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Shooting Diary | St Monans | 19th November 2011

Written on Tuesday, November 22, 2011
Last updated on Monday, February 3, 2014

One of my contacts on Flickr had posted a shot from this place and I immediately fell in love with the sea wall/sea defence/art installation. It was such an interesting shape and as many have said, kinda looks like a snake :)

I put St Monans on my “to do” list of places to visit and was planning to go with Ross. I wanted a partner, if nothing else, just to cut down on the fuel costs (this shot cost me nearly £25 on petrol alone!) Sadly Rossco’s middle name is “Can’t” and he came up with some ingenious reason not to go.

I set my alarm for 5am although I barely needed it. Some idiot thought it would be fun to sing and play an acoustic guitar outside my window at 4 in the bloody morning! Ah the joys of living above the Cowgate! Anyway, I got up, packed a bag, glesga showered and set off. The drive up took less than 90 minutes so I arrived about 30 minutes before sunrise. Perfect!

While I was there, two other ‘togs had the same idea. Both as it happens, Flickerites. Alan arrived about 15 minutes before sunrise and Shahbaz about 20 minutes after sunrise! Rookie mistake Shahbaz :) although in his defence, he was caught behind a Sunday Driver!

Shooting

I spent more time talking than shooting. which was reflected in the frames I produced. I went up specifically to vary the number of frames and delays in the Image Averaging technique I use – I.E. try longer delays and use something other than 15 frames which is what I’d been doing on previous shoots.

Sadly I got so distracted by all the chat that I didn’t program my Intervalometer, I was simply triggering the shutter release in a rather haphazard fashion! Nor did I count the frames shot! This meant, of the 8 pictures I took that day, there was 6, 8, 19, 22, 29, 27 and 31 frames respectively. As I say, I wasn’t really paying attention.

The eagle eyed among you will notice I only mentioned the frames for 7 pictures. The one I missed out was a “normal” long exposure which was shot with a loan of a Lee Big Stopper from Shahbaz – thanks man.

This particular shot was 19 frames with an exposure between 10 and 30 seconds and a somewhat distracted gap between exposures of anything between 10 and 60 seconds! Not that it particularly mattered in this example as the wind was pretty low. The final result is equivalent to a long exposure of just over 12 minutes!

Being so distracted, I underexposed every single shot a I took that day – Luckily the Image Average technique allows you to underexpose and recover in the RAW processing without the noise penalty you usually get. Irrespective though, this still a very bad thing to be doing – especially when you consider you should be exposing to the right.

Processing

Before we dive into the processing, here is a before/after screenshot – click the thumbnail for a larger version.

St Monans #3 - Before / After Comparison

St Monans #3 - Before / After

As you can see from the before/after comparison, the individual frames are pretty badly underexposed – The sky is fine, but everything else is pretty much useless as a single frame. In hindsight, I didn’t use my grads to properly balance the sky and foreground. I suspect I simply stacked them all and covered the whole frame with the ND part. Also, for some unfathomable reason I had my exposure compensation set to -0.33ev on 11 frames and -1ev on the remaining 8.

Because I underexposed I had to do two passes on the RAW files. One for the sky and the other for the foreground. This of course also means I had to do 2 passes of image averaging. Again, one for the sky and one for the foreground.

With these two image averaged layers I then blended them together with my favourite DRI blending technique. But instead of bracketed images, I am using two passes on the same RAW. However I’m getting ahead of myself. First up, the RAW processing.

RAW Processing | Common changes to both passes

I select all 19 frames in Bridge and open them in Photoshop. ACR intercepts them to do the RAW processing.

For both passes I have the white balance set to “Auto” – I.E. ACR decides what is the most appropriate white balance – I find this generally produces a warmer result than keeping sticking with “As Shot” – For me, the D90 produces a colder white balance on auto than ACR does.

