only one more image for the remaining six months of the year!

The one image I did capture was a macro image of some red and orange roses to commemmorate our anniversary.



And so concludes my photographic journey for 2015.  It indeed was an intense and focused year, with Kenya dominating my photographic output, but with a few other images here and there.

The One

A few photography friends of mine, who have shot Little Austinmer before, told me that it can take quite a few attempts to land a cracking good image.

I first ventured to Little Austi just a little over a week before I shot this image, and while I found it a stunning location, the sky was craptacular.

Today, things were different.

The One

The One

Little Austi really needs a moody sky, as well as the right kind of ocean conditions — specifically, an incoming tide and a moderate swell.

Today, all three essential elements were present.  Not only that, but an intense red sun peeked over the horizon to add a splash of colour.

On only my second visit, I landed “the one” — the image I had been seeking.

This is it.

I landed quite a few pleasing images this morning, so I am spoiled for choice.

There will be more images to come.

Sunrise at Blackwoods Beach

During the middle of last week, I headed to a spot just south of Blackwoods Beach in Cronulla, and shot this image under a rich yet moody sky, as the sun rose to signal the start of a very hot summer day:

Sunrise at Blackwoods Beach

Sunrise at Blackwoods Beach

I have shot along this stretch of Cronulla‘s coastline a few times, but not in this particular spot.

I am pleased to say that the ‘bug’ I once had for seascape photography has returned after being dormant for too long, and I am very keen to get out again.

Very early tomorrow, I am heading to a location I have never photographed before, and one with some interesting and visually appealing features.  The conditions in both the sky and sea look quite favourable, and this particular location has been on my list for quite a long time.

Hopefully the conditions are indeed spectacular.

Maasai Mara: Day 6 of 7

By the sixth day in the Mara North Conservancy in Kenya‘s south-west, our incredible safari was rapidly drawing to a conclusion; but despite the ticking clock, a lot can happen in two days, and day six would be an amazing day, as we would later discover.

In addition to the routine morning and afternoon game drives, we had a few other plans.  One of the highlights of the day would be a visit to a traditional Maasai village located in the conservancy, where we would experience the culture of the Maasai.

The other activity we had that day was a portrait shoot.

One of the experiences Mario of South Cape Images likes to provide, is a combined cultural and portraiture session, in which photographers get to meet a Maasai tribesman and photograph him out on the Mara plains during dawn and sunrise.

Mario and Francis had arranged for us to meet Baba, a tall Maasai tribesman who lives in the Mara North Conservancy.  Contrary to popular opinion, not all indigenous Kenyans are tall, but Baba certainly was.

After our usual early start and brief morning campfire routine, we again departed into the darkness before any other guests rose from their slumber.  This time we had Baba with us, and dressed in traditional Maasai costume, and armed with a spear, we headed out to a familiar location not far west of camp: Mario‘s Tree.

As we had often experienced overnight or early morning rain during our time in the Mara in June, the sky, while still dark, was moody and contained some good cloud, which would soon enough contribute to the images we captured.

Once we arrived at Mario‘s Tree, we began setting up for a portraiture session with Baba.

I started with my 16-35mm lens, as I wanted to capture the vast expanse, but with both Baba and the acacia tree being prominent.

It was still dawn, and the morning sky had a blue cast to it, with some distinct, but not yet intense, reds and oranges on the horizon.

I shot Baba in silhouette, but I was not finding the images all that pleasing, so I switched to the 70-200, and found that the composition was much more striking and pleasing.  This time I omitted the tree, and focused only on Baba, having him face to the north so that I could capture him in profile.

Mario also found that he was not happy with the wider angles.

The sky had not yet become intsense, but it was rapidly changing.  Five minutes later, there was rich orange and purple in the sky as I continued to capture images of Baba in silhouette.

Less than two minutes later the sun peeked over the horizon and I continued shooting. Mario and Xenedette had moved further back, and Mario had switched to his 300mm lens.  Meanwhile, I saw a pleasing composition, and was waiting for the sun to be positioned at the right place as it rapidly rose.

Mario was excited about the new composition he had found from further back with a longer lens, and was begging me to come over and shoot with him.  I was too committed to the shot I was anticipating, and yelled across the plains that I was working on a particular image.

Mario was becoming anxious, as he was afraid I would lose the opportunity he saw.

I stuck to my guns, though, and landed the image I wanted:

Maasai at Sunrise

Maasai at Sunrise

I had to wait for the sun to be in the right position for this image, as I wanted it positioned between Baba and his spear.

