Australia’s Sapphire Coast is home to a unique stretch of coastline that draws photographers in from around the globe. With ancient geology dating back to the Ordovician period (485 million years ago) walking its long stretching beaches makes one feel insignificant in comparison. Originally roamed by the Yuin people, these aboriginals had a distinct relationship with the land. Evidence suggests the Yuin held strong spiritual bonds with the country, relying on it for their sustainable way of life.
The morning this image was created was certainly an interesting one… Stranded was taken at the ever-famous Horsehead Rock on a chilly winter’s morning. The area can be accessed via Camel Rock at low tide. Subject to significant erosion over hundreds of millions of years the rugged rock formations will leave you in awe. Due to it’s popularity you’ll be hard done to shoot the classic compositions at sunrise without company. The morning this was taken was no exception! A small crowd had gathered well before sunrise. I personally prefer shooting alone. Witnessing a large group of photographers extend their tripods (while virtually standing on top of each other) tends to kill any creative ambition. To add to the chaos, a lady planned her maternity shoot the same morning. Her poses in front of Horse Head Rock were surely beautiful, however did not please the group who arrived well before her. A few minutes into her shoot, those dedicated camera warriors were yelling out in anger. Sometimes the back story to our images can be a little messier than the final product.
Due to the pandemonium unfolding before me, I made the decision to ditch my original image of Horse Head and wander up the alcove to find some peace. The sky was looking very mediocre at the time with a thick band of low cloud sitting directly on the horizon. Any hope I had of capturing a portfolio-worthy image slowly dissipated. It’s in these moments the less obvious becomes obvious. I decided to experiment a little and use my 100-400 zoom lens. Composing an image at 175mm I framed up a shot of the distant headland with hopes of capturing the large swell smashing into its surrounding boulders. Luckily, a new moon had risen the night before producing an angry ocean measuring upwards of 6 foot. As I stood observing the view before me an ephemeral burst of light found its way through the dense cloud cover. Petrels flew overhead adding to the wonderfully atmospheric vista. Waves continued to smash the headland while new ones rolled in, layering my composition. Everything lined up perfectly, and the confrontation behind me became a distant memory.
Cloud cover about 10 minutes after sunrise
colours found in Stranded
Stranded utilises the complementary colour harmony, meaning the dominant colours lay opposite each other on the colour wheel (as seen above). This is a common colour palette when shooting seascapes. Warm tones produced by a rising/setting sun are complimented by the cooler tones of the ocean. To enhance the overall feel of the image, colour channels were deliberately processed with this harmony in mind. I choose to make these adjustments initially in Adobe Camera Raw (ACR). This way creative adjustments made further down the line do not have any adverse effects on the final image. ACR has an excellent option called Calibration, giving users control of RGB sliders. These sliders effect colours within each RGB channel. It’s a great way to increase overall saturation in an image, without going over the top. Usually, I will experiment with these sliders and further refine each colour in the Colour Mixer tab.
Hues were slightly adjusted to fit complementary colour harmony
The final photograph is the combination of 4 different shots. These were opened in Adobe Camera Raw and processed with the exact same adjustments consisting of:
Dust spot removal
Lens corrections – Automatically applied using the Sony 100-400mm GM profile
Sharpening – Very minor RAW sharpening. More sharpening is applied at the end of my workflow.
Contrast – I pushed the blacks and shadows, allowing for more specific contrast adjustments once in photoshop.
Global settings applied to all 4 photographs.
Usually, I’d combine images in seascapes to overcome issues with dynamic range (pure white highlights caused by a rising/setting sun). However, the light in this scene caused no blown highlights when exposed correctly. The 4 images were therefore blended to enhance composition & mood. By taking these photographs on a sturdy tripod at the exact same settings (IOS, aperture, white balance, focus point, shutter speed) I was able to blend the files together by hand without using Photoshops auto align function. This allowed me to maintain their original Smart Object RAW settings. Below is the original base photograph, with the above global adjustments applied. I’ve then highlighted areas used from seperate frames.
Base photograph on the left. Four seperate files were blended onto this image.
Final blend on the right. Each colour represents an area blended in from a seperate file taken before/after the base exposure.
The fun part! As I mentioned above, I pushed the blacks and shadows in ACR to allow more specific contrast adjustments in Photoshop. These were made utilising Tony Kuyper’s TK7 Panel, an awesome plugin that I’ve use in almost every image in my portfolio. Luminosity masks were generated that targeted different areas of the image depending on their brightness value. Curves and level adjustment layers were then added utilising these luminosity masks. This method allowed me to add contrast back into the image in a highly selective manor, an approach I take in most of my images.
Screenshot of the luminosity mask output used to darken the headland and foreground wave. This mask kept the adjustment localised to the areas that are grey/white.
Screenshot of the luminosity mask output used to add midtone contrast to the entire image. This gave the photograph more depth, without effecting the darkest/brightest valued pixels.
After correcting the contrast within the image, the following adjustments were made:
Orton effect – applied to highlights only (using a luminosity based selection).
Burn layer applied to hotspots within the foreground.
Slight clarity boost to the headland.
Levels adjustment to further darken upper left corner of the sky.
Curves layer added to slightly brighten headland.
Light painting limited by luminosity selection.
Creative adjustment layers
Colour balance layers were added to cool the shadows and warm the highlights. These were limited with luminosity masks. Colour balance layers are a great way to remove any colour cast giving the photo a much more realistic look. Next, the layers were stamped down. You will notice the specular highlights in the foreground wave are removed from the final photograph. This was done by utilising Photoshops Clone Stamp tool in combination with Content-Aware fill. I’ll usually remove these types of distractions at the end of my workflow.
Lastly, the image was sharpened for web display at 1200px on the tall side. Andres Resch has an excellent photoshop plugin for this. I’ve used it to sharpen all the images found in my portfolio. By duplicating the stamped layer and running a smart sharpen filter on it, I was able to paint in further details to the image until I was happy with the result!
Smart Sharpen settings
Selection used with duplicated Smart Sharpen layer
If you have any questions shoot me an email via the contact page! I’d be happy to help with any processing questions and/or offer constructive critique on your images. If you’d like tuition in a professional setting, I offer one on one workshops.