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Before and After – Warburton Cement Creek



Last Thursday I spent the morning watching the weather forecast as a heavy pattern of rain made its way over Victoria and tried to find somewhere new to take photos. I can’t say I’ve ever gone and chased waterfalls during summer on a 35 degree day but I am so glad I did! I eventually decided to take a drive to Warburton and explore the area around East Warburton which is home to Warburton Creek and the beautiful redwood forest which I’ll look to share in a future post. 

Walking around Warburton Creek was stunning even if I did take the wrong turn and walk the wrong way for 30 minutes or so in the scorching heat. Boy was it hot! But with that said, I eventually found some stunning little streams in Warburton to photograph and I was suddenly like a kid on Christmas day. It was the most refreshing feeling standing knee deep in water on a boiling Melbourne day. I just regret not taking some swimmers! 

Without realising I was suddenly caught in the heavy showers I’d been watching in the weather forecasts in the days leading up. The rain was almost torrential at times which led to flash flooding in the area and difficult photography conditions. Unfortunately I didn’t get much of a chance to fire off many photos as the lens would quickly be saturated whenever I aimed in any direction.

Water droplets blurring parts of my image

With the severe weather conditions, this is what led me to photograph and process the image how I have. The plan was to take 3 images to create a vertical panorama which sort of worked. I luckily managed to get a photo off of the bottom half of the scene without any water droplets on the lens but as I slowly moved my camera upwards, a few water droplets made their way onto the camera lens. Easily avoidable if you actually stop to check your lens between shots. Oops!

Getting water drops on your lens isn’t the end of the world and just leads to some blur to parts of your image. In trying to hide the water drops, I looked to create a light burst effect through the trees. It was very much an experiment of a new technique that I’d picked up off a Phlearn video and I’d love to hear your feedback. Is it too much? Doesn’t float your boat? Let me know!


To give you more understanding to how this image was post processed I’ve put together this small clip. Hopefully it doesn’t bore you senseless but gives you more of an understanding to how the radial blur and layer masks were applied to the image.  The key post processing made to the image include:

  • Stitching the three images in Photoshop – Quite self explanatory and more comes down to personal preference. I feel that once upon a time 3rd party tools like Ptgui owned the panorama space but now days Lightroom and Photoshop provide great offerings. I used Photoshop to stitch the three images.
  • Removal of distortion and levelling – Shooting with a Canon 17-40 at 17mm on a full frame body leads to some distortion being introduced to the image. I pulled this back by using the lens correction tool.
  • Creating light bursts – This is a mix of using the radial blur tool set to Zoom, quality set to Best and the amount set to 100. By using layer masks, I create a black layer masks (effectively disabling the radial blur) and then started to slowly re-introduce the radial blur (or light bursts) into the frame by painting over the image with the white brush. The key here was to try make the bursts look natural and coming through the trees. Once this was applied, I then looked to apply a light burst technique by Phlearn which added a nice finishing touch.
  • Lens flare – Wow, I haven’t touched this since I picked up Photoshop CS2 many, many years ago and was making crappy logos for my Geocities website. The intent of using the lens flare tool was to create a sense that a warm light was coming through the trees. I applied a warm photo filter over the lens flare to give a golden hour light feel to the image.
  • Luminosity masks – I used to be a sceptic about luminosity masks thinking they would slow my walk flow down and were people who didn’t know how to post process their images (oh how wrong I was on both fronts). Luminosity masks have been around for years and there are some great tutorials by Sean Bagshaw who explains the technique in more detail. In short though, luminosity masks allow you to make very selective changes to your darks, mids and highlights of an image. For this image, I used luminosity masks to make curves, photo filter saturation changes to small parts of the image. I love the granular control that luminosity masks give you over an image. I’m so glad I spent the time to watch Sean’s video’s and would recommend for anyone looking to further grow their post processing skills.

With fiddling back and forward I eventually ended up with the below image – 

Warburton Cement Creek
Warburton Cement Creek

Should you have any feedback on how the image was processed or questions feel free to reach out as I’d love to hear from you. The post processing for this image might not be for everyone’s tastes and was more an experimental edit for me so I’d love to hear your feedback.

