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« From RAW to Final: Icelandic Rock - The Video! | Main | Fine-Art Long Exposure ONLINE COURSE! »

From RAW to Final: Icelandic Rock!

UPDATE: Due to an unreliable internet connection here in Spain, I will have to post the video showing my workflow for this image in a separate post later this week. Thank you for your patience. Marc

Hello everyone,

a huge 'thank you' to all of you who have emailed, left a comment on the blog here, on facebook, google+ etc.

Encouraged by your response, here is the behind-the-scenes write-up AND video of my 'Icelandic Rock' image (original blog about it is below):

Here is the final image as a repost:

Before the image was even photographed: The importance of doing your research!

This image started forming in my minds eye long before I sat foot on the beach right in front of it. When planning my Iceland trip, I did a lot of research as to where to shoot.

Tools I use are google earth, maps, but also web sites like flickr, 500px and even general google image searches.

When I was looking around, I came across this location on flickr:

When looking at the above images, it is important to understand that this is NOT about copying any or anyone. It's about learning how a place looks, and what photographic opportunities exists.

I also paid attention to things like water level (tides) and possible camera angles (shoot from up high or lower from the beach). I also use a small app that shows me direction of sunlight, as well as sunrise and sunset times for any shooting location I am interested in.

In summary, here is what you should know about a location even before you get there:

  • Best time to visit
  • Sunrise and sunset times
  • Angle of the sun at different times of the day
  • Tides and times. Is it better to visit at high or low tide?
  • Best shooting angle(s) and camera position
  • Anticipated choice of camera and specific lens

Obviously, sometimes we simply cannot gather all this information ahead of our shoot but it is good to at least try and be aware of this list. It will make your photography much more enjoyable and almost guarantees the highest quality results.

Finally, from the images above I already knew that I wanted to make sure to expose in such a way that allowed me to have detail in the rock as well as the background sky. I also knew I wanted to visit at high tide, when the rock was fully submerged in water. I wanted to visit at sunrise, because the angle of the sun was helping to light up the detail on the rock, eliminating the need for extended bracketing and HDR type exposure. Finally, a low angle, from the beach, gave me a better view of the rock compared to shooting from high up on the cliffs.

The Camera:

I photographed this image with my Cambo Wide DS Camera, which is essentially a shift camera particularly useful with wide-angle lenses.

The camera offers generous lens shifts, as well as rear shifts that are great when what you're looking for is being able to stitch panoramas from several images.

Let's take a look at the camera and it's movements:

For this image, I used the rear shift so that I could stitch two separate exposures. Note that I did not need to move the camera itself, I only had to shift the rear.

Compositionally, I really wanted to include a lot of negative space around 'the rock'. I only had one lens, a fixed 35mm wide-angle equivalent to about a 21mm wide-angle on 35mm full-frame digital cameras. It was a wide view, but not wide enough. The panorama helped to include significantly more negative space in my composition, and later in Photoshop I increased it even more by using the 'content aware scale' feature. More details on that later in this post.

The Shoot: Arriving at the location

I arrived a bit later than what I had been hoping for. About 3 hours before sunset. There weren't many signs, and during my entire stay I did not see any other visitors. I packed my gear and headed for the beach, taking comfort in the fact that my cell phone indeed had reception. I also packed a small snack and a water bottle, so I could stay down on the beach for as long as I needed.

It didn't take long to reach the beach, but the climb down the cliffs was a bit difficult while carrying camera gear and a tripod. As mentioned, I was happy to know my cell had some reception. I sat up my camera and started taking pictures within minutes of standing on the beach. One of the benefits of doing my research ahead of time!

The RAW files and merge to Panorama:

Here are my RAW files, which I merged to a single panoramic images in Photoshop CS5. To do this, simply select both files in Bridge and choose Tools --> Photoshop --> Photomerge.

Above, you can see the results of my panoramic stitch. If you've never tried it, I am sure you'll be surprised by how easy it really is to make panoramas. Be it using Photoshop or, my first choice, Autopano Pro Panoramic Software.

Above you can see the final composition after I have applied the 'content aware scale' command in Photoshop. Note that now the sky area has been enlarged, and I have also moved the rock off the center and the horizon line is moved down, giving emphasize to the sky.

What needs to be worked on is the sky. Unfortunetely, there were no clouds that day. But Photoshop will come to the rescue!

I have to point out, though, that I MUCH rather shoot in the right conditions than resort to Photoshop. It's much more fun to me to photograph in the right light, and this will keep my post production to a minimum as well. But in this case, it was too hard to re-visit so I had to make use of photoshop to 'enhance' the sky (and was aware of this even before I pressed the shutter).

Above you can see the image after I changed the sky, using one from another capture that was done elsewhere in Iceland.

My behind-the-scenes video will show you exactly how I did change the sky. It's a matter of making a selection and then copying in a sky from any other image files.

Compositionally, I think that this sky complements the image very well. It adds some drama, and the highlights right behind the rock makes the viewers eye travel there and stay there.

Above you can see the final Photoshop file, complete with all 8 layers. Note that this file also includes an alternate sky, as well as an alternate color treatment. All of this makes the file size explode to almost 2 gigabyte.

I used Nik Multimedia's Color Efex Pro 4 to create the color treatment above. The vignette was important to further help keep the viewers eye inside my composition. Furthermore, I used a slight blur effect that was only removed selectively on the rock, as I wanted to preserve the sharp detail there.

With this final image, I belief I have done everything to draw the viewers attention to the rock itself. The surface is very sharp, and the high amount of negative space enhances its impact within the overall composition. Finally, the false color treatment that is biased on the 'dark' side adds moods and mystery to the image. Exactly what I wanted.

Before I close, I also wanted to share my alternate color treatment for this image.

This was achieved using Alien Skin's Exposure 4 Plugin. I have been using Alien Skin products for as long as I have Nik Multimedia. If you haven't tried it yet, they do have a free trial version ready for download.

This version was actually the favorite of my wife. Everyone else around the studio preferred the first, including myself. This version is a bit brighter, not as dark and mystical.

I hope you enjoyed this behind-the-scenes look. Thank you for reading!

More tk..

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Reader Comments (1)

Hi Marc,
many thanks for the wonderful description.


July 16, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterernesto

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