I shot a few more images, and then raced over to Mario, finally placating him.

He showed me the image he had landed with a longer lens, and it was stunning.

Mario had attached his 1.4x tele-converter to his 300mm lens, so he had a 420mm focal length. I had left my 400mm lens in the 4WD, so rather than losing time while I fetched the 400, I borrowed Mario‘s 300 and shot what became one of my signature images on this trip, and what is currently featured as the desktop wallpaper on one of my computers.

Baba the Maasai

Baba the Maasai

To me, this image is one of those images which captures the essence of the Mara.  It is a postcard-style image, which definitely makes it clear that the location is Africa.

Soon after shooting this image, I grabbed the big 400 and shot another image, this time capturing the silhouetted shape of Baba‘s earrings.

Staring at the Sun

Staring at the Sun

I love all three of these images, but what sets this apart, besides the earrings, is the tight composition, and the subtle light that can be seen shining through Baba‘s traditional Maasai robe as it drapes over his arm.

The sun continued to rise, and we decided to start shooting frontal portraits of Baba, with the sun behind us this time.

Firstly, I shot a full-length portrait of Baba in the golden hour light, with the Mara plains and scattered acacia trees behind him.

The Maasai

The Maasai

I played with a few compositions, and eventually decided on my signature style of a tight crop and a wide aperture.

I wanted to give Baba a sense of place, but focusing more on his face, so in the intensely warm morning light I carefully composed my images, and shot with a wide aperture, but also included the subtle shape of a distant acacia tree in the background.

This was the image I landed:



At about 7:15am, we wrapped up, and headed east towards camp to drop off Baba, as we were to continue on a game drive and see what we would find.

Unusually, we did not find any big cats on this particular morning, but we still enjoyed some good sightings of other African fauna.

After we dropped off Baba, we encountered a black-bellied bustard just a few minutes south of camp, so we stopped to photograph it, as the background and light were pleasing, and the bustard was calling.

Using a long, 800mm focal length, I opted for a very tight crop of the bustard, with the background all but obliterated.

Black-Bellied Bustard

Black-Bellied Bustard

We spent about ten minutes with the bird, and decided to try and capture it at full call, as it was periodcally calling, and we had quickly learned its routine of contracting its neck such that its head was close to its back, followed by a rapid neck extension, during the height of which it emitted its call.

We were all firing off shots rapidly, capturing the entire sequence.

The highlight, of course, was capturing the bustard at full neck extension, with its beak open during its call.

I fortunately landed such an image.

The Bustard Can Sing

The Bustard Can Sing

After we concluded photographing the bustard, Francis took us in a south-easterly direction towards the Olare Orok River.  We were looking for a nice spot to stop for some breakfast, but along the way we encountered some male impalas up on a ridge, so we stopped for a few photos.

Antelopes can be difficult animals to photograph, and like zebras, they look directly at you — until you have a camera trained on them, at which time they turn away or otherwise hide in scrub, all of which destroys the possibility of landing decent images.

We soon abandoned the uncooperative impala herd and headed a little further south-west before stopping for breakfast.

It was good to jump out of the vehicle and get some circulation happening.  When game driving in Africa, it is easy to lose track of time, and before you know it, you have been sitting with your legs at a 90-degree angle for hours at a time.

After breakfast we headed further south-west, where we encountered some grazing elephants.

Grazing Elly

Grazing Elly

After spending a bit more time with the ellies, we headed north, back towards camp.  Around ten minutes later, and not far east from camp, we spotted a juvenile martial eagle high in a tree, so we stopped to capture some images.  We had seen a juvenile martial eagle in South Africa, but it was nice to see one in Kenya too.

Juvenile Martial Eagle

Juvenile Martial Eagle

I needed 800mm of focal length for this image, but it still was not enough!

We headed back to camp for some lunch, rest and time to deal with images and online happenings.

After lunch, we had plans to visit a nearby Maasai village to experience the culture of the Maasai people.

Francis drove us north-east of camp to the village, which is not far south of the C13 road which runs to Mara Rianta and beyond to the west, and Lemek and beyond to the east.

We spent around an hour in the Maasai village, where the people sang and danced for us, exposing us to their beautiful music.  We also got to step inside one of the bomas, where a tribal elder explained how the Maasai live.

During the singing and dancing, Mario and I got on the ground in the middle of the circle, photographing the Maasai people from below as they performed.  Everyone had a great time, despite the heat and the constant flies.

