Recently, I posted this online to one of my favourite photo groups on Facebook and was asked about posting the settings in order to help people better understand how to I achieved this shot. It is a common question but I feel that it only shows part of the puzzle. It’s a bit like asking a cook how much spice did they put in their sufflet. Only knowing the amount, you still won’t be able to make the same dish. Photography is much the same.
With this in mind, I thought that I would breakdown the whole image. Giving you a better understanding of the process rather than hoping if you copy the settings in the image caption that you will achieve a similar result.
I scouted this location a couple of days prior and saw that the rocks in the water are a very interesting. This is a popular area for many photographers. I made a note of this spot due to the foreground elements and the rough waters.
The direction is also facing the East and thus would be best shot at sunrise. With that in mind, I studied the landscape for a moment to find the interesting elements. I saw where the other photographers were and tried to figure out what they were shooting too.
I composed this image in a way using the rule of thirds, for the most part. I zoomed into the lighthouse and also positioned it that it was in the upper right of the frame and away from the large cluster of rocks. I placed the horizon on the upper third of the frame as I wanted to give more weight the the foreground elements.
An improvement to this image would be to move a bit more to the left and have the rocks diagonally across the frame. This would have eliminated the blank spot in the lower left corner. Sadly, at the time there was another photographer in the exact spot I needed to be. I just had to make do with where I was.
I returned at sunrise a few days later and got set up early. The above shot was take actually before sunrise during the early part of golden hour. This meant that it was still a little dark and this was key for this type of shot.
The water was a rather calm on this day, so I chose to use a 10-stop neutral density filter to smooth out the water. This is a really dark filter and a risky choice as there is not a lot of time before the sun comes up. However, the effect it has is one that I find desirable and so I was willing to invest the time to get the shot.
Using such a dark filter means that you have to have a stable tripod to make sure that your camera does not move in any way. An exposure time of 3 minutes also means that you have to have a shutter release capable of holding down the button for a long period of time. Mine has a locking mechanism that engages when you press the shutter and slide into the lock position. The filter that I used was a cheap “ICE” ND1000 filter that I picked up off of Amazon for around $30. ND filters can get really pricey and I have yet to justify dropping hundreds of dollars on then. This screw-on filter does me just fine at the moment.
When I got home and after a nap and a LARGE cup of coffee, I began to edit the images. I wanted to show the warm pop of colour on the horizon and also the contrast of the dark rocks in the foreground.
To achieve this I used Skylum’s Luminar and a few of filters. Most notably, I used the “Golden Hour” filter to adjust the warm tones throughout the image and improve the “sunrise feel” to the image. I also used the “Top and Bottom Lighting” filter to lighten the foreground a bit more and then darken the sky.
Finally, I dropped the blacks down a bit more to create a bit more contrast. This drew more focus to the shapes of the rocks than the detail. I wanted to keep this image simple with out too many distracting elements.
The bottom line here is that there is more to an image than just the settings. If you are seeking to truly learn from photographers you must get inside their head a little more. Simply learning the settings is just a one-off piece of information. It is the whole process that will make you a better photographer and your images really stand out.