Coastal Class

The story behind the photograph

St Michael’s Mount, just off the coast at Marazion in Cornwall is a location magnet for photographers. It’s magnificent, accessible and the conditions are always different so you can go there often and always come away with something fresh.

My shot was taken just a little before sunrise and I was standing on the causeway with three other photographers. In the lifting gloom I spied a few more to our left amid the rocks and seaweed.

The tide was quite a way out and slowly coming in so I set up the tripod knowing I would have to retreat soon enough.

To be honest the predawn light when this shot was taken wasn’t interesting – and even when the sun did emerge, it didn’t get a great deal better.

I used a Nikon D3s with a 16-35mm lens with a Lee Filters Big Stopper in place. I worked out the exposure and exposed for 124secs at f/11 – it should have been two minutes but I was obviously slow terminating the exposure. My calculations perhaps weren’t as accurate as they should have been and the shot is rather underexposed and too dark.

STEP-BY STEP: Coastal delight in Adobe Lightroom 3

I’d made a mess of the exposure despite using an app to calculate exposure time – obviously my metering was at fault. The original is about two stops underexposed so I used the Exposure slider to bring out detail. I got to +2.35 before I was happy.

Using an extreme ND and small apertures is going to show up dust almost regardless. I selected the Spot Removal tool (shortcut key Q) in Heal modes and then adjusted the Size slider until the tool template was slightly larger than the marks being healed. I left the Opacity at 100%.

Clicking on the spot leaves a circle in place with cross hairs with another ring adjacent to the target circle. This second circle is where the software samples from to heal the spot and you can move this to suit. I have deliberately sampled incorrectly to show this.

After a few minutes work the image is now clean but it’s rather cool-looking so I played with the white-balance slider. A higher colour temperature of 8062K seemed about right. Of course, all these settings can be tweaked later if needs be.

It is time to work with the Graduate filter. This filter has different modes. Here I wanted to work on the sky so tried Color. Clicking the Color box brings up the Select a Color panel and an eyedropper.

Now using my orange Graduate filter I added colour to the sky. I put one graduate into each corner and one across the top – holding down the Shift key while pulling a graduate from the top keeps it level.

The sky is much nicer now and it stills needs fine-tuning but not until I paid some attention to the foreground, again with the Graduate filter in its Exposure mode. This time I drew the Graduate filter from the bottom of the scene upwards and adjusted the exposure to -0.76.

The highlights are weak and while not blown, they could be better. To improve them I used the Recovery slider, moving it to 25 for more detailed highlights without making them appear too flat.

We’re getting there but I’ve overdone the foreground and lost some detail. The Adjustment Brush (shortcut key K) can help. Different modes are available so I picked Dodge (Lighten). I went for a large brush (38) and a decent amount of Feather too to give soft edges.

Across the dark area I clicked on the image four times, each time adjusting the exposure from 0.50 to 2.00 to lighten the active areas in the dark foreground.

I left the cropping and the use of the Lens Corrections feature until the end. First, it’s time to correct any distortion, and ticking the Enable Profile Corrections box lets the software work its magic.

Finally, the Crop Overlay tool (shortcut key R). The main thing was to ensure the horizon stayed horizontal using the grid option under Tools >Grid Overlay option>Grid. That’s it before exporting the picture.

Taken from the June 2012 issue of Advanced Photographer magazine