Alice in Wonderland Redux

Sometimes I take my photography too seriously. This time I decided to do a digital image (not really photography but using photo elements). It was a fun project and I learned a few things doing it. I'll share with you the basic tools and techniques I used to create this image; Sara in Harewoodland (click for larger view):

First I needed a background image for my composition. Just south of Nanaimo is the wonderful Harewood Plains which bloom with many spring flowers each year. So I worked with this shot (cropped and some painterly filters applied) as the background:

So now we need the star player: Sara (Alice). I have a print of my daughter Sara from a shot I took when she was 7 years old (now 30). I scanned it into digital format and cut it out of the photo:

Two more things remained in my concept: bring in Harewood flowers in the sky plus butterflys. And a slightly hidden image (you have to find it!) So here's a flower:

And here is a butterfly:

OK. All of the flying images had a drop shadow or other effect applied to bring it up from the background. The last ingredient in the recipe is how to get the movement effect you see on the flowers and butterflys? All of these images were placed on a seperate layer in Photoshop so I could try and discard or keep. There are many ways to do this but I choose to use the EyeCandy7 filter from AlienSkin. This product has a number of good features including the motion effect for still images (no afflilation). 

One of the skills Im assuming you have is to cut out an image from the background. It take some skill but is much easier than it used to be.

Hope you enjoy the image: (click on for larger view) 

Why Do Long Exposure Landscape Images?

I was amazed, many years ago, after reading a Popular Photography magazine article. The photographer/author set up his camera on a tripod to point at a popular entry stairs to a New York subway station. He said that the shot was taken at peak subway hours yet the resulting picture showed no people just the image of the subway entrance. How could this be done? It seemed like magic.

I don't remember the details of how he did it but the trick was a very long exposure so that people walking by did not register on the film. He used an extremely small aperture, lowest film speed possible and maybe a pin hole or some form of "light blocking" filter so that the image took a long time to burn into the film. Thus the people walking by became invisible to the camera! He probably had the shutter open letting light in for several minutes. Compare this to the typical snapshot of 1/100 of a second.

Well, long exposures are still alive and well today, especially in landscape photography. Long exposures make water do wounderful things. The classic waterfall blur effect. You can also get a surface glass effect that can be very attractive. Sometimes, with more ocean like conditions you get smoky blur looks. Clouds can also blur into interesting formations if they are moving. Many looks are possible.

This article will show you some examples and tell you the process I'm using. Let me make you aware right up front, that you can't do this technique without a tripod. OK, lets have a look at an image I shot of the Virgin River near Zion Park in Utah; what you see here is what came out of the camera, no filters or Photoshop tricks. (click on for larger): 

I was standing on a big rock jutting into the river with my tripod rather dangerously set-up on a very uneven surface. It was close to sunset and cold and windy. I framed and focused the shot carefully on my 5D. Then I took out my special B+W "10 stop light blocking" filter and carefully screwed it on the lens trying not to move anything. (Push the lens in and you change the focus) Now, both the viewfinder and LCD viewer on the camera back show nothing! Yes, because the light is blocked. Thats why you have to frame and focus before putting the filter on. I had already set my camera's shutter to "B" for manual control. I then had the inexpensive Canon wireless remote in one hand and my iPhone with timer app booted, in the other. (Some cameras have a timer built in that works with B so you don't need anything extra). Next I decide on an f11 aperture so eveything should be sharp (24mm). Now I look at the light and take a guess and how long to expose? (You can get table for this but I like to try learning it myself). So I opened the shutter with the remote, hit the timer button and decided to try 3 minutes. After 3 minutes I hit the remote button to close the exposure then wait while the camera processes the image (another 3 minutes). Ooops, overexposed! Try agin, this time a little closer but not right. Finally nailed it at 91 seconds. By this time my butt is freezing and I call it a day. But I'm happy because the image on the LCD looks amazing. Look at that glass water!

