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Before and After – Southbank Overpass

This photograph was captured from a busy overpass in Southbank, Melbourne. Coming from Hobart where traffic is let’s be honest – quiet, I’m forever looking for city overpasses that provide a good vantage point that overlooks the busy and constant flow of traffic entering and exiting Melbourne. I’d like to share the before and after for this image as there’s quite the difference between the two.

[box size=”large” style=”rounded”]This photo forms part of my Before and After Series. Be sure to check out previous posts of this series[/box]

Southbank, Melbourne on Blue Hour


Southbank 1

Southbank 2


Capturing the Photograph

Southbank-Overpass-BracketGenerally when shooting traffic from an overpass that doesn’t have a constant flow of traffic, I will slightly cheat and set my camera to manual mode and fire exposures as each big burst of traffic goes through my scene. The reason for doing this is it allows me to combine the larger flows of traffic into one photo to give a sense that the road was busier than it actually was.  It’s probably not ethical but coming from Hobart where the highways aren’t high flowing like huge cities, sometimes we have to use any trick up our sleeves to get the photo we’re striving for.

Luckily though this wasn’t needed on this occasion as I was overlooking one of the busier highways in Melbourne where there is an abundance of trucks and cars constantly flowing under the overpass.

The photograph was taken after sunset on blue hour. I find blue hour is perfect for shooting long exposure cityscape photos as there is still a lot of natural light which the camera picks up through long exposures that may not be visible to the naked eye. Although there was a lot of light still about, I wanted to ease on the side of caution and capture multiple exposures at different exposure values. By this I mean, I wanted to capture an under exposed, neutral exposed and over exposed image.  No no, before you ask, not to create a HDR image but to err on the side of caution. Although shooting at this hour provides a lot of available light that may not be visible to the natural eye, it still doesn’t overcome the issue that there was some dynamic range drop off around the buildings and dark points of the overpass where the over exposed image would be useful.

Using Automatic Exposure Bracketing

For this reason I set the camera into automatic exposure bracketing mode (AEB) and set the camera to fire at various exposures. This is quite a useful tool for when you are shooting and don’t want to risk missing the right dynamic range.

[box size=”large” style=”rounded”]Further information about Automatic Exposure Bracketing (AEB) can be found on a previous post of my blog which explains how to use it on your camera and when it can be useful[/box]

With the images captured at varying levels of exposure, I was quite content that I had the image I was after and set off home to process the images.

Editing the Images

Opening the images in Lightroom, I was glad to have taken multiple exposures and decided to use the +1 over exposed image as my neutrally exposed image was slightly too dark. Instead, the over exposed image provided a good level of dynamic range without blowing out any highlights while bringing out detail in the shadows.

Upon editing the image, it was quickly apparent that the surrounding lights had warmed the RAW temperature of the image to a level that didn’t accurately reflect the scene. Normally I would drop the colour temperature within Lightroom but opted to go straight to Photoshop for colour grading.

I’m quite fond of using Photoshop for colour grading of my images through using Curves to make this change. Curves is super powerful as it allows you to isolate your changes to the shadows, midtones and highlights of the red, green and blue channels of the image.  Through using this tool, it provides you with the ability to have great control over the tones and contrast of an image. For example, in this image I used Curves, selected the red channel and made changes to the shadows to correct the colour temperature. For more example about Curves, Adobe’s website has some [ilink url=””]great information[/ilink] about using the tool.

For the most part, the final image involved a lot of back and forth edits in curves with layer masks to subtly introduce different parts of the curves to parts of the image. This generally meant bumping the shadows then layer masking it to a particular part of the image (i.e. boosting the shadows for the under pass of the image).

If you enjoyed this post be sure to check out my other posts in this [ilink url=””]Before and After Series[/ilink] or if you’re feeling brave, give me a follow on Twitter or Facebook 😉

Thanks for reading.

– Alex



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Fireworks at Moomba 2014

Moomba Fireworks
Up in the sky - Shot with the Fujifilm X100
Up in the sky – Shot with the Fujifilm X100
Long exposure of a ride at Moomba
Long exposure of a ride at Moomba

Moomba 2014

Every year Melbourne puts on the Moomba Festival. Having lived in Melbourne for a few years I’m still struggling to get the attraction of it. I probably shouldn’t say this but really it’s filled with tacky rides, awful food (although actually I don’t mind a dagwood dog so I’ll take that back), ridiculous crowds and people wake boarding in the Yarra (I run along this often and even when I’ve ran in 35+c heat that water still isn’t tempting if you’re catching what I’m throwing).

