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Morning trip to Cape Woolamai, Phillip Island

Cape Woolamai
Using welding glass to create a daytime long exposure at Cape Woolamai
Using welding glass to create a daytime long exposure at Cape Woolamai

Look I won’t lie, I’m a light snob and when Ricardo Da Cunha told me at 7am that we weren’t heading down to the Yarra Valley to capture some nice fog lit forrests but instead down to Phillip Island I did raise my eye brows slightly. One of the things I’ve learnt over time is that for certain scenes, there’s not much point pulling your camera out unless it’s at certain times of the day. For waterfalls I generally find they’re best when the weather is overcast and miserable while for seascapes I prefer to shoot around sunset/sunrise to capture the golden hour light and colours that unfold. So with this in mind I smiled and thought I could at least resurrect the situation with some day time long exposure shots but that didn’t quite turn out to be. More on that later.

On our way down the idea was to catch up with Andrew Sharpe who has only just recently purchased a Phase One setup. I’d not seen one in the flesh and while not tempted myself, it’s a beautiful camera and I’m envious. Personally speaking, I’m a too rough with my camera’s and also like to get a little too close to the action like the time I lost my camera to a waterfall… So the idea of walking around with a camera worth upwards of $20,000+ alone would scare me. Hell, sitting on the train with a bag of camera gear can be nerve wracking enough. But either way, it was a beautiful camera and the results it puts out are stunning.

The walk into the Pinnacles is stunning and a must visit if you're ever down Phillip Island way
The walk into the Pinnacles is stunning and a must visit if you’re ever down Phillip Island way
Ah... The lovely muddy descent down to the Pinnacles. Always a pleasure.
Ah… The lovely muddy descent down to the Pinnacles. Always a pleasure.

I’ve been down to the Pinnacles at Cape Woolamai only the once and it’s one of my favourite places for seascape photography in the state. There’s something about walking down the beach for a km or two and finally making your way to a set of stairs then walking further before you begin to descend down into the Pinnacles. A private little bay where the waves are endless and wild. It’s one of those places that never disappoints and would be hard to take a bad photograph. A must visit for any travelling photographer who is interested in seascape photography.

We made our way down to Cape Woolamai and the sky was overcast with not much going on. I quickly learnt that I had left my B+W 110 10 stop filter at home. The filter that I thought would allow me to at least capture a couple of frames using day time long exposure effects and resurrect the trip.  Bit of a dampener but I quickly remembered that I had a Hoya R72 (infrared filter also great for long exposures) and some welding glass in my camera bag. I’ve blogged about using welding glass in the past with this post about using welding glass as a DIY neutral density filter which explains what welding glass to purchase and how to remove the colour cast from your shots.

With lighting conditions quite diffused from the overhead cloud this allowed me to capture the movement of water through some short long exposures using my Cokin Z-Pro filters like the shot below which involved the use of a .9 Cokin graduated neutral density filter. Some more information on the different types of filters out there and how to use them can be read on a recently posted blog post in case you are interested in further information.

Cape Woolamai
Cape Woolamai

We didn’t hang around too long and ended up making our way back to Melbourne by lunch time. Would I shoot seascapes again during the day? Probably not but it’s a good slap in the face for me to be less of a light snob and get out there in conditions that are less ideal and make the most of what you are given. As opposed to only shooting locations when the conditions align.

Although that being said I find this seems to be one of the biggest mistakes I see for beginner photographers – not shooting according to the conditions and expecting to go out in the middle of the day and walk out with nice photos. If you are starting out I’d recommend learning what conditions work best for certain conditions and shooting around this time. So if you’re keen on shooting a favourite beach, find out if it is sunset or sunrise facing and get down there at that time as opposed to the middle of the day where you will be battling strong light or dull skies. Just don’t become a light snob like me 😉

Thanks for reading,

– Alex

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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,


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Cape Woolamai, Phillip Island

A photo taken a couple of months ago at Cape Woolamai, Victoria. I’ve been sitting on this for a while, slightly unhappy with the processing and not completely sold by the composition. After 4 processing attempts later, here it is.

Technical Details

This is a 3 minute exposure captured at F11. with a Canon 5D Mark II, Canon 17-40, remote and Manfrotto tripod.

For this shot I used the magic cloth technique (more on this in a future post). But in short, it’s a technique where you place a cloth over the top half of the frame during long exposures to act as a graduated neutral density filter. I used this technique for the first time as my filters and been packed away and were slightly dirty from sea spray. Surprisingly it worked quite well.

Post Processing

This photograph consists of two exposures with one for the sky and another for the rest of the image.

Blending exposures is helpful when you don’t nail the initial in-camera exposure. Fortunately I captured two images with one quite over exposed and suited well for the rocks as part of the foreground and another under exposed which captured the sky perfectly. Rather than attempt to use either the over or under exposed image, I combined the two elements from both shots to maximise dynamic range. Confused? You can see two images to the side which demonstrate which parts from the over exposed image were combined with the under exposed shot. I find gradually painting the over exposed with a low opacity allows for the blend to be more seamless and less obvious to the viewer which in my opinion, is the most important thing.

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The Pinnacles, Cape Woolamai – Sunset Long Exposure

One from a few weeks back at The Pinnacles, Cape Woolamai.

Arriving a few hours before the sunset gave me plenty of opportunity to find a nice vantage point and setup my gear and wait… Unfortuntely there wasn’t as much swell as I’d had liked but it was enough.

This is an 8 second exposure and is shot with a Canon 5D Mark II, Canon 17-40 and Cokin Z-Pro Neutral Density filters. In case you’re wondering, the B+W 110 neutral density filter very much goes back into the bag at this point of the sunset due to limited available light rendering the filter almost useless.

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Daytime Long Exposure

Normally I loathe heavy vignette but this seems to work okay and not make me want to stab myself in the eyes.

This is a 15 second long exposure captured on ‘golden hour’ just a bit before sunset. The day time long exposure was made possible by using a B+W 110 10 stop neutral density filter which allows the camera to be stopped down significantly.  Minimal processing including a slight desaturation of the sky, curves and obviously the vignette.