Tag Archives: clouds

Creating a Sense of Motion with Long Exposures

Long exposure images can create an almost surreal effect, evoking emotional responses, such as calm, peacefulness, and even angst, depending on the image. Creating these images can be a challenge and generally requires certain gear, such as a sturdy tripod, a camera body that has a bulb setting, various types of filters to reduce the amount of light hitting the camera’s sensor in order to lengthen the shutter speed and show motion in the image, and the right setting (environment).

The best long exposure images are created when capturing moving water or clouds, as these subjects convey movement in an otherwise still environment.

So, let’s chat about the gear and look at some examples of long exposure images.

The images that follow were taken on different trips, literally from coast-to-coast and were taken with either a variable stop filter or a 15-stop filter, as noted. I use Singh-Ray filters, but there are many options on the market. So you can find the one(s) that work best for you. If you are interested in Singh-Ray filters, you can get a 10% discount by using ROADRUNNER10 for a discount code.

For this image, I used variable stop filter to extend the shutter time to just over 66 seconds. This allowed me to capture the movement of the clouds, while creating a plane of glass on the ocean’s surface. I chose a variable stop filter, because the variability allowed me get just the right amount of exposure reduction to meet the needs of the environment. In this case, the heavy overcast would not have been conducive to using my 15 stop filter, which is actually best used on bright sunny days with big puffy cumulous clouds.

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This image was captured in the taken during the day, well before sunset. The sky was too bright for the variable stop filter to achieve the look I was going for, so for this image I used the 15 stop. The 15 stop allowed me to achieve a 3 minute exposure, which resulted in smooth water and a nice layer of fog on the horizon.

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This next image was captured in at sunrise. As before, the setting was not bright enough for a full 15 stops but it was too bright to shoot without a filter, so I used the variable filter to slow the rushing waves down.

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There are times when you don’t even need a filter to capture a long exposure, as in this next image, which was captured after the sunset. The clouds enabled me to get a 6 second exposure, without the aid of any filters.

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In this last image, I used a 10-stop filter to achieve the flowing motion of the river.

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In each of these images, I used a sturdy tripod to help ensure that the still subject matter (e.g., buildings, piers, bridge) would be sharp. The environment and my overall vision for each image helped me decide which filter to use. Long exposure images take experimentation, how long is long enough, how long is too long.

I would say that if you are new to long exposure photography, you might find that a variable filter will provide you the most bang for your bucks, as it allows you to experiment in almost all conditions. You may struggle to achieve 10 minute exposures with a variable filter, but you will easily achieve 1-3 min exposures with a filter that varies from 1-8 or 10 stops, which is adequate to slow cloud and water movement in most situations. Whereas a 15 stop is best used in the middle of the day, bright sunshine, where a variable will not darken the image enough to achieve a slow shutter speed. You can also get filters at other stops, such as 5 stop and 10 stop, each has its own use.

So the question becomes, do you want to invest in a number of different filters to achieve a range of stops, or do you want to invest in one filter (a variable) that provides you a range with which to experiment. As noted, if you are just learning or experimenting with your interest in long exposure you might find that a variable filter gives you the most options early on. Once you are hooked, you may find that investing on set stops, such as 5, 10 or 15, broadens your creative horizons. In either case, long exposure images can open up a whole new avenue to create artistic images. 

The Palouse

Located between Washington and Idaho, this region encompasses thousands of square miles of rich farm land and is the heart of grain growing in the United States. After hundreds of hours touring this area, I have yet to tire of its beauty. The barns, grain silos, mills, abandoned trucks, and epic landscapes are extraordinary and remind me of the enormity and wonder of this country.

This most recent tour was a bit challenging. The Palouse, known for its puffy white clouds and lack of rain, presented two days of unaccustomed storms. Blank skies, chilly weather, and lots of rain can be daunting and depressing. But patience pays… because weather also present some of the most amazing skies and therefore, photographic opportunities.

Here are a few images from our tour last week:

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Road Runner’s next tour of the Palouse will be the harvest of 2017. We are looking forward to seeing the farmers harvest and process their crops. Known for its colorful and stunning sunsets, harvest time will nothing short of amazing. If you are interested in registering for our 2017 Harvest Tour, click here to contact us

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Mt. Storm Time Lapse

The other day, I was asked to describe how I created this image:

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I decided it would be easier to write a blog and create a video demonstrating the techniques, than to layout out an answer in a Facebook reply. So let’s get started.

The Set Up

This image was created from 37 different images, created using the time lapse feature in my Fuji XT1. If you do not have time lapse built into your camera, you can purchase a wired or wireless remote with time lapse capability for most camera bodies. The time lapse was set to continue indefinitely, with a 1 second interval between images.  The camera was set to Aperture mode, with the Shutter speed determined by the camera. A sturdy tripod is a must. I also shot RAW and JPG files.