Thanks for reading (and hopefully watching),



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Before and After – Under the Stars

Sitting under the stars in Pimba, South Australia
Sitting under the stars in Pimba, South Australia

In the last few years I’ve been in awe of the work by Michael Shainblum who is just one of the many people  upping the game when it comes to silky clean milky way and star photographs. I have to admit, milky way photography has never been one of my strongest points and I’ll often blame the age of my Canon 5D Mark II being limited in lowlight as an excuse to not get out and shoot milky ways. With a recent trip I was keen to challenge myself with this photograph titled Under the Stars which features me, sitting on a hammock attached to a tree wrapped in fairy lights under the milky way with a fully stoked fire keeping us warm. The end photo required a few shots at varying exposures to bring it all together which I’ll look to walk you through in this post.

Challenging your in camera and post processing techniques

On a drive from Melbourne to Perth (50 hours of driving) I was keen to explore some of the night skies in the middle of nowhere and add a couple of milky way shots to my gallery. Yes, the Canon 5D Mark II struggled at ISO 3200 but unless you’re looking close, it’s not too noticeable (well I think so anyway..!)

[box type=”info” style=”rounded”]My Melbourne to Perth roadtrip post has more photos from this trip where I explored some of the best parts of Australia[/box]

This is one of my favourite photos of the trip and is something that was just a concept I was keen to try. To be honest, I didn’t think I’d be able to pull it off in getting the right exposures and post processing it correctly but I’m pretty happy with the end result. 

The hammock wasn’t just for decoration and was the perfect way to kick back before the sunset

Coming up with a concept that’s outside your comfort zone and giving it a go is the only way to really push your development in hands on photography and post processing. There were other concepts that I toyed with while we were away and you know what? They didn’t come off. But it was fun taking them and giving them a try. Next time you’re planning a photography outing, why not set yourself a lofty goal and see how you go executing it? If you fail, you’ll learn so much on how to do it different next time. If you succeed, you’ll no doubt pick up on things you can do better next time while learning little techniques that you may not normally use in your normal post processing workflow.

[box type=”info” style=”rounded”]I recently bought a new travel tripod and compared the 5 most popular tripods on the market. Give my travel tripod guide a read if you’re looking for a lightweight tripod for your next trip![/box]

About the photograph

Unglamorous camp photo. I couldn’t resist and camped without my tent cover. Sleeping under the stars was something amazing

For this photograph, Under the Stars, we were camping in Pimba, South Australia which is basically in the middle of no where. As we were driving around the area looking for somewhere to set up our tents for the night, we found this secluded part located just off the salt lake and surrounded by this tree you see in the photo. Straight away we knew where we were camping for the night. It was perfect, silence that was almost eerie and skies that were darker than some of my brother’s music tastes in high school (really dark! Sorry Rich 😉 ) 

After shooting the sunset and then shooting the milky way down at the salt lake for a few more hours, we eventually headed back to our tents but were still keen to shoot for a while longer to make the most of the dark skies.

With a hammock already in the tree from some lazy beers in the sun earlier and the fire lit to warm up, we decided to pull the solar powered fairy lights out of the car which we had bought on the first day of our trip and neglected ever since. I knew they would eventually come in handy..!  

[box type=”info” style=”rounded”]Interested in landscape photography? My guide to landscape photography shows you how to get started in this fun part of photography[/box]

Taking the photograph

The final photo was a mix of 4 images with the other 6 very loosely used where required (i.e. detail in the tree or fire)

When experimenting with an image concept I have a habit of going overboard with my image brackets. Throw in the poor performance of the Canon 5D Mark II and you have 10 bracketed images. Ok ok. I probably could have got by with less but better safe than sorry right? 

There is some reasoning to my madness with the need for having 10 different images coming from:

  • Tree and fairy lights –With a light wind around this meant a shorter exposure of the tree and fairy lights was needed to avoid any shake. This had to be a high ISO shot to get a shorter exposure (5 sec)
  • Me sitting in the hammock – Trying to sit still in a hammock with no subtle movements should be an Olympic sport. Either that or I have ants in my pants. With this said, I needed a shorter exposure  (2.5 sec) of me sitting in the hammock to minimise the risk of any subtle movements
  • Exposing for the stars behind the tree – With the plan to make this a two image panoramic (one for the scene you see in most of the frame and another for the milky way sky) it was important to bracket a shot of the stars behind the tree which would allow for a seamless alignment of the two images
  • Positioning the camera further up to capture the milky way – I won’t lie the milky way wasn’t directly above the tree like the photo suggests but it was close! Unfortunately it was hovering just to the right of the tree however by angling the camera up I was able to capture a frame which would later be used above three
  • Short burst for the fire – The plan was to capture the fire looking more natural rather than a blur of orange light. Even at ISO 25600 I wasn’t able to get an exposure short enough to get the fire how I wanted it. At ISO 25600, the Canon 5D Mark II really comes into its own with its amazing handling of noise (sarcasm intended). 
  • Couple of extra frames for good measure – I’ve got nothing. Press the button and hope for the best for a few frames?

