I received a few emails with questions about January’s wallpaper photo “Clear Water, Hudson River”, so I thought it would be a good opportunity to write a “Making Of” article for the benefit of all readers.
This photograph was very much planned in advance in the sense that I needed a very specific and limited window of conditions for the image I had in my mind. I wanted low tide for a strong foreground (the rocks are completely submerged during high tide), sunrise during winter for quality and direction of light, and optimally minimal wind. Because the sun rises much further south during the winter, it actually creates a nice backlighting condition when looking south on the Hudson. This creates a subtle but dramatic lighting effect which improves the sense of depth and dimension in the image. Notice how the rocks in the foreground (especially on the lower right) and the mountains across the river have a beautiful 3 dimensional quality to them as the light seems to flow around their shapes.
Of course we can plan for these conditions, but there is no guarantee that everything will come together when the time comes to set up the camera. After several failed attempts, I found myself standing on the edge of the river once again this year hoping for a chance to capture something special. The weather forecast predicted clear skies for the day, but the morning started off rather cloudy and somewhat foggy. Patience and perseverance paid off however, and all of the elements I look for in a successful landscape photograph came together for a few moments: light, color, composition, and drama.
Wanting to create a panorama, I setup my Canon 60D with a Canon 24L f/1.4 lens and shot 7 images in a vertical position. I leveled the tripod as best I could, and used reference points along the river to make sure each successive shot would overlap the last by about 25%. Camera settings were Manual, f/11, 1/250 sec @ ISO 200 with highlight priority turned on. I also used a remote shutter release with mirror lockup enabled to keep movement to a minimum and ensure the sharpest and cleanest image possible. No filters or multiple exposures used. (No bias here, just didn’t think about either at the time.) I especially dislike polarizers when shooting a panorama because of the inconsistent look you’ll wind up with as you change your angle to the sun – given the effect is most pronounced at 90° and least effective at 0° or 180° from the sun.
Notice the focus point in the foreground, which is about 12′ from the camera – @ 24mm, f/11 gives me a hyperfocal distance of about 9′, so I approximated the distance and focused there. This brings everything into focus from 5′ to infinity, plenty for this image. I used manual focusing to avoid any anything changing between the 7 images.
I processed the 7 images in Lightroom, making slight brightness adjustments to each so that they would match up better when merged in Photoshop. Lightroom has a great feature which allows you to select several images,then export them directly to Photoshop for merging into a Panorama. (Control-click on a group of selected images, then select “Merge to Panorama in Photoshop” from the menu).
Once the process is complete, I flattened all of the layers in Photoshop, then saved the new panorama to Lightroom. I don’t crop in Photoshops because I would rather use the non-destructive cropping in Ligtroom instead. This allows me to experiment with different crops and sizes. Finally I added a graduated filter in LR to control the highlights (and sun) in the upper left, and added some subtle dodging to some of the foreground rocks.
The resultant image is the equivalent of 32 megapixels, enough to make a print 54″ wide a native resolution of 180ppi. I could probably go much larger using Alien Skin Blowup (my favorite plugin for re-sizing images).
Lightroom Print module showing native resolution and size.
The important points I wanted to share here are:
- become intimately familiar with your favorite landscape locations
- be aware of light at all times
- use a tripod
- don’t use a circular polarizer for panoramas
- patience is your best ally, time is your best investment
- think about what inspires you to make photographs
Finally, why this image and why does it work for me? The lighting was the critical element since it had to be made in winter, yet I didn’t want it to be a “winter” image. The calmness and clarity of the water, together with the overall mood of the image is what I wanted to capture – that helps convey what I felt, and often feel about the Hudson Valley. It shows how I view the world, how it inspires me to appreciate the very basic and simple things in life, and most importantly how I want to share that with others.
Thanks again for your questions, and please feel free to leave any other questions or comments below.