Sunset at Seapoint after Showers

July 20, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

On Monday 11th June, Offshoot had its second summer outdoor meeting at the Martello Tower at Seapoint, led by Matt O’Brien. Despite a good weather forecast, it was bucketing when we arrived – and continued as we chatted and waited. Eventually quite a few people left, but having made the effort to get there, I decided to stick with it until sunset at about 9.50pm. I tried a few other shots including one of a rainbow over the West Pier while it continued to drizzle, but it faded before I was ready – check out Matt getting that one right here.

As I pottered around, mentally sticking pins in Met Eireann, the curve of the seawall leading to the Poolbeg chimneys slowly penetrated my consciousness as the sunset broke through and the rain cleared. I realised there might be a good panorama shot to be had, especially with the wet flagstones, so I quickly set up the camera and the tripod on the wall as the red and gold colours ramped up. Next, I levelled the tripod head so that the individual elements of the stitch would not be offset. There was just time to get three shots off to capture the expanse between the sea front houses and the seawall – and then the colours began to fade.

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For those interested, here’d a quick run through on how I pulled together the final panorama. The original exposure was for one second at ISO 100, f16, and 17mm using the EFS 17-55mm on the Canon 7DII – in landscape orientation. I used f16 to get front to back sharpness and to lengthen the exposure to smooth the water – I hadn’t time to get filters on the camera. My other goal was to ensure that I didn’t blow out the brightest part of the sky – using the highlight alerts or blinkies in live view. My rule of thumb is that when a few small bright areas are flashing it's OK because the LCD image is based on the camera’s JPEG - and these slightly blown areas can be recovered in the raw file. (However, when I am doing portraits, I make sure skin areas NEVER show blinkies because it’s virtually impossible to recover over exposed skin tones – a black and white conversion is the only rescue then!)  As always, I checked focus by zooming to 10x in Live View. Next, I checked horizon with the camera’s built in level and with a spirit level in the hot shoe - the latter doesn't clutter the LCD and is always on! Finally, I used a cable release to avoid camera shake – especially as the whole set up on the wall was a bit precarious anyway! Here's one of the panorama elements as seen in the camera using the standard picture style.

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Once I got the shots on the computer, the first step was to use Lightroom’s relatively new panorama photo merge (Ctrl M). This left a few gaps along the bottom. I could have dealt with these using the auto crop option but that would have cut off the tip of the central diamond – so I waited until I was in Photoshop (below). As you can see, the stitched panorama is much more contrasty than the original shot. The beauty of Lightroom’s panorama feature is that it generates a DNG raw file that can be fully edited as a unit – rather than having to copy settings from one of the individual files to the other panorama elements.

002-Sunset-after-Showers-at-Seapoint-©-2016-John-Coveney002-Sunset-after-Showers-at-Seapoint-©-2016-John-Coveney Once the stitch was done, the next step, was to set the DNG’s white balance to daylight. I know this brings a slightly blue tinge to the flagstones but as David Noton asks when discussing white balance for landscapes, “Who Am I to interfere with Mother Nature?” Next I played with the exposure, contrast, highlights, shadows, whites and blacks in the Basic Panel to develop the image, especially to bring out the contrast of the still wet flagstones. When I had pushed the shadows slider to 100%, I did a little more contrast work with the Tone Curve panel. I also added some clarity (11%) and vibrance (25%). I finished off the colour and tones adjustment with a graduated filter to bring out more of the drama in the sky.

Now that I was happy with the look of the shot, what to do with the street furniture that local authorities clutter so many public areas with? These may be necessary in high use areas, but they spoil the look of so many urban landscapes! Anyway, one choice was to take the easy option and crop the left hand side of the shot. However, I felt that the seafront houses balanced the rocks on the right hand side, so I decided it was worth doing a lot of content aware filling (tutorials here and here) and detailed cloning. I swapped into Photoshop - a simple Ctrl E from Lightroom – if you have Photoshop set as your default external editor in Lightroom’s preferences. However, there was a problem with the content aware fills on the smooth gradients of the skies. This is because they generated unnatural stepping and patchy effects in the middle of the fills where parts of the sky with different tones were brought together.

Sky-fill-step-©John-Coveney-2016Sky-fill-step-©John-Coveney-2016 I solved this by doing low opacity cloning from other parts of the sky to smooth these effects. I also used this trick to deal with a bright patch of sky at the top of the image – I didn’t want it leading viewers’ eyes out of the image.

Next I used content aware filling to deal with the gaps along the bottom, along with a bit of touching up to tidy up flagstone boundaries in the fill areas. Once all the filling and cloning was complete, the final step was to flatten the image and save it back to Lightroom and add a subtle post-crop vignette in the effects panel.

I know all this manipulation is not to everyone’s taste but I thought it was worth it for this image. It just goes to show that, SOMETIMES – the old saying about the best shots coming from the worst weather is true! Check out more shots from the evening on the Offshoot gallery, here


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