Bringing it all together


I’d love to tell you that I processed this with the same level of precision like Marc Adamus in the space of 10 minutes. But in reality of me being sleep deprived after driving 12 hours the day before and not really knowing what I was doing, the edit for this photo took a couple of hours or so of extreme procrastination and trial and error. 

The key elements to processing this image (after we get past the trial and error):

  • Bringing all the concepts together with layer masks – As mentioned earlier in the post, I shot a series of frames at different ISO levels and shutter speeds to minimise noise where possible and capture specific detail (i.e. me in the hammock or the detail of the fairy lights).
  • Cloning out the car – Not sure when composing that I didn’t notice a small part of the car in the frame. Whoops. A quick touch over with the clone stamp tool had it removed.
  • Colour grading – Sorry, that sounds wanky but it also sounds like I know what I’m talking about so let’s run with it. Colour grading was selectively applied to the image using layer masks. The intent here is to control the colour to parts of the scene which may have been affected by noise. Parts of the image where these minor tweaks were applied include adjusting the blue hues in the sky and dialling back the orange glow on the sand.
  • Overlaying the milky way – Dropping the milky way into the shot was either going to make or break the photo. In an effort to make it look as natural as possible, I used the bracketed image with the stars as the base image of the sky. I then used the image which had the milky way with a very subtle transition through the tree using an inverse selection. 
  • Noise reduction – Shooting at ISO 3200 and higher does leave you with some ugly noise in parts (i.e. around the dark parts of the sand where I’ve tried to pull back some detail). Fortunately Nik Collection’s free Dfine tool works wonders for the removal of noise. I don’t apply noise reduction across my whole image and prefer to just apply it selectively to parts of the image most affected. When you are applying noise reduction, you are reducing the sharpness of the image so it’s important to ensure you are only applying it where needed to minimise any loss of sharpness. 
  • Dodging of the scene – As I was using exposures of various dynamic ranges, there wasn’t much needed in the way of dodge and burning of the scene. With only some minor dodging applied to the fairy lights to make them appear brighter and further dodging around the fire to create the flare effect you see in the final image.

To help give you a sense of how the different adjustments were made and effected the image, I’ve put together this short clip which gradually introduces the various layers to reach the final image.

[box type=”info” style=”rounded”]If you enjoyed this post, be sure to give my Before and After series a look for similar posts[/box]

Feel free to use the contact page if you have any comments or questions about this post.

Thanks for reading!


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Before and After – Port Melbourne

Port Melbourne Before
Port Melbourne After

Driving around Port Melbourne on a rainy Sunday with Jon Sander last winter, we stumbled across this overpass that provides a great view of one of Melbourne’s busier highways. We were fortunate that the overpass was quiet and isolated away from the traffic below making its way in and out of Melbourne.

So… The photo you see is actually a composite of three images. One image formed the base with an additional two images being used to exaggerate the amount of traffic. Sure, I could have kept the shutter open for longer but to be honest – I am slightly pedantic when it comes to these things. Sometimes it can be easier to capture the base image and snap seperate frames when you see a large lump of traffic or a truck coming. Using layer-masks makes dropping the additional traffic into the frame quite easy. Over the top? Probably.

When it came to the colour grading of the image, I wanted to keep the cold feel from the day (keeping the sky looking cold and gloomy) but wanted some warmth to parts of the image. Using layer masks and a warmer temperature, I warmed the bottom half of the image while leaving the top half of the frame with a cold feel (using a layer mask to ensure the top half remain untouched).

For the remainder of the image, I used a range of dodge and burning to:

  • Bring out the star effect in the lights
  • Lighten the surrounding buildings
  • Add mood to the sky

And that’s that 🙂 Apologies that this post isn’t glamorous with interesting information. It wasn’t the most complex scene or photo to edit. The only trickery here was around the multiple layers used to exaggerate the flow of traffic.

If you have any questions, be sure to comment or drop an email!


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Before and After – Wye River



Photographing star trails is something that is forever on my to do list. I’ve photographed countless sunrise and sunsets over the years but star trails continue to elude me. On a trip down the Great Ocean Road for a few days, I was determined to pick a night and setup for some star trails. My intention was to find a reasonable composition, a rock to sit on, load my tablet up with an episode of The Newsroom (great show I might add) and sat back while the camera did the rest.

