This cityscape was by far my most challenging photograph of 2014. It was not easy to take it and I had some difficulties to process it. I think it deserves a dedicated post with the detailed outline of my workflow.
That was the day when I spent entire evening taking aerial photos from the tallest bridge in Montreal – Jacques Cartier Bridge. Without planning, I was rewarded with some amazing city views when luxury cruise ship Seabourn Quest was leaving port of Old Montreal.
My idea for this shot was to wait until sun completely disappears behind the horizon and take long exposure bracketed photos to be able to capture light trails of the passing cars on the freeway below me.
My biggest challenge was the vibration caused by bridge traffic. I realized very soon that it was not possible to take long exposure shots and still get sharp images. I had to regroup quickly because I was losing light very fast. I decided to shoot city with the sky first, using the fastest possible shutter speed, and later to use long exposure only for the light trails.
I switched to widest aperture (f2.8) and took few series of bracketed shots (5 shots in each series). With the light diminishing very fast I managed to get shutter speed between 0.4 sec and 1/40 sec and I was hoping it would be fast enough to get sharp photos.
I waited for 10-15min and when city lights went on everywhere, I started shooting the light trails. Right away it was clear to me that traffic was too light to capture long and bright trails. I turned off auto bracketing, switched camera to shutter priority, set shutter speed to 5 sec (I did not want to go over 5 sec because of the vibration) and shot series (10-12) of photos, trying to time it when the traffic was the busiest.
Even I was shooting at the fastest possible shutter speed on a tripod, more than half of my bracketed shots were very soft (bridge vibration) and I had to scrap my original plan to tone map multiple shots for HDR in Photomatix. I decided to use digital blending with luminosity masks in Photoshop instead. I picked the sharpest image to use as the base for the blending and 2 more for the highlights and the shadows.
In Lightroom, I opened shadows, recovered highlights and applied Split Toning to give image warmer feel.
I exported 3 images from Lightroom to Photoshop and loaded each one on a separate layer. I used luminosity masking technique to blend images.
Then, I picked 4 photos with the best light trails and layered them on top of the previously blended images. I used blending modes and transparency masking to overlay the light trails and the city lights.
When I finished with processing I still did not like the final image. I hated the huge, black and empty parking lot on the right side. I thought it was too big and ruined the composition completely. I closed the image and forgot about it for 2 months.
Only recently, I decided to salvage the photo with the help of cheating technique. In Photoshop, I simply moved the entire city block to the left, making parking lot much smaller. It was still ugly but smaller. I also change aspect ration of the final photo from 3×2 to 4×3.
Then was it! It took me only 3 months to finish it.
Deconstructing Featured Photo
Camera: Canon 60D
Lens: Canon 17-70
Focal Length: 17mm
Bracketing: 3 shots ( -1, 0, +1) + 4 shots for light trails
Tripod: FEISOL Tournament CT-3442 – Check my FEISOL Tournament CT-3442 Review.
Ballhead: FEISOL CB-40D
Processing: Digital Blending with Luminosity Masks
Lightroom: import, tagging, basic color correction, split toning.
I opened 3 bracketed photos directly in Photoshop and placed each image on the separate layer. Then, I used luminosity masking techniques to create a final HDR image. I overlayed 4 more images on top for light trails.
- Topaz DeNoise was used to reduce digital noise (sky, water). I pushed image a bit too far in Lightroom and as a result introduced lots of noise in the sky area of the photo. I had to use very aggressive noise reduction settings (preset: Strong) to fight it.
- I used Perfect Effects 9 from onOne Software enhance details and contrast. I used following filters: Dynamic Contrast, Color Enhancer.