Just so you know, I don’t only shoot agricultural images when I shoot landscapes.
Last weekend, I went to Berkeley for an Evidence seminar — my “regular” job is as a criminal defense attorney — and naturally I took along all my camera equipment.
When I go to one of these seminars, I will often go up the day before so that I can get situated in my hotel room, and get a decent night’s sleep before going to the seminar the next day. This time, I had planned to go out and do a little night-time photography. I wasn’t sure where I was going to go exactly, as I’m not really familiar with the area, but I wanted to get some long-exposure water shots. The hotel was right at the Berkeley Marina, so I knew I wouldn’t have to hunt far to find water.
After checking in at the hotel, and getting settled in my room, I had a glass of wine and began to think about where to go. I had noticed signs for a park — César Chávez Park — as I was coming into the hotel parking lot. I figured that would be worth a shot (sorry!). I loaded my gear into the car, including my handy-dandy tripod-that-weighs-as-much-as-I-do, with its rail that I have found comes in handy as a kind of miniature table even when it doesn’t benefit the photography.
I set up near the water’s edge, and started shooting. I still didn’t have a clear idea what I wanted. At the least, I was going to try some long exposures to allow the water to blur. I also thought about experimenting with the possibility of HDR, although I knew that was going to possibly be an utter failure due to all the things that were moving in just about every framed shot. There were sailboats constantly moving through the scenes; it was quite cloudy, and the clouds were moving along at a good clip; and then, of course, there were the waves.
One of the first images I got was the one that I’ve featured at the top of this post. I’ve started thinking that it’s interesting to see the “before” and “after” processing shots, so here’s a look at the image before taking it into Photoshop. At this point, it had very minimal processing in Adobe Lightroom 5.
As you can see, it’s a bit of a “blah” image. I like that from the angle I shot this, both the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, and the breakwater for the entrance to the Marina point the way to San Francisco.
You can also see that I’ve taken this somewhat-dreary image and livened it up a bit. My recollection of the view as I was standing there is that while it was a bit on the chilly side — I neglected to take any kind of jacket with me — the sun setting off to my right provided a little more warmth to the scene itself, particularly where it bathed the breakwater.
The shot itself was done with the Canon 5D Mark III, and my Canon EF85mm f/1.2L II USM. The ISO was set at 100. Shutter speed was 4 seconds at f/16. The lens, I should add, had an ND2, and a circular polarizing filter, giving me a total of four-stops to compensate for in making the shot. Before taking the image into Photoshop, I tweaked Exposure, Contrast, Whites, Highlights, Blacks, Clarity, Vibrance (which I maxed out; something I don’t normally do), and Saturation (which I backed off quite a lot to compensate for having boosted the Vibrance). So the “before processing” image that you see here is actually not “before any and all processing.” I forgot to save out a jpg before tweaking.
One thing I normally try to do with pre-processing is to not overdo it. I know that all images I intend to show — and particularly if I’m going to print them — are going to be processed in Photoshop. Photoshop is my darkroom enlarger, if you will, with just a bit more capability. Since I know I’m going to be working in Photoshop, the work I do in Lightroom is deliberately minimal. As Charles Cramer notes in his Photoshop Techniques: Effective and Efficient Techniques to Optimize Images workbook,
Preparing your RAW file for further and final adjustments in Photoshop will require some changes in what you’re probably currently doing. You’ll want to adjust the RAW file so it is close to what you want–but a little flat, and lower in contrast and saturation. Not terrible-looking, but slightly…blah (the technical term). This then allows you to add the contrast, saturation, and sparkle in Photoshop. It is very easy to brighten and add contrast to an image in Photoshop. But, if you’ve overdone it in RAW developing, it’s very hard to subtract contrast and get highlights down in Photoshop! It’s hard to get that toothpaste back in the tube. So, start flat, and then build up in Photoshop.
I would say that’s the single best piece of advice I’ve ever gotten in terms of processing my images. Ever since reading that, I’ve taken to this technique. Cramer goes on to note that Ansel Adams used to say this was a good way to make prints, too: “[b]uild the image up slowly, in steps….”
That’s what I’ve done here. The image was slowly built up to re-create the scene as I remembered it feeling to me while I was standing there. The Photoshop file consists of about 14 layers. Most of these are non-destructive Adjustment layers, reducing, enhancing, and otherwise tweaking individual colors. Even though I might use the same type of Adjustment layer — say the “Hue/Saturation” layer — if I use it for different colors, than I do so as an entirely separate layer. I name the layers according to which color is being adjusted.
Even though I had already “maxed out” the Vibrance in Lightroom, I added an Adjustment layer for Vibrance, and ramped it up a bit more. My goal was to draw out more of the variations in color I could see in the coastline (particularly the city). To avoid over-saturation, I backed off the saturation after enhancing the vibrance. I’ve found amping up vibrance and then backing off saturation to taste is a good way to enhance the sometimes-minor difference in colors, without ruining the overall image.
If you’ve ever been to the César Chávez Park in Berkeley, you might know a couple things about it — at least one of which I did not know when I went there as darkness was descending. The park closes when the sun goes down. It’s apparently posted as such, but I didn’t see the signs as I was entering, because the gate was open, and I was looking straight ahead, rather than at the gate itself. Another photographer named Guillermo had joined me. As the sun disappeared, we were conferring on some longer exposures of between four and eight minutes. Suddenly, someone started yelling at us. I looked over, and a uniformed person was taking pictures of the back of my car. He was yelling that we had to leave, stating that the police would be there soon, and would tow any cars left in the lot.
After a couple more multi-minute shots, I quickly packed my gear, and high-tailed it out of the gate.
The second thing you might know about César Chávez Park if you’ve been there is that, despite the title of this post, there is no dock. Or, at least, there is no dock that I was able to find in my short time there.
After exiting the gate, I struck up a friendly conversation with Old Yeller. (Okay, that’s not entirely fair. He was old. And he had yelled at me. But he wasn’t a dog. He actually turned out to be a nice guy.) I asked if there were any locations nearby that I could shoot, as it was only 10 p.m.
And that led to this shot:
Still not on the dock, but I did make it a little closer.