Manhattan Sunset Bird (New York)

New York is only a 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. Staten Island is not exactly a spectacular location with 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 a couple of huge seagulls following the boat at a 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.

Pro Tip: If you visit New York, you have to take the Staten Island Ferry at least once. The views of Manhattan during the sunset are magic. I consider the Staten Island Ferry is the best free attraction in Lower Manhattan.

Manhattan Sunset Bird (New York) 1
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 a tripod was out of the 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 the 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 the Canon 70-200mm tele lens, I had no problem locking focus on the bird.


After evaluating bracketed shots of Manhattan’s skyline I could see that I did not need all 3 shots to create a 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.

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 a photo with the seagull on top of the HDR image 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 a separate layer. Then, I used luminosity masking techniques to blend everything together.
Finally, I placed the third image on top of the layer palette and mask everything out but the seagull.

Photoshop Plugins: 

by Viktor Elizarov
I am a travel photographer and educator from Montreal, Canada, and a founder of PhotoTraces. I travel around the world and share my experiences here. Feel free to check my Travel Portfolio and download Free Lightroom Presets.