How Did I Get This Shot?

waikiki_sunset_final_2_filtered

Call it a mistake from being temporarily obsessed with HDR photography.

I was sitting at my job with my travel hard drive, finished with all my design work and instructional help, and so I decided I wanted to see if I could do an HDR photo using the photos I already had . . . because I was not going to be let out of work to take photos.  I sifted through my old photos and came across an older one I had shot of the Waikiki skyline at night.

My plan was to use Photoshop to underexpose the shot and overexpose it and then combine the three resulting images to create an HDR photo.  After my first attempt, I realized this was not going to work well.  So I settled for simply messing around with Photoshop while at work.

After a few careless edits, I managed to get the shot above.  It is almost unrecognizable from the original shot, which, was already quite pretty.  This is definitely more my style though.  Bright colors, soft transitions, and tons of contrast are typical of my paintings.  But even I was a bit astonished with what I was able to do with this photo and Photoshop.

For people interested in knowing how to do this, you will need CS5 or higher and a standalone or plug-in for Imagenomic’s Noiseware (I used the standalone version).  I began with my typical edits adjusting contrast and tone and then using transform to make sure the city skyline was de-skewed.  Then I put the image through the HDR Toning Filter, keeping the effect very, very slight.

Now, if you have used the HDR Toning Filter, you know that this can often leave unwanted noise on the photo.  I hate noise.  But I do love Gaussian blurs, so I created a duplicate layer and applied a pretty hefty blur.  Then I reduced the opacity and created a mask to keep the buildings nice and crisp.

This was okay, but it was not exactly what I wanted, so I selected a layer “type” and instead of using “Normal” (the default), I selected overlay.  My coworker told me she was almost immediately blinded.  The overlay darkens and brightens colors in a pretty nice way, and I think I may have discovered my new favorite way to edit landscapes.  When I saw the photo, I knew it was exactly what I wanted.

Still, the image was not perfect.  The overlay blurred the noise left behind by the HDR Toning, but it still was a bit too grainy for me.  I had been researching Photoshop plug-ins earlier in the week, and that was when I came across Imagenomic’s website.  They have three pretty nice plug-ins, the two I like the most being Portraiture and Noiseware.  To be honest, I was pretty sold on Imagenomic’s plug-ins before using them, but they let you download the Noiseware plug-in for free as a trial, so I decided to try it out.  I was not disappointed.  Noiseware got rid of all that terrible noise in my photo and really made it shine like how I wanted it to.

After that, I bought Noiseware for my mobile device and plan to buy the standalone software as soon as my trial period is up.  I strongly recommend this software for anyone interested in cleaning up their grainy images.  It really does an amazing job!  I also tried out Imagenomic’s Portraiture and was equally amazed.  These are both definite musts for photographers!

Sacred Heart Church in Honolulu

The fountain of Sacred Heart Church lit up at night.

The fountain of Sacred Heart Church lit up at night.

Sandy Beach Park at Dusk, Oahu, Hawaii

Sandy Beach Park at Dusk, Oahu, Hawaii

Shot with Canon 18-55mm at 18mm, f/13, ISO400, for 2 mins using a stacked Rockfish Circular Polarizer, Hoya ND1000, and Hoya NDx10 Grad Filter. This is by far the best shot I have ever gotten with my Canon 600D, though I would not recommend stacking all three filters as this caused severe vignetting (my Rockfish CP is unfortunately cross-threaded onto my lens, so I had to make due). This is the jpeg version of the shot, but I also have it in RAW format.

Sunset at Turtle Bay

Sunset at Turtle Bay

This was probably the best shot I managed to get for the whole of the trip. I had a few others that I was proud of, but due to the inclement weather on the North Shore on this day, I wasn’t really able to get the outstanding shots I had hoped for.

The trip was pretty last-minute for me. I saw my friends in the lobby preparing for something, and I asked what they were doing. There was to be a birthday party on the North Shore for our organization’s president. They asked me if I wanted to go, but I had so much homework to do, I declined. After an hour went by, I wanted to kick myself for squandering an opportunity (yes, though it should not be so, photography occupies more time in my mind than school work). Slightly depressed, I went to the kitchen to boil some eggs for lunch.

The kitchen overlooks the parking lot, so I happened to notice that my friends and the president had not left yet. I called out to him, “Happy birthday, Mr. President!” Again, I was offered the opportunity to join them. This time I took it.

A trip from Honolulu to the North Shore takes barely an hour, probably not even that long. We made it to a beach I’d never been to but which was past Haleiwa and before Waimea Bay. The weather was pretty nice initially, and the waves were incredibly high…at times double over head. I don’t think I’d seen waves that high in person before, except for maybe the terrifying shore break I witnessed at Waimea Bay in January 2011. The waves on this beach were high, but not particularly scary, and the surfers seemed to be having a lot of luck catching some good waves.

However, gray clouds rolled in quickly and began to rain intermittently on our party. At one point, it started to pour but thankfully stopped quickly. It was a good thing I brought my umbrella, so that when I went back out with my camera, I at least had protection for my equipment. However, it made picture-taking incredibly cumbersome.

Weather aside, I got a few good pictures, and some excellent shots of sea turtles lying on the beach; but nothing was really stellar for me. I had definitely had better days. The party chose to head out around 5:30, which disappointed me at first because I really wanted to be there for the sunset, but my disappointment didn’t last long because it was announced we were heading out to the condos at Turtle Bay for birthday cake. Not only that, but our driver was insistent we get there quickly to see the sunset, and he knew some shortcuts through the resort to get us to the best vantage point fast.

Right before we arrived at Turtle Bay, it seemed the cloud cover was disappearing, and I was stoked because that would mean that I could get some dynamic shots of the sky (some clouds without covering the sun make for super awesome shots!). However, the cloud cover returned by the time we reached the spot.

The result is the picture you see here–one stretch of coral pink sky above eerie, milky waves (the waves were REALLY churning here). The picture is a bit more subtle than what I am used to because I tend to like shooting incredibly bright photos, but I like the softness of the picture and the composition (composition is not my strongest suit). I did not shoot in raw because of the sheer volume of pictures I get while shooting in sports mode to capture the surfers. Because of this, I cannot say specifically what I did to create this picture, but I am certain the shutter speed was above 3 seconds, the ISO at 100, and the white balance set to “white fluorescent.” Mis-adjusting the white balance can make for very interesting photographs, so I like to play around with it.

THINGS I LEARNED:

Number one thing I learned: buy a UV filter to protect the lens. I had a UV filter for my manual SLR, but I had not gotten around to purchasing one for my digital camera. This is now on the top of my “to-buy” list. When it started to pour, my camera lens was left exposed. I am not particularly concerned about rain (perhaps I should be!), but I was mostly concerned with having to wipe my lens with my shirt to dry it off. I realized that one false rub, and my lens would be ruined. A UV filter costs much less in comparison. Therefore, this is going to be the first thing I buy for my 58mm lenses.