Central Hong Kong Light Trails

April, 2017

Drag the slider left and right to compare the before and after images

It's been a while since my last post. This one is a feature of a shot I took several months ago while in Hong Kong. Before my trip, I'd spent an abundant amount of time planning in intrinsic detail many of the locations I wanted to photograph, but as is often the case, many times all of that obsessive pre-planning didn't always wind up delivering exactly what I'd expected, and often I found myself taking a photograph I loved a great deal in a place I never planned to be. Such as was the case here, when I stayed too long on one of the buses down from Victoria Peak and wound up at the depot near the harbor. Wandering back toward Central, I found myself staring at this intersection for a moment while waiting for the light and decided it was one of the coolest "downtown" views of HK I'd seen during my trip.

The Shot

This image, as with many light-trail photographs, consists of a number of exposures. Eight, to be exact. I first took a base exposure, which is the one I used for the overall scene, and then I snapped seven more at various times as cars zipped by me. This intersection had cars coming from 4 different directions, so it worked very well for this type of image.

Here is the breakdown of exposures

Nikon D750
Tamron 15-30 at 17mm
No filter
ISO 100
  1. Base Exposure: F-Stop 11, 5 Seconds
  2. 7 Light Trail Exposures: F-Stop 9, 8 Seconds

Post Production

There is a simple method in Photoshop to blend an array of photographs (specifically with light trails where portions of the image will thus be much brighter) - Select all of your light trail images, placing them above the base exposure in the Layers palette, and then, click the dropdown menu for blend method, and change this from Normal to Lighten. As the difference in the individual layers with the brightest areas will be the ones to be blended with this method, you can see that immediately, all of your light trails will now be visible.

From there on, I ran a series of layers to adjust color tone. I used several color balance layers top decrease some of the yellow and deepen the mood of the image, but I applied luminosity masks as I did so, so that I was targeting specific areas in need of adjustment (to my own taste). I then used a luminosity mask to target the brightest areas (specifically, the light trails) and increased their Saturation using the Camera Raw Filter.

Finally, I lowered exposure a bit and applied a vignette mask to heighten the intensity of the center of the image, then painted in a few areas of the mask black where I wanted to maintain brightness in the buildings in the background. I created a new layer and, using Camera Raw once more, I increased the Clarity and Contrast on the image - again using a layer Mask to carefully paint in what I wanted so that the foreground was most affected and the background less so. Last, I did one final color adjustment, targeting the background with a simple layer mask, to lessen the intensity of the blue color adjustments I'd made earlier to those skyscrapers and the sky beyond them.

Downtown San Francisco

December 11, 2016

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The Shot

I'd found my way onto a rooftop on the edge of Chinatown with a few minutes to go until the sky began its deepening into shades of blue. I'd climbed up and begun to walk around as quietly as possible, given that the dog of the tenants living beneath me had already begun to bark endlessly when I ascended the ladder. Consideration in mind, I paced back and forth for a few moments until I'd picked an ideal spot, set up my tripod, focused in to my spot, and then took a walk around to engage in the other viewpoints offered by my location.

The image wound up taking me three shots. I took a fairly standard array using various shutter speeds to obtain one middle-exposure, a darker one, and finally a brighter one, and that was about that. I took the opportunity to snap a few more shots of Coit Tower and some other directions of SF's impressive skylines before I quietly snuck back down the ladder and stole away with my precious store of images.

Here are the breakdown of exposures

Nikon D750
Sigma 24-70 at 24mm
No filter
ISO 100
  1. F-Stop: 9, 5 Seconds
  2. F-Stop: 9, 3 Seconds
  3. F-Stop: 9, 1.6 Seconds

Post Production

To blend these three exposures, I used a range of luminosity masks to capture the portions of the brighter and the darker images and blend those over the medium-base exposure. I then spend a minute manually blending in or out a few spots that I felt were either over or under exposed.

From there on, I primarily used the CameraRaw filter to bring out some more contrast, masked out the sky to target it specifically for additional contrast, and then applied a subtle vignette to the lower corners to draw attention just slightly more to the center of the image.

Train Tunnel in San Francisco

August 11, 2016

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The Shot

This was a quick early-evening shoot, after work. I walkd down through the debris and across the tracks and set up to wait for a train to cruise by.

The complete image consists of four shots. I took 3 of the composition I wanted at various F-Stops, and then waited for a while for the train to come, while occasional people stopped from the road above and stared at me. One guy remained there for a while, and I assumed he was perhaps... admiring the pursuit of art or something of that sort, until he threw a beer bottle down the hill and walked off.

The shots were pretty basic. I didn't even adjust the shutter speed for any of them, actually.

Nikon D3300
Tokina 11-17 at 13mm
Tiffen 1.2 ND Filter
  1. F-Stop: 18, 2 Seconds
  2. F-Stop: 14, 2 Seconds
  3. F-Stop: 10, 2 Seconds
  4. F-Stop: 13, 2 Seconds (Train Shot)

Post Production

Production process was fairly simply. I blended the 3 background shots at different F-Stops using luminosity masks to emphasize the contrast, then masked in the Train itself from the final picture, and finished up with some Tonal Contrast adjustments and a bit of increase to the saturation of the Reds. Biggest learning experience was just how fast a train actually approaches once you hear it coming.