In July every year Yaquina Head, on the north end of the quaint little town of Newport on the Central Oregon Coast, produces a fairly good crop of vibrant wildflowers. The location is stunning and has several places to get both low and high perspectives. And, with and without, the infamous Yaquina Head Light House sitting on the headland looking out across the Pacific ocean.
Yaquina Head in Bloom is a great image to present an overview of how I manage the occasional situation where the scene before me is outstanding but lacks one or more of the components needed to complete the full scope of the image.
In this situation I had a full sun, bald sky kind of morning. The light on the foreground and mid-ground was excellent but the sky made the opportunity for an award winning or salable image virtually impossible.
There were several options available for me to potentially end up with an outstanding image. (1) I could have shot an Intimate Landscape. Up close on the flowers for an exaggerated Near / Far image with the crop on the top just above the lighthouse, in the ocean, thereby cutting out the sky entirely. (2) Shoot it normally with ⅓ sky and ⅔ mid and foreground and just live with a bald sky. Or, (3) Come back on the next day that had some remarkable skies. Fat chance on that one ! ! While I did take a few of the Near/Far’s ,with no sky in the scene ,it still didn’t feel like it was working. Soooo, I opted for option #4.
I simply shot for the foreground and mid-ground and left just enough sky to enclose the primary subject matter. *(see sample of foreground and sky images) I simply didn’t worry about the sky as I decided I would use two separate images to compile the final image that I saw in my minds eye as I was looking through the camera.
Once I had the foreground image in the can then it was off to the studio to begin the Post Processing stage of my envisioned Yaquina Head in Bloom
image. Over the years I have collected over 3,000 cloud / sky images in my personal digital library. There is seldom a shoot that I don’t add to that library of images. I knew this image would require, what I call, a diminishing sky. One that seems to go too the edge of the earth with a lot of depth and would blend nicely with the abrupt edge of the ocean meeting the sky.
There are several issues you have to be aware of when using multiple files, from different locals, times of day, filtration, exposures and...... CONTINUED FROM VBIC E-LETTERall of the other changes one makes from one shoot to another. Two of the most important components in matching, or merging, two different images into one final master image are: Lens Focal Length and the Sun and Shadow Directions.
If you shot one of your selected files with a 200mm lens and decided to use a second file from your library (such as I did with my clouds and sky) that was shot with a 14mm wide angle then the chances are very good that the end product will be perceived as "There is something weird" about this image, from your viewers.
When ever possible try to match focal lengths as close as possible so the perspectives are somewhat in sync.
Regarding the direction of the sun and shadows. I often see photographers create images where the shadows and highlights are 180 degrees opposite from each other between the two images that were used to build the final image. It isn't always obvious to the viewer specifically what's wrong with the image..... they just know there is something not quite right and it feels uncomfortable. So, if you plan to join multiple images, as I have done in my Yaquina Head image, make sure your highlights and shadows are complimentary in the finished file. Sometimes it is as simple as flipping the sky image 180 degrees so you don't have the perception of two suns lighting your scene.
Here are a few other tid bits that will help you in creating your multiple image final file. * SHARPENING: I find sharpening selective components in my foregrounds provides images that are much more realistic. I almost never sharpen my clouds and sky. Large expanses of plain blue or white and grey usually end up being very noisy if sharpening is applied to the sky, at the same level often used on the foregrounds. *(A great software for minimizing noise in the sky is a PS plug in called DEFINE.
* COLOR ADJUSTMENTS: I find if I have a lot of blue in in both selected files that they will seldom match. For the scene to look natural the sky and foreground blues have to be pretty darn close or the image will look odd. There are a number of ways to adjust a given color pallet from one file to another but I usually opt for the really simple adjustment in the Replace Color command in the Adjustments drop down under Image. With a little practice you can visually bring almost any two image colors close enough that no one will ever know.
* MERGING the HORIZON LINE: Trying to merge the horizon line on a seascape image like Yaquina Head can be very challenging. The only image that proves to be more challenging is an image that has a foreground and a bunch of trees that you want to select out so you can add, or replace a sky. Making the trees and the new sky look natural has got to be the final test to get into PS heaven. I have actually been known to select the chain saw tool to do a little pruning to make it all work out in the end.
I have found that erasing the bottom of the sky image and the top of the mid-ground image with a really soft, fairly large brush set to about a 30% opacity allows me to create a graduated transition from full 100% image to it simply disappearing in a very short space. When I bring the two softened edges together I find a magic point where they have blended perfectly and unless I enlarge the file up to 200% I simply cannot tell the two images were from different files. Sometimes a little blur tool along that merged line will really put the finishing touch on the whole task.
Over the past few years of teaching different workshops and conducting my Judges Training Seminars I am constantly amazed at how few photographers know anything about Layers or Layer Masking. If you want to take your photography to the next level then I strongly recommend you either pick up a good book on the subject or buy a training CD on the subject. You will never go back once you learn and understand what you can do with your images with just a little effort on your part. My Yaquina Head in Bloom image would never have seen the light of day without a complimentary sky to carry the image to its conclusion. Now, it hangs and sells regularly in my galleries and off my web site.
And, you know what? It is exactly as I saw it that morning standing almost chest deep in wildflowers looking at this remarkable scene.
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