As you can tell by reviewing the image, that the image was created midday and yet, cloud movement is clearly visible. I was able to achieve this effect by using a Singh Ray 15-stop Mor Slo filter. (To receive a 10% discount, please use our discount code: ROADRUNNER10). The 15-stop Mor Slo is a great filter that will allow the photographer to create long exposures in the middle of day. The Singh Ray filters are so well made that they do not add color cast or distortion to the images. (Tip: buy 77mm filters and then a set of step-up rings, this way, one filter can be used on all your lenses).

Once the camera was in place, I triggered the shutter and waited. One thing to consider, when shooting time lapse images, consider bringing a second camera body along, as the wait can be quite dull with nothing to do. This may explain why I shot 37 images and not 100.

Post-Processing

As noted above, I shot both RAW and JPG files. I did this so that should I chose to process a single image, I would have the RAW file and for the time lapse image I could use the JPG files, which are smaller and easier to manage when blending so many layers. I organize my files using Lightroom and process my images in Photoshop. So after my trip, I imported my images into my Lightroom catalog (for a video on how to do this, click here). I selected the images that I intended to combine (a total of 37 images) and then opened the images, as Layers in Photoshop. From Lightroom, this is a simple Right click on the selected image thumbnails, Edit in, scroll to the bottom of the list and choose As Layers in Photoshop.

It takes Photoshop a few minutes to open and add each layer to a single tab, once it is complete, you can start changing the Blending Modes for each layer. At this point, take a moment to check the file size. In this case, my file size was just under 3GB. This is a huge file and I only used the JPGs! Now, I can start changing the Blending Mode for each individual layer (except the bottom layer) to Lighten. This allows the lighter pixels to come through from the layer below. As each of the 36 layers are changed, you will see staccato effect in the clouds start to appear.

Once all of the Blending Modes are adjusted, you have to decide if you are ready to flatten the image and start processing. I suggest that first you create a “stamp” of the image. Essentially, a “stamp” is a flattened version, that can be created as a separate layer (while maintaining all of the original layers below it) or by having all of the original layers merged together. I suggest that you use the “separate layer” method, so that you can check the result. You can always decide after to remove the original individual layers to reduce the overall file size. To create the separate layer, select all of the individual layers (all 37 in this case), and then right click, and while holding the ALT/Option key, choose Merge Visible. Photoshop will do some work and create a Layer 1, that sits at the top of the Layer Panel. If the result is what you were expecting, then you can select all of the original layers again and delete. This will bring the overall file size down to something manageable and pick up the operating speed of Photoshop, as you start to process the image.

At this point, how you process your image is up to you. I darkened the sky, enhanced the power plant, and darkened the foreground with Camera Raw. I then desaturated and slightly toned the image. I did some selective dodging and burning to further enhance the clouds and smoke. Lastly, I added a vignette.

To see a video on how I blended and processed my 37 images, click here.

For additional tutorials on how to post-process images, click here.

Changing the Mood of an Image

Decided to play a bit with Photoshop this morning. I enjoy going back to old images, long forgotten, processed or not processed, and seeing how I would process them today, as my skills improve. As always, photography and image processing is highly subjective, so it is possible that others will not necessary think these images are “improved.” However, I am a strong believer in practice makes perfect, so here my take on an image from years.

As originally processed.

First step is to beef up the sky. There were great clouds but in the first processing attempt, I did not bring the detail out. So this time, I wanted to emphasize the incoming storm.

Second step… see how the image feels in black and white.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So now I had two versions, each with their own appeal, but I still had not achieve what I wanted. Since I liked the pier in the color image and the clouds in the black and white, I decided to see how these features worked together.

Final image


For me, it is not that any one of these images is “better” than the next, but rather, any one of these images is more or less pleasing depending on my mood and the message I wish to convey when sharing. There are times that I really like the use of selective color and for folks learning new image processing skills, testing out the techniques for blending color and black and white has its place in the process of growing as an artist.

As you develop your skills in image processing, try everything, practice everything, and then learn how and when to incorporate the techniques you like the most into your work. These images were enhanced using camera raw and blended using layers and masks. For some video tutorials on these techniques, click here for our YouTube channel.

Happy Shooting!

 

Using Masks in Photoshop

Masking in Photoshop

In the last blog I discussed blending images to get a better final result, specifically replacing a perfectly clear blue sky with one that had more character (clouds).

