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Before and After – Dark Mofo 2014

Following up from my recent post sharing photos of [ilink url=””]a quick weekend photographing parts of Tasmania,[/ilink] I shared a photo from Dark Mofo 2014 and thought it was good timing to share a before and after of how the image came together.

[twentytwenty]Dark Mofo 1Dark Mofo 2[/twentytwenty]

Capturing and Processing Dark Mofo 2014

This forms part of a [ilink url=””]Before and After Series[/ilink] where I share both the before and after images and do my best to provide an explanation of how the images were captured and processed. I’m not one to heavily process my images but when I can’t capture what I see, I will resort to using Photoshop and multiple layers to achieve what I visualised before even pressing the shutter.  Perhaps some may feel that this is cheating and I appreciate that this level of post processing isn’t to everyone’s tastes but I would argue that post processing like this remains within an acceptable level of photography post processing and does not cross over to photo manipulation. The later involves adding skies, moons or sunbursts from other shoots where the lines of an acceptable level of Photoshop starts to be questioned. But let’s move on to how this particular image was captured and post processed.

Capturing the Images

Some background about this years Dark Mofo

This year Dark Mofo had an installation of multiple lights scattered around the city of Hobart where the general public could go and control them for a few minutes. Last year the organisers of Dark Mofo had a one light installation which was centered in the city of Hobart – making things a bit more easier for photographers. This great image of Dark Mofo 2012 by Ben Short captures it in all its glory.

With the lights being controlled manually, imagine a kid dialed up on red cordial controlling the lights and them quickly moving around the sky (in case you’re curious I recorded this admittedly terrible video of two of the installations doing their thing). Rather than take a photo close up of the installation I looked for somewhere out of the city which would provide me with a viewpoint that captured all of the lights located around Hobart. For this reason I chose Bellerive which provided a direct view from across the river looking towards the city and the Dark Mofo light installations. After standing and watching the lights flicker around the sky I knew straight away that I would need to capture multiple exposures of the lights and combine them in Photoshop if I was to get the result I was after.

Capturing the light installation

Setting up for the image I decided to use my [ilink url=”″ style=”note”]Canon 5D Mark II[/ilink] , [ilink url=”″ style=”note”]Canon 24-70 2.8 L[/ilink] , tripod and interval remote for the photo. Composing the image I used the jetty with me standing on it in the foreground and the Dark Mofo lights in the background.  This would require multiple images to be captured of the light installations (to capture them at the different points in the sky) and then another shot of me standing on the jetty.

Capturing the light bursts I wanted to capture shorter exposure times so ramped up my ISO to 2000 and set my camera to aperture priority mode and shot at F/2.8 which resulted in an exposure time of around 0.5″ of a second.  I set the camera to burst mode and fired around 15 shots of the lights. These would later be selectively combined to form the top part of the image

Capturing the image of me standing on the jetty

For the image of me standing on the jetty, I changed my camera settings to manual and set the ISO to 200, aperture to F/4 and an exposure time of 15 seconds. Using the interval remote, I was able to set the count down timer to be one minute, giving me plenty of time to get down to the jetty and stand ready for the photo to capture. The reason I used a longer exposure (15 seconds) was to smooth the water of the bottom part of the image. I found the shorter (0.5 second) exposures were leaving the water a little choppy from the outgoing tides and by capturing a longer exposure time this would also capture more reflection of the light installation.

Post Processing the Images

The final image was composed of 8 images and various saturation, curves  and contrast adjustments (using Niksoft ProContrast and Viveza for the later).  The image below gives you a sense of how rapidly the lights were moving based on the exposures that were captured. Note the exposure time was 0.5″ of a second so the 10 blue temperature photos you see were taken over the space of around 40 seconds. Quite a lot of movement!

Some of the 15 images that were bracketed to capture the quick moving lights

Once I’d loaded the images up into Lightroom I exported them as full JPG and loaded them into Photoshop. Here I used one of 0.5″ second exposure images as the base image and then added the other images (including the one of me standing on the jetty) as layers. The idea here was to selectively mask myself and different parts of the light installation into the base image by using layer masks.

[box]Haven’t used Photoshop Layer Masks before? Check out this tutorial on using Layer Masks  that should bring you up to speed.[/box]

Using layer masks on each light layer, I selectively introduced parts of the light into the base image and also masked myself standing on the jetty into the shot. Once this was done, I set about using some curves masks to play with the red, green and blue colour channels to make some subtle changes to the colour of the image.  Lately I’ve become quite the fan of the Pro Contrast Tool and Viveza that forms part of the [ilink url=””]Nik Collection[/ilink]. I’ll generally use one of each and then play with the opacity of the layer. For this specific image though, I used a Pro Contrast layer just on the light beams of the shot to give them a bit more punch.

The above is a little confusing so to help explain things a little better I’ve put together a small clip that starts at the base image and enables each individual layer showing the progression and processing of the images.

Hopefully the clip provided some clarification regarding how the different layers were used and the subtle changes which using curves and ProContrast had on the image. If you have any questions about the process or the image itself be sure to leave a comment or drop an email and I’d be happy to help.

