This sunset panorama is the first of its kind for me… I’ve frequently found myself in situations where a panorama would be possible, but not exactly practical given the lack of context when shooting such an immense scene. This photo is the result of 3 separate HDR shots, comprised of 3 brackets each.
On the evening in question, I was actually down at the waterfront here in Queenstown shooting entirely different subjects… Upon leaving however, I noticed the interplay of light and color in the distant sky, in combination with the various cloud layers interacting with the landscape… I decided to fire off a few sets in an attempt to do it justice, convinced it wouldn’t be any good.
Upon working with the photo however, I was pleasantly surprised with the initial result! It’s always nice when the post processing workflow is more about subtle corrections than major recovery and pixel-pushing!
With that in mind, the final photo ended up being a whopping 8431 by 3414 pixels! On the scene, I was using my 24-70mm Sigma lens, at its maximum zoom — Equivalent to 112mm on my cropped sensor… Bear in mind those mountains, called The Remarkables, are a little under 12km away and over 10km long from end to end.
When it came time to make adjustments in Photoshop after the initial HDR merge with Photomatix, I ended up bending the scene a little to fill the frame and remove some minor obstructions in the lower-right corner. The reason I framed the mountain range like this and cut off the landscape is two-fold;
Firstly, the elements in the foreground were intrusive… Scruffy trees and buildings that didn’t fit with the scene.
Secondly, the entire point of this photo was to sell the mountains as the main subject, while treating the scale of them as a somewhat irrelevant detail… Leaving it up to the viewer to discover that once they have looked into the photo in detail.
People often don’t realize that all these photos are available at their original full resolution. That may change at some point if copyright infringement becomes an issue, but for now I’d encourage to take a look at this full size on Flickr to get a feel for how big and intricate these distant peaks are! To give you some idea, this is an 80% crop taken from the middle of the range. The peaks of this beast are jagged and pretty unforgiving… I’m not sure how people gather the courage to climb up or ski down them:
Another topic I’ll touch on quickly is that of detailed editing… I can appreciate those with a busy schedule can’t afford the 5 hours I sometimes spend on post processing. But I can, and a huge part of my workflow is making subtle adjustments at the native resolution or sometimes even further in up to 400%. Chromatic Aberrations, Noise… They have to go. I’m pretty ruthless when it comes to Photoshop, never really happy with a photo until it has gone through several iterations.
Another workflow process I use is making regular ‘snapshots’ of my edited photo, essentially keeping a backup of the shot prior to any major adjustments taking place. Take a look at this layers screenshot from Photoshop below:
Here you can see 5 ‘Combined’ layers — Each representing a solid editing point from start to finish. These give me benchmarks during the process, allowing me to go back and revise what I’ve done and pull elements back in if required. Along side these are other adjustment layers:
- Sharpening over the entire scene
- Noise Reduction on the sky
- Levels to correct the contrast in one area of the frame
- Hue and Saturation targeting blues in the same area
- Pro Contrast adjustment using Color Efex Pro
- Levels targeting the brightness of the clouds
- Tonal Contrast, to give it a little ‘pop’ again using Color Efex Pro
- Vibrance to give a little life to the color in the pink clouds
- And finally, a curves layer to brighten up the dark clouds in the upper left
Notice how in each of these layers I never mask anything in at 100% — With the exception of noise reductio and sharpening, those two require it in most cases. I do my best to be subtle and blend these elements together, while remaining faithful to the original scene. However its a fine balance, aiming to retain details and ambiance while placing emphasis on certain elements to create a stunning result.
If you enjoyed this little workflow insight, please leave a comment to let me know. I appreciate the feedback!
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