There are many ways to create selections in Photoshop, including the Color Selection tool, the Magic Wand tool, the Pen tool, the Lasso Tool, as well as the use of plugins, such as TopazLabs ReMask. Depending on the image you are working on, any one of these tools can be helpful. In this blog, I am going to layout the steps for masking using the Color Selection tool in Photoshop.

Step 1:

Select your base image. In this case, I selected an image from the Montgomery County Fair, of the swing. As you can see, there is NO sky here and I am getting aberration (vignetting) from my lens. To get this image ready, I processed the image using an HDR technique, to pop the beautiful undercarriage of the ride and the people in the seats.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Step 2:

After collapsing my layers, I duplicated my background layer, then I created my mask selection by through Select, Color Range, and used the dropper to pick up the areas of the sky. In this case, I picked the sky near the top and the bottom of the image, so that I got both “blues”. use the dropper to choose the “colors” to pick up. Then hit OK. This will give you the marching ants.

You can see in the image below this “marching ants,” indicated my selection. It doesn’t matter in this case that the corners are not in my selection. I will be able to fix that later.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then click the Mask tool button shown below. This will create a mask. You must remember to duplicate the background image before selecting your color range.

 

 

 

Result, you can see our duplicate layer with a mask next to it in the layer panel on the right hand side.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Step 3:

Next select the appropriate sky image. Remember when making this decision, angle of the sky is important. For incorporation into this particular base, I would not select a sky taken on the horizon, it would simply be too far away. Also, consider the color (hue and saturation) of the sky you are going to use. Although this can be manipulated in processing, you can save yourself time by selection something similar. Lastly, you need to consider “light”… say from the time of day perspective. I could not use a night sky here, because there is too much light on the faces of the people on the ride and direction of light should be considered as well. I chose the sky image below.

 

I did do a bit of processing on this image. Deepened the blues in the sky and lightened the clouds, through Brightness and Contrast adjustment in Photoshop.

 

 

 

 

Step 4:

Duplicate the mask, so that it is also on the sky layer. To do this, hold down the option (or alt) click, click and hold the mask you want to duplicate and drag it up to the sky layer, and unclick. This will copy the mask you created and place it on to the sky image, allowing the background layer (base layer) to show through.   As you can see in the image below the vignetting in the corners is back and the masking is quite complete on the top left, but never fear… we will fix that next!

 

You can feather your mask at this point, but for this image, feathering would have created a small blue line around the ride, which would not have allowed the sky to look natural. Therefore, I left the feather control at zero.

 

 

 

 

Step 5:

To clean up the mask, you need to show the mask on the screen, instead of the image. To do this hold down the option (or alt) key and click the mask (on the sky layer). This will bring the mask on to your Photoshop workspace.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Depending on how clean your Select, Color Range was, you will have more or less black or grey in the sky. In my case, I could have clicked the corners during the range selection and that would have made this cleaner. In either case, we can fix it, but selecting the Brush tool and making sure white is selected as our “color” to paint. Then start painting the unwanted blacks and grays white.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now that we have cleaned up all the excess black (on the area that is supposed to be white) and cleaned up the excess white (on the area that is supposed to be black), we are ready to reveal our final image!

Again, holding the option (or alt) key, click on the layer mask (on the sky later). This will return to image to your workspace and presto chango … we have an image with some character in the background now!

 

 

 

Remember, this technique can be used for all sorts of images. Maybe head shots taken against a boring white background and you want to add color or textures.  Adding a moon to an otherwise featureless night sky. The possibilities are limitless.

 

 

 

To see a video tutorial on masking, click here for our videos on YouTube.

Shoot the Sky!

As photographers, we are not always graced with the perfect sky. In fact, I have found that more often than not, I get to my destination and find perfectly blue, clear, no clouds, not even a whiff of clouds in the sky! If you have the luxury of being in a single location for a few days, you may get lucky to have the sky change, but that is not always possible. So no fear, there is a solution! So shoot away.

Through the magic of masking, you can add the perfect sky to any image. Some purists (and I used to be one) will say that is cheating. But the way I see it, if you are an artist creating a pleasing image, you have the right to manipulate your image in any way you wish; whether that be making it an abstract, making a color image black and white, using selective color, or even adding a better sky. Images are your creation, and unless you are just recording the location as a journalist, you should feel free to modify and improve upon it.

So with that in mind, here are some tips…

Tip 1: Shoot the sky. If you are out and about and see an incredible cloud formation or sky structure, shoot it. If you see an amazing sunset or sunrise… shoot it. I can be found taking sky shots through my car sunroof, if I see something that I may think will be useful later. I have a collection of over 2500 sky images readily available.