Taking the Photos

Luckily conditions were perfect for star trails with the sky being clear and the moon relatively new. When photographing star trails, those much smarter than I suggest it is better to time your star trail photography around the time of the new moon. This results in less light emitted by the moon allowing for a darker sky. Another thing that has to be considered when doing star trail photography is light pollution. This can be a real issue if you live in bigger cities. I’m from Melbourne, Australia, often we will drive 100km ~ from the city, and still struggle some light pollution that leaves some light visible in the sky. This does not make photographing stars impossible but is something to consider if you do live in a bigger city. Fortunately, for this trip, we were headed far from Melbourne with minimal light pollution so it was clear and very dark skies.  This led to some great conditions for star trails even if I still got some noise pollution through an orange glow from Geelong in the left of the frame.

One thing that has always acted as a deterrent for star trail photography is sitting around in the dark for hours on end while your camera exposes the earth moving on its natural axis (thanks wiki!). This time around I decided to come a bit better pre-planned and loaded up my tablet with episodes of The Newsroom and made myself at home while my camera exposed for 2 hours. I must admit, I love being in nature on my own but not so much when it’s pitch black dark. Let’s just say – I was happy when the exposure was over so I could get home and jump into a warm bed 😉

Using the pilons as my key composition, I arrived at the location around sunset with the intention of taking a photo on blue hour to capture an image while there was still a lot of light in the scene. The idea here was to get a good dynamic range shot of the pilons in case later during the night, it got too dark and difficult to get a good exposure.

Rather than capture one 80 minute long exposure I decided to take 8 x 10 minute exposures to minimise noise in my image. Unfortunately the 5D Mark II isn’t fantastic in the dark when it comes to noise so opting to blend exposures is a nifty and cheeky way of avoiding this.  The end result was 8 x 10 minute exposures at F/5 and ISO 100.  This was made possible by using an intervalometer where I specified the exposure time, interval between photos and how many photos I was taking. Other than occasionally glancing at the LCD screen to see how the exposures were looking, I then sat back and enjoyed an episode of The Newsroom until the camera finished doing its thing.

Post Processing the Photos

Blending multiple star trail photos is made easy through the Lighten layer mode in Photoshop. I simply loaded my blue hour image up and then added the 8 images as layers. With these open, I changed the layer mode to Lighten which then combined the star trails and created some nice lines.  In case you’re still a little bit still confused I’ve put together a quick clip which demonstrates the process. It’s really that easy.

With the images blended I then went about post processing which I’ve put together into a headache inducing timelapse video. You might notice that I do a lot of flicking back and forward during the video? This isn’t the original edit of the photo and I’m simply checking back to the original during the edit to check how my edit fared in comparison to the original edit.

Through the mad scramble of the above clip I made the following changes:

  • Combined all images using the Lighten layer mode
  • Straighten of image with left over back bars fixed up using the content aware tool. I must profess – I’m a sucker for the content aware tool especially when replacing areas that are quite simple like a mark on a blue sky (more on Adobe’s website about content aware). As the black bars were appearing next to blue sky I used the content aware tool to fill in the areas and it didn’t let me down. Although with that being said, it can be a bit temperamental occasionally and force me to not be lazy 😉
  • Removal of torch light trail. I was shooting with Jon Sander who was off shooting at another location and decided to come back to see how it was going. After sitting in the dark on my own for an hour, I must admit, I wasn’t really expecting visitors and got quite the fright. As he entered the scene, his torch left a light trail which was removed using the content aware tool
  • Curves layer for the sky to brighten the sky up and emphasize the stars
  • Curves layer for the ground by pumping up the shadows and bringing as much detail as possible
  • Subtle hue and saturation change to the sky
  • Selective brightening of the pilons using the dodge tool
  • Silver Efex Pro Contrast adjustment layer at a mid opacity to introduce a dynamic contrast to the image

Below shows the final image with the layers combined and edits made. In hindsight I I should have stayed around for another hour but after being up for sunrise, shooting all day and sunset, I was wrecked and ready for a warm bed.

The final image - Star trails at Wye River. More photos from this trip can be seen in my Great Ocean Road post.
The final image – Star trails at Wye River. More photos from this trip can be seen in my Great Ocean Road post

Hope you enjoyed this post in my Before and After series.


– Alex

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Before and After – Liffey Falls


Liffey Falls Before

Liffey Falls After[/twentytwenty]

As a photographer, we all have one or two images that are personal favourites. For me, this is mine. It’s a photo captured at Liffey Falls, Tasmania on a wet and wintery day.