We were fortunate enough to be able to photograph the Maasai people, and here is a portrait I captured of a young Maasai woman, who was one of the women who sang and danced for us upon our arrival in their village.

Portrait of a Young Maasai Woman

Portrait of a Young Maasai Woman

The Maasai people also sell various African souvenirs, which Xenedette was very interested in buying.  She would have bought everything if we had more cash on us (and could carry it home), but she got down to the serious business of haggling with the Maasai over prices, after trimming down the number of items in which we were interested.  We only had very limited cash on us, as we just did not need to carry a lot in the Mara.

We came away with some very nice Maasai souvenirs, and it was a fantastic experience to be surrounded by Maasai people in their traditional village.

After our visit with the Maasai people, we headed back out into the Mara plains surrounding them, where soon enough, something very special awaited us.

Francis lead us north-west of the Maasai village, to a dense cluster of trees.  We did not know it, but he had been looking for leopards.

Francis had spotted a beautiful young leopardess resting peacefully high up in a large tree, basking in the hot afternoon sun.

We were again very excited to be in the presence of a leopard.  Leopards are so elusive, that just seeing one is an experience of its own.

We captured plenty of images of the leopardess sleeping, but in the glary conditions and contending with dappled light, photography was not particularly easy.  I may go through those images at some stage and publish something.

We sat there for a while, watching the leopardess sleep, yawn and look around, continuing to snap away as she engaged in typical leopardess behaviour.

25 minutes later, something amazing happened: a male leopard emerged from the thick, long grasses, and began to climb the trees in which we found the leopardess.

Not only had we seen a leopard resting in a tree, but we had seen two leopards at the same sighting.  Double the excitement!

What we did not know, but quickly learned, was that these two leopards were mating!

Here is an image I captured of the larger and older male leopard commencing a tree climb:

Amourous Climber

Amourous Climber

He did not need to climb much higher than this, as the female descended and began walking into the scrub.

The female soon enough swished her tail and brushed against the male, signalling her readiness for mating.

Before we knew it, a ferocious, growling roar was to be heard as the male mounted the young female and engaged in only a few seconds of mating before he quickly jumped clear to avoid being attacked.

Here is the young leopardess resting in the grass after a number of intense mating sessions:

Resting Leopardess

Resting Leopardess

News of leopards — particularly mating leopards — travels fast in the Mara, and three or four other vehicles had descended upon the scene to watch a magnificent encounter between two elusive and territorial African big cats.

I cannot recall how many times the leopards mated, but every minute or two, they were at it again, and were constantly moving around the area as they engaged in the cycle.

Photography was challenging, particularly as there was rapid movement, constant movement, thick bush and falling light.

I did manage to land a few images of leopards during rare opportunities of rest in the open, including this image of the large male, whom I have called “Big Boy” owing to his huge build:

Big Boy

Big Boy

Is he not a stunning leopard?

Not even a minute after I captured this image of Big Boy in the grass, he approached the leopardess who was resting nearby.

Growl of the Leopardess

Growl of the Leopardess

I was fortunate enough to fire the camera shutter at the precise moment the leopardess told the male in no uncertain terms that she did not appreciate his advances; but she soon relented and let him know when she was ready to mate.

Some twenty seconds later, it was on again, as these two beautiful leopards played the mating game.

The Mating Game

The Mating Game

A minute or two after this explosive session, we all decided to depart, as the leopards had moved further into the dense bush by the water, and light was falling away.  We would return the next morning to see if we could find them again.

On that magical note, we headed back to camp for dinner, drinks, some great discussion and time to reflect on the incredible sightings we had just experienced with two of Africa‘s most elusive animals.

Our sixth day in the Mara had been intense, as had they all, and what a fantastic way to close off another day in Kenya.

Stay tuned for our seventh and final day in the Mara, during which we would embark upon our final game drive, but still have some new experiences for the first time.

Rothbury Countryside

Xenedette and I headed to the Hunter Valley for the 2011 Easter and ANZAC Day long weekend, and while it was not a photographically productive weekend, I did manage to snap a shot or two.

This view looks along part of the 300-acre property on which we stayed at Rothbury.

Rothbury Countryside

Rothbury Countryside

Post-Processing Tutorial: “The Narrabeen Gorge”

In July I headed to Narrabeen for a Sunday dawn shoot.

Narrabeen and nearby Turimetta is a location I have photographed a few times before, but on this day the sky was moody.