I also had to straighten the horizon… one day I won’t have to do this… Maybe the spirit level on my tripod is wrong. I mean, 3 tripods, 2 cameras and 2 different spirit levels – one on the tripod and one of those hot shoe ones – which I promptly lost! Maybe the laws of physics are at fault somehow. Can’t possibly be my fault! :)

Lately I’ve been using the camera profiles in ACR (see the Camera Calibration tab). Instead of using the default “Adobe Standard” or “ACR4.6″, I’ve started using “Camera Landscape” – Not because they are better or worse, I just prefer the punchy colour you get from them. I suspect the options available on this tab may be camera model/brand specific so your mileage may vary.

I shot this with the Sigma 10-20 and I get a bit of chromatic aberration in the corners so I use ACR to correct this (Lens Corrections tab).

So that is the ACR settings common to both passes so now I do the changes for my first pass proper.

RAW Processing | First Pass

In this pass I’m going to work on the sky.

I click the “Auto” link in ACR to have it set the levels (exposure, recovery, fill light, blacks, brightness & contrast) as best as possible.

As this is done on 19 frames and each one tends to have a slightly different exposure there’s not much point in me detailing exactly what ACR did to each of them. Suffice to say it added just a tiny amount of brightness.

As this was all I did for the sky I then clicked “Done” to go back to Bridge ready to do the first pass of the image averaging.

Image Averaging | First Pass

With the same 19 frames still selected in Bridge, I go to the “Tools” menu, select “Photoshop” and then click “Load Files into Photoshop Layers”

Once my computer finishes having a fit, I have a PSD with all 19 frames loaded into individual layers. Now it’s time for the image averaging – I.E. setting the opacity of each layer according to a formula.

To save myself some time, I wrote a Photoshop script that does the image averaging for me. I then call that script via an action which is assigned to a keyboard combination – so image averaging becomes, for me, a matter of pressing a few keys :) Before the script, I have to admit, image averaging was a bit of a pain in the arse – going through 19 frames and setting the opacity for each layer was boring, prone to error and caused RSI!

After the script has run, I’m left with the same PSD but now with just the single layer which is a result of the 19 frames averaged together. Time to go back to Bridge for the 2nd pass.

RAW Processing | Second Pass

In the second pass I’m going to do my RAW processing for the foreground. Now, because I underexposed so badly, there is going to be a lot of noise introduced in this pass. But that’s OK as the image averaging technique is particularly awesome at killing off the noise.

So again, with the same 19 frames selected, I open them so ACR can intercept them.

As I had to bring the foreground up, the simplest way to do this is use the Exposure slider – I kept sliding up until I was happy with the foreground. Recall, I’m not worried about what happens so much with the sky, just the foreground – although I did have to be careful with the left hand side. The final result ended up with the Exposure slider at +2.05EV

With that complete it’s once again back to Bridge for the image averaging on the second pass. So I clicked “Done” in ACR to save the RAW changes and go back to Bridge

Image Averaging | Second Pass

Everything here is identical the the first pass. Once it’s complete I now have 2 Photoshop documents with single layers. Each one the image averaged result of the RAW processing steps described above.

Post Processing in Photoshop

So next it was time to do my DRI blending. I dragged one of the image averaged layers into the document of the other then masked the top layer and proceeded with the DRI blending. I’ll not go through this I’ve described it in a video here.

Once I was happy with the blending I switched the sky layer blend mode to Multiply. This gives the colour in the sky that little bit of oomph.

There was a fisherman at the end of the pier who occasionally moved himself and his rods over the course of the exposure so I spent a little time cloning his ghosts out. There was also some dust bunnies I’ve been carrying around for about a year which needed cleaned up. After that was a matter of adding some sharpening and a watermark and that was it.

Job Done!

November 2011, St Monans, Fife

One of my Flickr contacts posted a shot from here and I chimped! :) I thought the wall was a really interesting shape, so I added this place to the "must visits".

I was going to go a few weeks ago but a sudden attack of lazyitis had me bedridden. This weekend I decided that I was going. The tide would be in, the weather man made a prediction which, as it turned out was wrong but at least it sounded about perfect. So I set my alarm for 5am and headed out at about 5:30am.

I arrived nice an early and was able to start shooting before the big yella fella even hit the horizon.

I also bumped into a couple of Flickerites who had the same idea so that gave us all a chance to chat while shooting which was nice.

Anyhoo, below you'll see the shots in the order they where taken.

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