How I Got The Shot: Desert Road

Article from Digital Photography School

This is the final image I created from a single shot, processed twice.  Taken with the Canon EOS-1D X, EF 24mm f/1.4L II.  Exposure 15 seconds, f/1.4, ISO 800.

This is the final image I created from a single shot, processed twice. Taken with the Canon EOS-1D X, EF 24mm f/1.4L II. Exposure 15 seconds, f/1.4, ISO 800.

Some exposure situations become difficult to handle in-camera without a little post processing later on. A perfect example is this shot of a desert road in Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada, that I took a week or so ago. There was no moon, which made it a great night for capturing the stars, but an awful night for capturing the road surface in the foreground.

First, I needed an exposure for the stars. I started with my usual base exposure for that, 15 seconds, ISO 800, f/1.4. That gave me exactly what I wanted on the stars, but the foreground was too dark. I was prepared for this, having brought an LED flashlight with me to “paint” the foreground. So, during the next 15 second exposure, I held the flashlight on for five seconds, shining it indirectly down the road. I did not aim it straight at the road, I simply aimed it down the road, allowing the light to skim along the road. This avoided any hot spots. The 5 second exposure with the flashlight was the result of some experimentation with time. The entire 15 seconds created overexposure on the foreground, so I scaled it back to 5 seconds, and was pretty happy with that.

In the screen shot on the left, I adjusted the white balance to render the sky the way I wanted it- that deep indigo we normally see.  In the shot on the right, I adjusted the white balance so the road looked the way I remembered it.

In the screen shot on the left, I adjusted the white balance to render the sky the way I wanted it- that deep indigo we normally see. To do this, I simply adjusted the color temperature to 3000K. In the shot on the right, I adjusted the white balance so the road looked the way I remembered it. Again, I used the color temperature setting and adjusted it to 5400K.

I always shoot RAW when shooting landscapes. There are several reasons for that, but one of the biggest for me is that I can adjust my white balance for creative purposes in post processing. As you can see, if I tried to adjust for the sky, correcting that yellow cast that came from the glow of a distant city, the road became a deep blue area. But if I corrected for the road, the sky became this garish orange.

There are two ways this could have been fixed. The first one could have been done in camera. By taking a color correction gel, commonly called a CTO gel (Color to Orange), I could have warmed up the light on the road and then as I adjusted the white balance for the sky, the road would have fallen into place. However, I did not have a CTO gel handy. So I made the adjustments in Photoshop ACR.

When I adjust the white balance like this, during RAW processing, I tend to avoid the presets such as “Daylight” or “Shadow” or “Tungsten”. I find I have much finer control by using the color temperature slider, which allows me very fine control over the color tone of the image. I opened the file in Adobe Camera Raw, and adjusted the white balance for the sky, as shown above on the left, to 3000K. Then I opened that image in Photoshop. I then reopened the image in ACR, and adjusted the white balance again, but this time for the road, as shown above on the right, to 5400K. I then duplicated the layer of the properly white balanced road, onto the layer with the properly white balanced sky. I created a layer mask on the top layer, of the road, and masked out the orange sky, allowing the blue sky to show through. The distant mountains silhouetted against the sky gave a perfect delineation for the layer mask, making it an easy blend. After I got the layers the way I wanted them, I simply flattened them, did a few saturation and contrast adjustments, and had my final image.

This image shows the two layers stacked, with the layer mask.  The mask has only partially been painted in.  After adding the layer mask to the layer, you use black or white and paint over the layer.  Black hides the layer, while white reveals the layer.

This image shows the two layers stacked, with the layer mask. The mask has only partially been painted in. After adding the layer mask to the layer, you use black or white and paint over the layer. Black hides the layer, while white reveals the layer.

Post originally from: Digital Photography Tips.

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How I Got The Shot: Desert Road


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