This year I was pretty eager to take some photos of the fireworks at Moomba and had scoped out a location a few weeks prior to the festival. Slightly neglecting the fact that every man and his dog would be at Moomba my planned location wasn’t going to happen (Swan St Bridge in case anyone was curious). The plan was to get there early around sunset, take some photos of blue hour to get some detail in the sky then capture some photos later of the fireworks and pull a sneaky and do some layer masking of the images to create some dynamic range with the buildings well lit from the blue hour, colour in the sky from the sunset and fireworks completing the image.  Quickly realising there was no chance I would be able to setup a tripod on the bridge due to the amount of people crossing it, we (my partner in crime – Jon Sander) made our way down to Southbank to find a location which avoided the crowds slightly. We were in luck and setup an hour or so before the fireworks begun. Lucky we did as it soon became crowded as the fireworks neared.

Fireworks at Moomba

Moomba Fireworks
Fireworks at the 2014 Moomba Festival

Some tips for shooting fireworks

I’ll be the first to admit – I’m not completely happy with the shot and underestimated that shooting fireworks is actually not as easy as it looks.  People make it look easy!  Here’s a few things I learnt and would encourage anyone to consider when you photograph fireworks:

  • Get close  – We were slightly too far from the action which resulted in the fireworks appearing small and created a lot of empty space in the sky. Although framing your shot with empty space in the sky isn’t necessarily a bad thing as it leaves you prepared for any spectacular fireworks towards the end which might near the top of your frame
  • Shoot in manual mode – I’d recommend starting a test shot at the start of the fireworks in either Shutter or Aperture priority mode to gauge what exposure time you need for the fireworks and then change to manual mode and dial in these settings.  I’d recommend exposure times of around 2-10 seconds but it’s up to you and something best found from experimenting. This will come in handy when you’re firing frames with the remote trigger. But don’t get complacent and be sure to check your exposure occasionally to ensure that you’re not over or under exposing too much
  • Use a tripod and remote trigger – When shooting fireworks you’ll be shooting exposure times of a few seconds so a tripod is a must. I’d also recommend a remote trigger as once you’ve dialed in your exposure time, stand back and press the trigger as the fireworks go up.  I like this as it allows you to be looking at the action rather than through the viewfinder (so you won’t miss a good moment)
  • Go trigger happy – Keep firing those frames so you don’t miss that great moment. Fireworks are random with some looking great then others not so great. I fired off 90 over the course of 15 minutes with only a couple being how I wanted them
  • Consider your location in advanced – I tried to plan my location in advanced and failed in terms of choosing a location too crowded and also didn’t consider where the fireworks would be launched from. When looking for a location make sure it’s something that’s slightly elevated to avoid getting people’s heads bobbing up in your shot during the exposure. Also it doesn’t hurt to do some research to where the fireworks will be launched from so you can setup accordingly
  • It’s not all about the fireworks – Don’t get me wrong a close up shot of fireworks looks great but try to consider your surrounds. In this case I wanted to capture buildings that surround the Yarra River to give some context so people would instantly recognise where the photo was taken
  • Shoot at a low ISO – Most fireworks displays happen after blue hour which means you will be shooting in dark black skies. Shooting at a high ISO in these conditions will introduce a lot of noise and I’d recommend against it especially if you’re trying to get a long exposure of the fireworks
Post photo cider. Not so sure about serving cider in a wine glass but anyway...
Post photo cider. Not so sure about serving cider in a wine glass but anyway…

All in all though, it was a fun night out and we both sat down for a drink afterwards and had a chuckle about the crowds and how everything we’d originally planned to do didn’t happen. But really that’s photography for you and part of  the fun. Sometimes you can do all the planning in the world and it doesn’t work out. But at the end of the day, it was a beautiful warm Melbourne evening, good to get out and fire off some photos and mix things up a little.

 The end of a good night out

But before I finish up we made our way back to the car (as did half of Melbourne apparently) and spent a good hour getting out of the car park. This created a nice opportunity to snap a quick self portrait in the carpark. I was aiming for a style similar to a late friend, Tarsh, who shot empty urban landscapes.  It got some strange stares from people passing by but killed the time as we waited to get out of the car park and finally make our way home.

Thanks for reading,

– Alex

Alex Wise self portrait