One of my stand-out captures of the morning is The Narrabeen Gorge.  Here it is:

The Narrabeen Gorge

The Narrabeen Gorge

On this particular morning the conditions were perfect for photographing this fantastic gorge, into which water from the oncoming waves dramatically flows, producing thrilling splashes and photogenic cascades of water.  Combined with the moody sky, it was an image I had to have.

In this article I will explain the post-processing techniques I applied to this image.

Firstly, some details about the capture phase and equipment:

The final image is a blend of three exposures.  I shot many frames of the same composition, as there was much action and I wanted to give myself the most options in terms of interesting water movement.

The three images I used for the final image were exposed as follows:

  1. ISO 200, f/8 and one second;
  2. ISO 200, f/8 and 0.4 seconds; and
  3. ISO 200, f/8 and 0.4 seconds.

As can be seen, the settings for the latter two exposures are identical.  Here is where there was different water movement, and I later blended the water from both images to create a more appealing composition.  I will explain that later in this article.

The earlier exposure was longer, and while exposure was not a problem in these conditions, as is my usual practice I under-exposed and over-exposed the scene marginally to maximise my potential for capturing detail.  I used the longer exposure to brush in rock details in the foreground.

As part of this tutorial there are two screen captures to view:

  1. my raw source images (after initial processing in the raw converter); and
  2. my Photoshop layer stack (showing my various adjustment layers).

These will both be helpful when you read about the processing I did.

Here are my raw source images:

The Narrabeen Gorge - Source Raw Images

The Narrabeen Gorge – Source Raw Images

And here is my Photoshop layer stack:

The Narrabeen Gorge - Photoshop Layer Stack

The Narrabeen Gorge – Photoshop Layer Stack

Now, onto the processing.

Step 1 – Raw Conversion

I loaded my raw images into Adobe Camera Raw and made the following adjustments:

  • Camera Profile: Camera Standard
  • White Balance: Auto
  • Clarity: +60
  • Sharpening Amount: +65

I then loaded the three raw images in Adobe Photoshop CS4.

Step 2 – Distortion Correction and Horizon Straightening

A 16mm lens (even a pro-grade lens) will generally result in the horizon bowing, especially if you compose as per the rule of thirds as I mostly do, and your horizon is therefore towards the edge of the frame.

When shooting in the dark and looking through a viewfinder (even a full-frame viewfinder) or live view screen with no grid as reference lines for straightness, the horizon is often very slightly crooked, by a matter of maybe only half a degree to two or three degrees.  I am quite fussy, so I correct that as much as possible.

I fired up the Lens Correction filter (Filter, Distort, Lens Correction) and tweaked the barrel distortion and horizontal perspective sliders to correct the image as much as possible.

I cropped away as minimally as possible the undesirable borders and edges introduced as a result of image rotation.

Step 3 – Merging the Source Images

At this stage I had three separate, horizon-corrected images.  I needed all three images to be merged into the one file, with each image occupying its own layer.

I decided to use the lighter exposure as the base or background layer.  I then selected the first darker exposure, copied it and pasted it on top of the lighter image.  I repeated the process with the other darker exposure.

I now had a single image with three layers:

  1. the lighter base layer; and
  2. the first darker layer with particular water detail; and
  3. the second darker layer with different water detail.

The next step was to start manually blending the three exposures.

Step 4 – Water Blending

I now had desirable detail from three images.

In the base layer I wanted the lighter (but not over-exposed) detail in the rocks.  There is no cascading water in the base layer, so I added a layer mask to the second layer (ie, the first water cascade image), inverted it (ie, changed it to black) and brushed in much of the detail from the second layer, including the darker, moodier sky, and the cascading water.

That first darker exposure contains some nice water cascades, but the jagged rock positioned left of the middle of the frame is lacking water.  In a later exposure I had captured water cascading off this rock, and I wanted that detail in my final image, so I added a layer mask to that third layer, inverted the mask and brushed in only the water that was cascading off that particular rock.

The result was now a more dramatic, fuller image with interesting water movement throughout the scene.

Step 5 – Contrast Boost

The next layer I added was a curves adjustment layer to boost the contrast.  I used the Linear Contrast preset, which subtly adjusts the highlights and shadows without going overboard.  This simple adjustment boosted contrast and colour intensity in a subtle, but noticeable way.

Step 6 – Sky and Water Darkening

While I had a decent-looking image, there was still more to be done, and what I wanted at this point was some darkening in the sky and water to create more mood and increase the contrast and the drama.

