During a recent workshop on the Oregon Coast, I was presented with a common problem: I wanted to do a long exposure shot to enhance a somewhat boring sky, but the wind was blowing around grasses in the foreground and they would be hopelessly blurry with a long shutter speed image. How to handle this?? Here is my 3 part strategy!
I am often heard to say that you should be thinking about post-processing when you are in the field, getting ready to press the shutter! That is truly the only way to be sure that you have collected everything you need while on location in order to produce the image you have in your mind.
In this particular situation, the sky was not the light show that we had hoped for. But there were some nice clouds and they were moving slowly across the sky. There was gorgeous golden light on the tall grasses in front of the lighthouse along with some pretty yellow flowers, and they were swaying in the constant wind that blows at this spot.
So with post-processing in mind, I realized that I would need to capture two images, with my camera securely on my tripod: one with a long exposure to blur the clouds and one with an equivalent exposure but much shorter shutter speed to keep the grasses sharp.
Now that I have my plan in place, it’s time to capture the images. I determined a proper exposure using my histogram and selected a fast enough shutter speed to freeze the moving grass. I put the focus point midway between my camera and the lighthouse, knowing I would get sufficient depth of field with my wide angle lens, and used manual focus. I used a remote release and triggered the shutter. This RAW image is shown here:
I then placed a 6 stop neutral density filter on my camera. Because I am using manual focus, I don’t have to worry about trying to focus through an ND filter. I added 6 stops of light to my shutter speed, to keep the exposures the same between shots. This blurs the clouds nicely! Here is that RAW shot:
With my images properly captured in the field, now all I have to do is combine them in Photoshop!
I begin my processing in Lightroom. I do my normal adjustments to the first image, tweaking white balance, exposure, and doing lens corrections and sharpening. I then sync those same settings to the second image.
I select both images and edit them as layers in photoshop. I can then easily blend the two images using layer masks so that the sharp grasses are revealed and the blurry clouds are maintained. Here is a screenshot of my processing of the already blended image:
Here is the final image! This is a result of my visualization while on location, my ability to capture everything I needed for later work and finally some post-processing magic. I like to put a frame around my images when I display them online!
We are offering Lightroom and Photoshop classes to some of our workshops as add-ons because of the importance of considering post-processing while taking your photos. Hope to see you there soon!
November 2019 Introduction to Lightroom Class: https://www.creativelightphotographyworkshops.com/learning-lightroom