Later, back at home looking at the image reality sets in. Of course, long exposure means that anything moving blurs. This is what you usually want for water and sometimes clouds but in this image I'm not really happy with the trees along the river. I decide to stylize them with some kind of painterly effect. So now I have:

Most people so far like this version best but others prefer the original. I like this version. (or maybe the next)

Let me show you the ND filter that blocks the light:

The filter is covering a 100watt light; shows you how dark it is.

My guess exposure method can sometimes be tedious. To be more accurate you can use a spot light meter, especially if you are shooting the near dark. It needs to one that you can dial in a 10 stop exposure compensation such as this one:

This is not a cheap meter and I can't afford one just for long exposures so I guess. You can shoot long exposures anytime during the day to get interesting effects although most of these exposures are taken in low light conditions like sunrise/sunset/night scene. If you are shooting during the day, there is sometimes enough light in the live view on your LCD to frame and focus (if you can zoom in to see things accurately). For more information on how to use a meter and other useful tips re long exposures I recommend Mark Hilliard Ateliers article. Lots of good stuff on his blog.

To conclude I put together a slideshow (PDF so free Acrobat Reader needed) with example images that includes the exposure time, aperture value and ISO. These images illustrate various effects you can get with long exposures; I hope you agree that this is a very worthwhile landscape technique! Give it a try... 

Layers and Pipers Lagoon Photo

The recently published Pipers Lagoon photo is very popular so I thought this would be a good image to show my work flow and the layer filters that I used. A previous article in this blog illustrated a similar process. This article is for photographers who have (or may be planning to purchase) a photo editor such as Photoshop or Elements that enable the use of layers. This photo was taken on a tripod, with three bracketed exposures 1 stop apart, using a Canon 5D Mark II and 17-40mm with polarizing filter. The lagoon is in Nanaimo not far from the Departure Bay ferry terminal:


The three bracketed photos were processed in Photomatix (, no affiliation) then brought into Lightroom where cropping and basic adjustments were done. These very important final tweaks can be done quickly by adjusting the colours as needed and using this basic panel:


How this works is not the topic of this article and is better covered in a video tutorial. An excellent series on Lightroom is available (no affiliation) at Others can be found for free with a search on Youtube.

Have a look at the original photo after processing in Photomatix and Lightroom (click for larger):

Compare this to the final image:

If you check these images in the larger size you will see that the differences are subtle but significant. Obviously I like the second image best because it has better detail and an undefined "look" to it that the original lacks. So lets look at how this was achieved.

It was created by blending three image layers. In the following clip you can see these image layers in Photoshop plus two layers for the title and signature:


The background layer is selected in the above clip; notice that the opacity control is set to 100% meaning that the image is displayed at full strength. I next applied the LucisArt filter (, no affiliation) and the result produced another layer looking like this with opacity set to 100%(click for larger):

This filter can add an incredible amount of detail and was originally developed for enhancing medical X-rays etc. In this case I set the detail enhance very low but the change is still quite evident. I'm using the inexpensive Mac version as the pro version is beyond my budget. I now selected the original layer again and applied the Akvis Sketch filter (, no affiliation) and produced the final image layer shown here at 100% opacity:

If you click to the bigger view, you will clearly see that this is a very different look. Sometimes very good just as is. This product can produce anything from a pencil sketch to a water color effect. In my workflow though, I'm always experimenting with the blending of layers to get a that special "look". Obviously I'm not a purist, I have no hesitation doing whatever I want to a digital photo during processing. The final step is to play with the opacity controls of the three layers to see if you can come up with something good. I often delete a layer when I see that it doesn't do anything positive for me. I started with the original set to 100% opacity and set the two layers above it to 0%. Then I started with the Lucis layer by slowly sliding opacity up and down and watching carefully the resulting image combination on my monitor. I ended up setting it to 23%:


Finally I moved to the sketch layer and after the same slow up and down opacity control (now affecting both layers below) set it to 39% opacity. Sometimes I have to go back and forth a bit between the two filter layers to tweak the opacity.