Tip 2: Shoot at varying degrees of angle. For example, don’t just shoot straight up, because if you have an image with a distant horizon, a sky shot facing nearly 90° to the horizon will look out of place, so collect distant horizon shots as well every possible angle of sky.

Tip 3: Collect sky images with all types of hues and saturation. This will allow you to select a sky that most “easily” fits your image, reducing processing time.

Below are some examples to illustrate my point. The original images were ok, but by changing the sky, I believe I have improved the mood and therefore, the story behind the images.

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For masking techniques, check out this tutorial on YouTube!

The Palouse – 2015

Road Runner Photography Tours is pleased to announce its 2015 Palouse, Washington Photo Tour, from May 31 to June 4, 2015!

With years of experience in the region, Don and I have mapped over 1800 miles in the beautiful location. This tour will have a maximum of 8 participants, so spaces will fill up quickly. We keep our tours small, so that each participant can receive the attention they need to capture beautiful images and so the group can stay flexible when responding to changing weather and lighting conditions.

If you are looking for an early summer photo adventure through the heartland of America, this tour is for you!

For more information and to register for this tour, click here. Early bird special ends November 16, 2014 at midnight.

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Cape May

RRPT just finished up our Photo Tour of Cape May, New Jersey and what a great group and incredible time we had!

At first blush our weather looked unappealing, but as photographers know, bad weather equals opportunity for amazing skies and we were not disappointed. The sunrises and sunsets were spectacularly beautiful.

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We worked on long exposure techniques creating smooth oceans and cloud movement.

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We hit the Pumpkin Run Car Show for some street rods.

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We played with fire.

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For those interested to see how this image was created, here is a video demonstrating Jeff J. spinning wool.

Spinning Wool

This was my first time visiting Cape May and I am ready to go back. In fact, we have added Cape May to our 2014 Photo Tour schedule!

West Virginia Wrap Up

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A couple of weeks ago we wrapped up a fantastic 3 day photo tour of West Virginia.  West Virginia is a wonderful location that is an easy destination from the Mid-Atlantic area, usually a few hours travel by car.  The Canaan Valley area is always the first spot to turn color and it’s a great way to kick off your fall color photography.   We had a great group of people and photographic conditions were quite nice.  One surprise for me was the number of people at Bear Rocks even on the weekday mornings.  It seems each year this spot grows in popularity.   Luckily I know the area well and was able to take the group to several other places that are not as well-known and as a result I think allowed for a more relaxed time with nature.

 Click here for a few additional images from West Virginia!

 

Our next tour is Cape May, NJ on November 1-3, spots are still available and it’s not too late to register.   Early November is a wonderful time to visit the beach, the crowds have gone home and conditions are still nice.

 

Square

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Do you crop?  Personally I hate to crop.  Hate might be a little strong so let’s just say that I have a serious aversion to cropping.  This is because I have an inherited trait, I’m a “perfectionist”.   While sometimes this creates friction in the day to day world,  I consider this a gift in my case because it is what pushes me to always strive to be a better photographer.   But at the same time I am not suggesting this is a necessary trait for a good  photographer, just one that works to my advantage.

 

Back to the idea of cropping.  It all starts with the decision to take the picture.  When you hit the shutter button were you taken with the picture in your viewfinder,  or did you just snap the picture and hope it looks better on your computer monitor?   When I started studying photography again several years ago after a 20 year break, one of the things I found helpful was the idea of getting it right in camera.  This means a good composition and a good exposure.  The advanced electronics in our cameras make getting a good exposure pretty easy these days, but so far no one has invented a composition finder.  That part is up to you.  Truthfully, I don’t think photography would be much fun if our cameras could pick or evaluate the artistic quality of the shot.

 

I remember sitting at a camera club competition a few years ago and hearing the judge suggest that a particular image would be better cropped as a vertical instead of a horizontal.  A vertical crop in this case would throw away about 60 percent of the original image.   While this might have made for a more pleasing composition to this particular judge, it obviously was  not the vision of the photographer.  Only the photographer whose work was being critiqued knows if this was good advice.

 

I’m suggesting that cropping should be a decision that is made before the shutter is pressed, not after the shutter is pressed.  Speaking strictly for myself I would consider it a failure if I took a picture, only later to be told to harvest a small section or perhaps see a picture in the picture that was better than the one I took.  That means I did not see the better shot.   I could go ahead and crop and share with the world, but I would know it was not my original vision.

 

In the case of the picture above, I envisioned a square format when the picture was taken.  My camera shoots in a rectangular format so except for cropping, there was no effective way to achieve this vision prior to pressing the shutter.  Just my opinion, but I believe that cropping should be a conscious decision and not a way to save a bad picture.