Generally personal favourites for me are images that have back stories that make them what they are.  Before taking this photograph I had spent 4 days driving around the Tasmanian West Coast in constant torrential rain without much opportunity to get the photos I’d hoped for. Sure it was beautiful walking along those empty beaches in the pouring rain and exploring the quiet towns of the West Coast but at the same time disappointing not to be able to photograph it in all its glory. Feeling a bit tired and over it all, I decided to make a last ditch attempt for some photos at Liffey Falls even if it was pouring with rain.

Taking the Photograph

The rain over the trip seemed relentless and upon arriving it was still constant even through the towering trees. Luckily for this photo I managed to find a nice little spot underneath a large rock slightly covered from the downpour. Being close to the waterfall created its own challenges with water from the waterfall creating a constant spray over my lens. I couldn’t escape the rain! But eventually after taking a photo, wiping the lens and repeating, I eventually got something without water spray all over the image. It was nice walking away from driving around 1200km over 4 days to walk away with one image I was happy with. Regardless thoughI would have probably been happy with nothing. Exploring the Tasmanian West Coast is a joy in itself. Such a beautiful part of the world. In case you’re interested, photos from this trip to the Tasmanian West Coast can be found in a previous post.

The image was captured with a Canon 5D Mark II, Canon 17-40, manfrotto tripod and Hoya Circular Polariser with a 1 second exposure at f/18. Generally I’ll try to shoot a waterfall for a little longer but due to the constant spray from the waterfall I had to settle with a shorter exposure to get a photo without spray all over the lens.

[box]Interested to learn more about photographing waterfalls? Read my how to on photographing waterfalls here[/box]

Post Processing the Photograph

With the amount of spray coming off the waterfall it made the shoot quite the shoot and dash affair. With this in mind, I deliberately shot the image a little under exposed with the intention of pulling back detail in post. Generally shooting slightly under exposed is a good rule of thumb as it offers you a lot of flexibility in post as you are able to recover detail. Shooting over exposed and trying to recover detail is another story and not generally recommended.

Blending two exposures

With the image shot under exposed, I went about loading the image into Lightroom and exporting two images from the RAW. One at the normal exposure that the photo was shot at and another over exposed at +1.52.

The two images used for blending in Photoshop. One at a neutral exposure and another 1.52 stops over exposed
The two images used for blending in Photoshop. One at a neutral exposure and another +1.52 stops over exposed

The intention here was to use the over exposed image (+1.52) to bring out detail in areas that were quite dark in the original exposure in particular the foliage areas around the waterfall. Combining parts of the over exposed/second image was through the use of layer masks. I’ve written about the layer mask technique previously and funnily enough, the example image in the post is this photo from Liffey Falls so I’ll let that post do the talking.

Colour Correcting

The end result of blending the two images was recovering detail around the waterfall that was otherwise lost in the normal exposure. With the foliage recovered, I then went about making shifts to the red, green and blue colour channels via the curves tool.

In case you’re not familiar with the Curves tool, this gives you the ability to make adjustments to the shadows, midtones and highlights of an image. But for those seeking more control, you can select either the Red, Green or Blue channels and specifically just adjust the shadows of that channel of an image. It’s generally my go to when editing an image in terms of colour correction and changes to the dynamic range of an image.  For a quick look into the clip be sure to give this little clip about Photoshop Curves I put together. Not too sure what I was thinking in terms of song choice that day…

I wanted to give the foliage a boost to appear more green and vibrant. Using the curves tool, I made some aggressive changes to the green channel and used layer masks to restrict the changes to the foliage area of the image. This was to avoid introducing a strong green colour cast over the water in the image. With the change to the foliage done, I then went about making some subtle changes to the hue and saturation of the water.

Faking a bit of fog…

So this is where I’m potentially going to lose you… I thought when editing the image “Wow, how great would some fog look at the top of the waterfall? There was a little bit of fog from the rain and low hanging cloud but I must be honest – nothing to the effect as seen in the photograph.Ok so hopefully you’re still with me and I haven’t lost you after coming clean about the fog 😉 But in faking the fog it was actually super easy. Using the dodge brush, I used a mixture of dodging the highlights and midtones around the top of the waterfall gradually introducing it to give this effect.

Final Touches

With the image in a state that I was happy with I went about adding the final touches of selectively sharpening parts of the image using layer masks and some dodge/burning to parts of the image. This was the finished product.

Liffey Falls After

As always, feel free to send an email or leave a comment if you have any questions or feedback.

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Thanks for reading,

– Alex