I hope this all makes sense.  There a many filters available so you can understand that the possibilities are endless and you can create very interesting images plus make the post processing a lot of fun! Create your own style and look! Most people that use filters apply just one and use that result. Blending more than one with an original HDR image is more difficult, but provides a lot of flexibility in the kinds of results achieved especially after you gain some experience. 

Blending Two Layers: Photo Plus Sketch

(I have no affiliation with any of the products mentioned in this article.)

We just moved our household from Coquitlam near Vancouver to Nanaimo on Vancouver Island. are some images from the Nanaimo area along with a brief tutorial.

Today I'll quickly illustrate a technique that has many permutations and can produce some very interesting images. This is not a step-by-step tutorial and I'm assuming you have access to a photo editor that handles layers like Photoshop (which I use) or Elements. 

The original HDR photo shown below was created with 3 exposures in Photomatix. It was tweaked for exposure, sharpness etc. in Lightroom before taking into Photoshop. (click on for bigger)

In Photoshop the image was duplicated on another layer. To this layer I applied the AKVIS Sketch plugin. With this tool you can create various different sketch affects from a line drawing to a watercolour or charcoal drawing. After fiddling with the sketch sliders I came up with the image below:

So now I have two versions of the image, one the original photo, and one with the sketch effect applied. You can see in the Photoshop clip below the two image layers plus two more for the image title and signature.


 Note that the sketch layer is chosen. Note also that you have an opacity control on the upper right. If the sketch layer was set to 100% all you would see is this layer as it will hide the one below. The fun part is to experiment blending the two layers by changing the opacity until you get a hopefully good result. It doesn't always work like you expect! As you can see, in this case I changed to opacity of the sketch layer to 43%. I was looking for that magic spot where the photo just begins to lose its "photo" look and becomes something different. You can judge for yourself if the final blended version below is better than the orginal.

There are many different ways to use layers to blend image versions. I'll try to cover a few more in coming articles.

Port Mann Bridge Progress; Compare 2 Photo Techniques

The traffic coming west along Highway 1 will enter Vancouver via the new Port Mann bridge under construction and to be completed sometime in 2013. Meanwhile Metro Vancouver residents have been treated to seemingly never ending construction of connections, road widening and new ramps all required for the new bridge. The impact of even more cars and trucks entering the Vancouver area is much debated and soon to be experienced.

Here are a couple of photos taken today of the bridge construction. You'll see that one uses a long exposure technique (10X ND filter) to create glass-like water. The other image is made from three exposures combined and processed in Lightroom and Photomatix.

3 Views of "Reality"

Some people believe that using Photoshop to change a photograph is altering what is real into something that does not exist. The truth is that every exposure in your camera is only a partial interpretation of what you are seeing. And of course, you know if you have studied perception, that what you are seeing is only a small bit of what is really there. I'd like to explore this using three pictures taken the same day of the same landscape.

Heres the first one taken and processed in Lightroom (click on for larger view):

I underexposed this to hold the cloud detail then used the curves adjustment to brighten the rock and trees the best I could. Sharpened and added clarity as normal. This does not really look like what I saw that day because the camera simply can't capture the range of tones my eye and brain were seeing.

The next photo show the same scene but I've put a 10X neutral (actually slightly warm) density filter on the lens and exposed on manual for about 60 seconds. This has the effect of smoothing out the water and losing detail from the sky. The bonus is that the rock seems to almost float even though it is very grounded. So is this version less real that the first one? Again what I saw didn't look like this because I can't effectively merge images I see over 60 seconds into one.

The last example looks closest to what I saw and is a HDR image made merging three images (light, medium, dark) in the app Photomatix then sharpening and adjusting in lightroom. As you see we have good detail in the clouds, reflection and the rock. This is the kind of result that Ansel Adams tried for by dodging and burning in his darkroom before digital capture was invented. If he were alive today, I don't think he would hesitate for a moment to use any tool that helped him achieve his vision.