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.