Show & Tell: Lake Bob Sandlin Sunrise #2

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Lake Bob Sandlin State Park sits nearly 2 hrs east of my home near Dallas Texas. Getting to the park and getting setup for a sunrise shoot was going to require getting up well before sunrise, which even in January meant a 5am departure time. This realization wasn’t helped by the fact the forecast showed a morning temperature several degrees below freezing. However, my friend and fellow photographer Elizabeth Jamison said she was certain it would be a sunrise worth getting up for. So with coffee in hand we hit the road and headed east.

More about Bob Sandlin State Park can now be found over in the Travel section.

Date Jan 17, 2016, 07:35:05 AM
Location Lake Bob Sandlin State Park, East Texas
Camera Canon EOS 6D
Lens Canon EF 16-35mm F/4L IS USM
ISO 50
Exposure 2.5 sec
Aperture 20.0
Focal Length 21mm
Exposure Program Aperture priority
File Id _MG_4258

The Shot

Arriving at the state park just as the first hints of dawn were starting to light the horizon, we needed to move quickly to determine where we wanted to setup for the sunrise and work to refine our composition before the sun hit the horizon on the opposite side of the lake.  While Elizabeth focused on the large fishing dock, I moved down the shoreline further to the swim beach and a smaller swim dock.

While the morning was fairly calm, any light breeze on a lake the size of Bob Sandlin is going to stir up some wave action.  With the sky being nearly devoid of clouds, and only a slim band of fog rising from over the lake I decided to make use of my recently purchased Firecrest 6-stop ND filter to smooth out the ripples in the water and giving a smooth reflection of the dock and cloud structure without pushing exposure time so far that the fog and clouds blurred heavily.  Even with a 6-stop ND filter, a very low ISO and high F-stop were required to push the shutter out to 2.5 seconds once the sun hit the horizon given the minimal amount of light being blocked by the fog layer.

Setting up the composition play heavily upon the Rule of Thirds, the horizontals and vertical lines of the dock land upon these lines on the right, while the rising sun lands near the vertical left line.  As I often do while shooting at dawn and dusk with minimal clouds, I used the Canon’s Auto-Exposure-Bracketing (AEB) feature to take 3 photos of varying exposure length ensure I captured detail in both the brightest and darkest areas of the photo.

Processing

Throughout 2015 my processing workflow has evolved significantly.  While the number of photos I can process with this expanded and more detailed workflow has gone down, the quality of the finished images have improved. First, all photos are imported into Lightroom (currently version 5.7), all photos from a set are placed in a working directory, the best of the best are given star-ratings, the worst of the bunch are set to rejected for eventual deletion. From Lightroom I make the initial general photo edits for Lens Correction, minor exposure adjustments, and any other changes needed before the photo (or bracketed set of photos) is exported to Photoshop for editing.

Most photographers have at least heard of the term HDR, which stands for High Dynamic Range, and there are countless applications on the market to automatically merge 2 or more images into an HDR image with the aim of showing detail through the entire image from the brightest to darkest regions.  When done well it can produce spectacular results.  However it is a tool that is very often either misused or overused. The results can either be extremely flat and lacking in the contrast necessary for an image that holds the viewer’s attention, or the opposite extreme with so much Dynamic Contrast / Tonal Contrast that it looks fake or even “grungy”.

The evolution of the HDR process, for those who felt automatic blending of their source files was giving up too much control, is a process simply called Manual Blending or Luminosity Blending.  This must be done in Photoshop or another application that can create layers and layer masks to show or hide parts of one source image in the stack.  I hope to have time to write a full tutorial on this process in the near future.

Once the blending was complete, additional Photoshop Layers were added to complete the creative processing step.  A layer was created in Nik Color Efex Pro 4 utilizing its Skylight Filter which helps punch up the depth and richness of warm colors, another layer was used in Soft Light blending mode to paint in a soft warm light into areas of the dock.  Finally the entire image was duplicated using Photoshop’s Stamp Visible (Cntrl+Shift+E), the new layer was run through the Gaussian Blur filter and the layer set to Soft Light.  Reducing the opacity of this layer to the desired opacity till I achieved the depth of color and dreamy light blend I wanted.  Using a layer mask this effect was removed from around the dock so that it only effected the sky and water.

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