Surprising Results

This photo is a reminder that what you think you accomplished on location can be very different when you get it back to your computer to work on them.  As I have mentioned in several posts, the weather here in Okinawa has been challenging for getting good land/oceanscape images.  This was a Saturday and I, at the last minute, decided to run out to try and get sunset shots since the weather was looking promising.  Since it was last minute, I didn't plan very well.  I initially decided to go to a new location where I never shot before, but as I was trying to get there, the traffic was insane.  It happened to be Golden Week in Japan and since Okinawa is a tourist destination, the roads were pretty jammed with visitors.  As I'm watching the sun go down below the buidings and stuck in traffic, I made a quick decision to turn around and head to a familiar location (the traffic heading the other way was very clear).  I am speeding along watching the sun get lower and lower and starting to chalk up this excursion as a loss.  I hurriedly pull into the parking lot, grab my gear and head over to a location to setup for capturing the sunset.  As you can see from this shot, the sky is not very clear; actually it is extremely hazy, that's why the sun is so round and orange.  I don't normally like these type of sunsets but I was there so I decided to do what I could with it.  As I was thinking while driving, I pretty much discounted anything good coming from this session, but I decided to keep going and get a broad range of shots including bracketed and long exposure.  I didn't move around much because the sun was gone about 5 minutes after I arrived so I basically kept the tripod in one place and played around with different settings.  I was thinking the only good thing to come out of this trip was meeting another photographer who was taking photos in the same area.  His name is Chris DeAngelis and you can check out his great photos by clicking the link.  

The photo below is my final result after a lot more post-processing than I normally go through.  Continue on below the photograph for more info on why I invested the time and a brief explanation of how I did this.

 

 

As I was reviewing the photos from this trip I was trying to figure out if there was anything there; asking myself if this could be a good photo.  Since I bracketed (shot 3 photos at different exposures, +2, normal, -2) I decided to process this as an HDR to see what would result.  I sent it to Photomatix and started to see some potential.  The sky was good, but the water was boring.  Also by doing the HDR I was able to get the island on the right to be clear and not silhouetted.  But I still wasn't happy with the shot because the water was taking away from the photograph.  I wanted the water to have the smooth, silky feel from a long exposure but didn't have that with the bracketed shots I used for this set.  Later in the shoot, I did do some much longer exposures that made the water very smooth so I decided to do something I don't do very often, go into Photoshop.  I took my HDR final and a highly overexposed, long exposure shot and brought them into Photoshop.  I put the HDR shot with the good sky to the front and put the long exposure photo behind and then using an adjustment layer I painted out the boring water and brought the long exposure water to the front.  Now I did some other minor tweaks in Photoshop but that was the main change.  I saved it and brought it back into Lightroom and made some additional changes with the primary one being putting in a graduated filter adjustment to the water to reduce the exposure by a small amount so it wasn't so bright.   

The bottom-line is to not give up on photos even if you think you don't have anything while on site.  Another is take lots of photos with different settings.  There's no way I could have completed this if I didn't play around with some long exposure just before I left.  Lastly, learn some basics of Photoshop or Photoshop Elements, which has 90% of what the full Photoshop has.

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