Thanks for reading,

– Alex


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Before and After – Mortimer Bay

Over the coming months I’d like to share with you some before and after images of shots I’ve taken over the years. I’m a firm believer that there needs to be transparency in photography and the days of photographers hiding away secrets is done. Sorry to the old guard and old rules (oh yeah I just quoted Jay-Z in a post).  Sure, there’s some aspects of photography that can’t be taught but I for one enjoy a behind the scenes look of how other photographers work. It’s both beneficial to people starting out and people who have been shooting for sometime. I shoot quite a bit with various people and find even though we’re shooting the same thing and processing quite similarly, there’s always subtle differences and it’s that what I hope to capture in my posts.

Through these before and after images, you will sometimes find that there is a dramatic change between the straight out of camera image and the final image you see on my website.  While in others there may be minimal difference. For me, this is highlighting that we aren’t always fortunate to get great light while in other cases we are fortunate for the get great light and walk away with great photos in camera.

I’d like to use this as an opportunity to demonstrate how the image looked prior to my processing and briefly explain the processing techniques I used to achieve the final image. In some cases, the final image won’t be to everyone’s tastes and I fully accept and welcome that so feel free to chime in if you have any criticism of how you may have gone about things differently.

Continue reading Before and After – Mortimer Bay

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Before and After Processing – Cape Woolamai

My first post for 2014! Hard to believe that January is almost over.  This year I wanted to share some behind the scenes before/after photos to give you an idea of how some of my photos look in camera and the process I follow to edit them.  Starting the series with this photo from Cape Woolamai on a moody sunset.

Before and AFter Processing

This is a photo I took a couple of years ago now at Cape Woolamai which is situated along the stunning Phillip Island coastline. I had an idea in my head of how I wanted a photo to look of the scene which captured the stunning orange lichen rocks while using the giant rock as a backdrop with a long exposure to capture the blur of the clouds and water. To capture the image I used a Canon 5D Mark II, Canon 17-40, B+W 110 and Cokin Z-Pro graduated neutral density filter.

The original shot came out quite flat and had its flaws that required some tinkering in Lightroom and Photoshop to get right. Here are the steps that I followed to get the image to its final state. Before you read, you might want to watch a video I prepared earlier that goes over using Curves in Photoshop 5. I apologise that it may be a bit long winded and confusing at times but feel free to send an email if you have an queries but basically the general jist of the editing went something like:

  • I always shoot my images with auto white balance and find towards the end of a sunset, the camera will often go for a colder lower colour temperature which results in a blue to your image. To correct this I boosted the temperature to warm the colours slightly. It was important at this stage not to increase the temperature too much as I wanted to retain the blue of the water. Normally I make most of my changes in Lightroom and that’s it but for this image I wanted to tinker quite a bit with the colours so exported to Photoshop
  • Once in Photoshop I had to remove the gaping gash that formed across the rock. It turned out that my graduated neutral density filter had got scratched in my bag (something had managed to dig through the case and scratch the filter – bummer). I didn’t realise I had scratched the filter until I got home so thought the whole trip had been a waste of time. Fortunately though, I was able to use the cloning tool to and slowly remove the scratch from the rock
  • At this stage the image was looking quite flat still so I created a Curves layer which would be the first of many curves layers used over the course of the editing process. Curves are amazing and something I’ve talked about in the past but just to quickly remind you, they allow you to make selective adjustments to the red, blue and green channels of the highlights, mid tones and shadows of an image. At this stage I’ll make a general adjustment to the overall image and then make more selective adjustments later on through the use of layer masks
  • For the image, I wanted to selectively bump up the highlights of the water to make them appear more brighter while darkening the clouds to make them appear moody. To do this I used a Curves layer once again but this time introduced a layer mask. By using layer masks, you can paint over areas where you only wish to make an adjustment. For example, if I’m only wishing to adjust the tones of the sky I would use a layer mask and paint over that area which then means any changes you make in Curves will only be to that specific area which you painted over. The same principal applies for when making adjustments to the water of the photo. Through using this method I’m able to selectively bump up parts of the image without blowing out the rest of the image. Following this technique I used the primary channel and increased the midtones and highlights of the water and decreased the shadows, midtones and highlights of the sky to create some mood.
  • When editing the sky it was important not to accidentally darken the surrounding cliff and rocks in the area. To avoid this, I used the feather tool and selected the sky using this tool. Initially when I first started using Photoshop, I was hopeless with the feather tool and it really took some practicing until I got the hang of it. So if you’re struggling, don’t give up and possibly look at some tutorials on YouTube to get a sense of how others use it. It’s a great tool but at the same time, quite painful and difficult when you’re unfamiliar with it
  • As the exposure of the water was now bright and the sky was dark, I had to balance the exposure of the rock area so created another layer mask to selectively adjust this area to balance it against the rest of the scene by using curves with some minor dodging and burning
  • Once I was happy with the exposure of the overall scene, I was once again in curves making adjustments to the different colour channels (red, green and blue). Basically the reason for this is that I wanted to play with the blue channel a bit selectively around the water to make it appear more blue and also reduce the colour cast introduced by using filters. I find using the RGB channels in Curves a great and quick way to colour correct your image to fix any issues like colour cast
  • Final adjustments to the image was a resize for web (800×600) and sharpened using ultra sharpen mask

I hope this makes sense and gives some insight into how the final image was reached. For me the most important thing is to go in with an idea of how you want the image to look in your head and work according to that (something that is easier said than done).

Thanks for reading,