Manhattan Sunset Bird (New York)

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New York is the only 6-hour drive from Montreal and when I feel I need extra inspiration for my photography I simply drive down south for a day or two.

I took this photo last summer in New York when I stayed not far from Staten Island. The Staten Island is not exactly the spectacular location with the regards to photography, but it gives you the unique opportunity to use Staten Island Ferry when visiting Manhattan. During my short stay I got to ride Staten Island Ferry to Manhattan and back 14 times.

Every time I was on the ferry I saw couple of huge seagulls following the boat at very close distance, waiting for the food to be thrown at them by the tourists. This is when I got an idea to place the bird(s) into the composition of the Manhattan skyline at the sunset.

Travel Photography Blog - New York. Manhattan
New York. Manhattan
Loc: 40.700417, -74.032295


Only when I was ready to start shooting I realized how complex it was to execute my vision.

I was on the boat that was moving fast and it was fairly shaky, so using tripod was out of question. It also meant that I had to keep the shutter speed at least around 1/400 to avoid blurry photos.

Also, it was getting dark very fast and my original plan to have aperture settings around F10-F11 to keep the bird(s) and the city in focus, was not realistic. All I could get was F4 at ISO 200.

I was pretty much out of the options in order to get everything right in the camera. I decided to employ the dark magic, called post processing.

First, I took handheld 3 bracketed shots (-1, 0, +1), concentrating on the skyline only. I managed to get shutter speed 1/500, aperture F4.5 at ISO 200, it was good enough to get city in focus and sharp.

Then, I switched from bracketing to continuous shooting mode and concentrated on the big seagull flying over the boat. I also set focus to the single center point. With Canon 70-200mm tele lens, I had no problem locking focus on the bird.


After evaluating bracketed shots of the Manhattan’s skyline I could see that I did not need all 3 shots to create balanced HDR image – the light was not too dynamic. I preprocessed only 2 bracketed RAW images in Lightroom and then blended them together in Photoshop with the help of transparency masks (for more details check my Review: “The Art of Digital Blending”).

Next, I selected the best photo of the seagull and using Copy and Paste Develop Settings functionality in Lightroom, I applied Manhattan’s skyline processing setting to the selected image of the bird.

Finally, in Photoshop, I placed photo with the seagull on top of the HDR image of of the skyline and mask everything out except the bird.


Deconstructing Featured Photo

Travel Photography Blog - New York. Manhattan

Camera: Canon 60D
Lens: Canon 70-200 mm
Focal Length: 70mm
ISO: 200
Aperture: F4
Bracketing: 3 shots ( -1, 0, +1)
Tripod: hand-held

Processing: Digital Blending with Lminosity Masks

Lightroom: import, tagging, contrast, color correction. I produced 3 separate images and exported them to Photoshop.
Photoshop I opened 2 bracketed photos directly in Photoshop and placed each image on separate layer. Then, I used luminosity masking techniques to blend everything together.
Finally, I placed third image on top of layer palette and mask everything out but the seagull.

Photoshop Plugins: 

  • the best of the best shot. Can you make a vidoe of all the pre processing you have done to get the bird in line and settings you applied in lightroom and photoshop. I bet you it wld give you the max hits for that video and wld be helpful for all the begginers.

  • AuldLochinvar says:

    Bloody marvelous. And thank you for the analysis. By the way the picture here is of Ada Lovelace. I am nowhere near as beautiful, nor female in the least, and I did not invent computer programming.

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