Plunge Pics at Dublin's Christmas Swim & How I Shot Them

December 30, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

As well as shooting the Goal Mile in Shanganagh Park on Christmas morning, I also went into to the Forty Foot in Sandycove to get some shots of the Christmas swim. It was a calm and exceptionally mild morning, so it was absolutely jammers when I arrived.

SAFETY WARNING: There are under surface rocks in parts of The Forty Foot that have caused serious injuries. Check the signs on site before jumping or diving, especially at low tide when the drop is much higher and the water is shallower. There are no lifeguards on duty at Christmas. Here's some good advice from the Irish Water Safety Council - in short, Get In, Get Out, & Get Warm.



I was able to get a perch on a wall for clear shots with the 100-40mm lens – mostly at about 200mm but 400mm was useful for getting the shock on peoples’ faces as they resurfaced! Typical settings in aperture priority were 1/1,000 to 1/2,000th of a second, f8 and ISO 800.  For the first series of shots, I used the Lightroom print module to compile collages – as I did previously for my post on how I shot Ladies Day at Navan Racecourse. In the second series, below, I got in much closer with my wide angle 10-22mm lens and composited them in Photoshop – more about that later in the post.

That brass monkey expression!


Here’s some detail on doing the collages with the Lightroom Print Module (Ctrl P). I typically start off with built-in templates such as Triptych or Custom 2 over 1. Using the Page Setup button on the bottom left, I usually select A4 and chose Landscape or Portrait as required. For the triptych option, the selected photos normally load automatically and you can tweak the layout with the Layout panel controls on the right hand side – using margins, page grid, cell spacing and cell size. You may also wish to de-tick the Keep Square box.  If you wish, you can watermark each shot in the layout in the Page Panel (I put a single water mark on the whole collage with my website's built in facilities). In the Print Job panel, select Print to: JPEG File and then 100ppi, Quality 85, and  sRGB for web outputs. Finally hit Print to File and select the destination for the files. A key tip is to use Ctrl Drag to re-position your images within their placeholders. Here’s quick tutorial on printing to file by Adobe’s Julieanne Kost.



The Custom 2 over 1 operates a little differently, but I’m not sure why. Anyway for this one, use F6 to open the filmstrip and then drag your shots into the place holders. The Layout panel is replaced by the Cells panel from where you can select and adjust each cell individually. Another useful tip for collages is to use Alt Drag to duplicate cells – e.g. to change the layout to 3 over 1. Once the layout is done, print it to file as before. If you think you will use these modified templates again, you can save them to the User folder in the Template Browser on the left hand side.

This is not going to be pleasant! 04-20151225-Xmas-Swim-Forty-Foot04-20151225-Xmas-Swim-Forty-Foot

Friends doing it together! 03-20151225-Xmas-Swim-Forty-Foot03-20151225-Xmas-Swim-Forty-Foot

Gravity assisted updo!  06-20151225-Xmas-Swim-Forty-Foot06-20151225-Xmas-Swim-Forty-Foot

Was this actually a good idea??


Here's a quick interlude of non-composites - the first one being the obligatory "tough guy selfie-taking" shot!


With all that salt water splashing around - protective eyewear was a must!


There were also good looking photographers there!


Once, I had enough long shots, I went in closer to try wide angle views in the 10 to 13mm range using my Canon EFS 10-22mm lens. As before, the settings were around 1/1,000 of a second, f8 and ISO 800.  After reviewing my initial bursts on the camera’s LCD, I realized that shooting at the camera’s low burst rate of three frames per second would allow me to composite the images in Photoshop. Using the high rate of 10 frames per second resulted in sequences where the images of the swimmers overlapped. While it is possible to use the high burst rate and then select every second or third image, this adds work. The other trick is to keep the camera as steady as possible so that the frames are approximately aligned – Photoshop then aligns them precisely later.

Of course I had to start with someone in a Santy Hat!


I managed to get the actual plunge here. No suggestion of him trying to impress the girls - of course!


Back in the office, I tweaked one of my images for exposure and contrast in Lightroom. I also did an auto transform to level the horizon and then I copied all these settings to the rest the images that would be composited. For individual sequences, I then used the Lightroom command Photo > Edit In > Open as Layers in Photoshop. For convenience, you need to have current versions of Lightroom and Photoshop to move images seamlessly between the programs. The first step in Photoshop was to select all the layers and chose Edit > Auto-align layers > Auto. This aligned the rock and the horizon but ignored the jumpers in the differing positions in the frames.

This guy got impressive lift on his jump!

004-Xmas-Forty-Foot-©2016-John-Coveney004-Xmas-Forty-Foot-©2016-John-Coveney Next chose which image you want as the base image – typically with a good background that is either not distracting or has a secondary point of interest. Move this to the bottom of the stack, then add a white layer mask to each of the remaining layers, and then hit the eye symbol to hide each masked layer. Next select and make the second layer visible, memorize the position of the swimmer, select the layer mask and change it to black with Ctrl I. A black mask hides the whole layer, so now chose a brush (B) with 0% hardness and with white in the foreground and black in the background. With the brush foreground selected, brush the person back in (you will see a white hole in the layer mask). Using 0% hardness gives a seamless blend of the components from the different layers. If you overdo it, press X to swop the brush to black and remove the bit you didn’t want. Repeat for each layer and then save back to Lightroom for final exposure tweaks and cropping.

Of course such a high jump into cold water is not for girls! 006-Xmas-Forty-Foot-©2016-John-Coveney006-Xmas-Forty-Foot-©2016-John-Coveney

Karumba!!!  005-Xmas-Forty-Foot-©2016-John-Coveney005-Xmas-Forty-Foot-©2016-John-Coveney

If the figures from the differing layers are very close to each other or even overlapping slightly, change the brush to 50-60% hardness and zoom in for final tweaking. If there are overlaps from different layers, I choose to bring elements from the later frames to the front. I did try Edit > Autoblend layers but this didn’t work well for me – the automatically generated masks were much more complicated and were applied to other parts of the image.

I kept shooting here until she resurfaced 007-Xmas-Forty-Foot-©2016-John-Coveney007-Xmas-Forty-Foot-©2016-John-Coveney

The quickest updo in town!  008-Xmas-Forty-Foot-©2016-John-Coveney008-Xmas-Forty-Foot-©2016-John-Coveney

Dive sequences were a bit more difficult due to overlap at the start - until gravity speeded things up!  009-Xmas-Forty-Foot-©2016-John-Coveney009-Xmas-Forty-Foot-©2016-John-Coveney

This guy got off his marks a bit quicker! 010-Xmas-Forty-Foot-©2016-John-Coveney010-Xmas-Forty-Foot-©2016-John-Coveney

It was much harder to get it right when there was more than one person - unless they synchronized well.  I was unable to get any groups of three to work. 011-Xmas-Forty-Foot-©2016-John-Coveney011-Xmas-Forty-Foot-©2016-John-Coveney

Finally, I was very happy with this duo - as well as catching the girl on the rock looking at me.  012-Xmas-Forty-Foot-©2016-John-Coveney012-Xmas-Forty-Foot-©2016-John-Coveney

So that’s it – once you try these compositing techniques,  they're much less complicated than they sound – although having a feel for layer masks in Photoshop is useful. And if I can do it, it can't be that hard!!




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