To achieve this I added another curves adjustment layer and dragged the curve downwards to apply uniform darkening by about a stop or a stop and a half of exposure value.  Because I wanted that darkening only in certain areas (namely the lighter part of the sky around the sun, and the water in the mid-foreground, I added a layer mask, inverted the mask to disable the effect, and then brushed in the darkening in the areas where I wanted it applied.

Step 7 – More Sky Darkening

I wanted a moodier sky, so I added another curves adjustment layer, dragged the curve down, added a layer mask, inverted it, and then brushed in the darkening effect in the sky portion only, especially in the lighter areas to the right of the scene.

Step 8 – Sky Lightening

In the previous step I darkened the sky using a curves adjustment layer.  Why, pray tell, would I then lighten the very sky I had darkened?

Quite simply, I considered the sky occupying the left side of the scene to be too dark, so it needed lightening.  It is a good idea to keep lightening and darkening (or dodging and burning) actions in separate layers for ease of management.

In this case, I wanted a more evenly-toned sky, so almost identically to the previous step, I added a curves adjustment, but this time I dragged the curve upwards to lighten the sky.  I added a layer mask, inverted it and brushed in the lightening effect only in the portion of the sky I considered to be too dark.

Step 9 – Rock Lightening

In this step I added another curves adjustment layer to lighten the rocks and bring out some more detail.  To my eyes the rocks were a little on the dark side — not too dark to retain detail, but dark enough to warrant mild lightening.

On my layer mask, I brushed in the effect of a lightening curve to bring out those rock details a little more.

Step 10 – Rock Warming

Those who are familiar with the light at various times of the day will recognise that dawn light, especially under cloud cover, is very cool in colour temperature.  To my eyes the rocks were tonally too cool, so I wanted to inject some warmer colour into them.

To achieve this, I added a photo filter adjustment layer.  I chose the Warming Filter (85), which is a nice, warm orange, dialled in 41% density, and brushed in the warming effect onto the rocks via an inverted (ie, black) layer mask.

At this point the image was looking better, and within a predominantly cool blue scene there was some warmth to those rocks to balance the warm sliver of light on the horizon.

Step 11 – Saturation Increase

I tend to often apply selective saturation adjustments to my seascape images, as it gives them more visual appeal and more life.

I created a new hue/saturation adjustment layer, and as per most of the steps performed thus far, I added a layer mask and inverted it.  The benefit of inverting a layer mask is that by default the effect is not visible due to the black mask, which blocks the effect.  I learned a while back that it is easier to brush an effect in than globally apply it and then, somewhat counter-intuitively, brush the effect out of areas where it is not wanted.

In this case I brushed in the increased saturation (+30 on the slider) in the sky and rock areas; the white water was left untouched.

Step 12 – Colour Balance

At this point I still found the image too cool in colour temperature, so I decided to tweak the colour balance globally.

I added a colour balance adjustment layer and started fiddling with the sliders until I achieved a result that was visually appealing.

I worked only on the mid-tones, and settled on the following adjustments:

  • Cyan-Red slider: +12
  • Magenta-Green slider: 0
  • Yellow-Blue slider: -10

In short, I have added red and decreased blue by very similar amounts.

The image was looking much more tonally even at this point, and had a warmth which offset the cool blue inherent in the scene in those conditions.

Step 13 – Vignetting

One technique used by landscape/seascape photographers like Peter Eastway and Brent Pearson is the use of a vignette to draw the eye into the scene.  Within the last few months I have found this simple but subtle treatment to be very effective in my seascapes, and it has now become a regular part of my seascape image processing.

To create a darker edge to draw the viewer into the action, I added a curves adjustment layer, dragged the curve down, added a layer mask, inverted the mask, and lastly brushed in the effect around the edges.  I used fairly aggressive opacity to darken those extremities.

Step 14 – Sharpening

My post-processing is, for the most part, non-destructive, in that the adjustments I make via adjustment layers do not modify the original pixels; the effects are merely stacked on top of the source image(s).

In just about all cases, my final step is destructive, but I perform it non-destructively (yes, it sounds crazy, but bear with me).  How I achieve this is by creating a new layer which is a composite of all layers beneath it.  At this stage I already had 12 layers.

The way to create a new layer consisting of all lower layers is to:

  1. select the top layer first (this is very important); and
  2. press Apple-Option-Shift-E (on a Mac) or Ctrl-Alt-Shift-E on a PC.

I then had a new layer combining all of the previous post-processing I did.

Using the selection tools, I selected all areas other than the sky and applied the smart sharpen filter at 40% or 50% to boost the gritty sharpness of these areas.

All done!

And that concludes my post-processing tutorial on The Narrabeen Gorge.