The Poplars, creating a composite image

by Brent Bergherm

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First things first. I'm running a bit of a contest to title this image. Email me or go to my Facebook page and cast your vote there. The winning entry (or if I choose something very close to it) will get 20% their next rental. Entries due by December 8, 2016. Good luck!

Shooting the base images

This image works for me because it has rich color and dynamic lines with a subtle texture throughout. I was shooting the trees most of the day but it was towards the end, when the fog had finally cleared out, that I saw the potential for this image. I photographed several variations of this idea but settled on this one for a couple reasons. I liked the backlit vibrance in the color and the sun poking through.

I shot this image using Sigma's 50mm f/1.4 Art lens. It's a great lens for all sorts of images where high image quality is desired.
My original idea had the rotation going around the sun, but that just seemed too cliché. So I adjusted my idea in Photoshop. More on that later.

Here's the basic setup:
Hand hold the camera

  1. Set a fast enough shutter speed to freeze the subject due to wind and camera movement.
  2. Check exposure. Make it nice and bright :)
  3. Turn on the motor drive for fast action shooting.
  4. Aim and mash the button, while slowing rotating the camera.
  5. Review a couple images on the camera's LCD. Aim and shoot again.
  6. A few thoughts to ponder while framing it up: I wanted to keep the tree trunks mostly going up and down in their natural orientation. I could certainly up-end the trees, but I'm not convinced that would serve a good purpose. Something "normal" needs to be coming through to ground the image as it were. I started the series slightly tilted to the left, then rotated until it was about equally tilted to the right.

Here's a look at some of the image strip in Lightroom. Notice the subtle rotation from image to image.

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Editing in Lightroom

Here's a quick look at my basic develop settings I used for each image in the series. I did this before I went in to Photoshop. You can see I mostly decreased contrast by increasing the shadows slider and decreasing both the whites and the highlights. I also set a few things like lens correction and the like. By and large, very simple edits. Nothing fancy.

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Editing in Photoshop

To start out, we need to get the images into PS. It's simple enough, so let's get right to it:

  1. Select all the images in Lightroom and then right click on them and click "Edit as layers in Photoshop." This will open all the images in Photoshop into one document and each image will be placed on it's own layer. This took a few moments for the large files created by the Canon 5D mkIV. (rent it here)
  2. Use the crop tool to enlarge the canvas for a bit of working room (Type "C" on the keyboard to activate the crop tool. Use the edge controls to draw out from the image, adding to the canvas size). The images will have to be moved around a bit so a bit of extra room is nice. Also, turn off the snap feature (menu item View>Snap) so you can move the layers in small increments as needed.
  3. I then turned on the rulers (cmd + R [cntrl + R on a PC]) and pulled out some guides. Simply click on the ruler and drag out a ruler guide. By default they are a light blue or cyan color. I set the ruler guides over an easily recognizable item on the first layer. Create two crossing ruler guides. These will be used to align the layers manually.
  4. Turn off all but one layer. Then, one at a time move the active layer to match up the same spot in the photos (a knot on a trunk for example) with the crossing of the blue layer guides. Click the eyeball for that layer and go to the next one in the stack and move that one too. Do this for all the layers so they're lined up on the same spot. I initially chose the sun and didn't like the results. So I moved them to this spot as shown below.
  5. When you have the individual layers moved into position you'll see all sorts of stuff going on around the edges. You'll have to crop the image now to get rid of those rough edges. You then start a rather complex set of experimentations to blend the layers. However, here's what I ended up with. I encourage you to experiment for yourself.
    The very bottom layer is set to 100% opacity and a Normal blend mode.
    The next layer is set to 91% opacity and a Soft Light blend mode.
    The next layer is set to 82% opacity and Normal blend mode.
    The next layer is set to 73% opacity and Soft Light blend mode.
    I hope you see the pattern here. I decreased the opacity until I got to 11% (the last three layers are set to 11% opacity. But I alternated the blend modes from Normal to Soft Light.
    This allowed for the layers to interact with each other and create a the texture I was anticipating.
  6. And we're done! After the cropping that's it. Of course, saving a copy layered is recommended so you can edit it later if you have different ideas, you won't have to start all over again.
  7. Happy Shooting, and Happy Editing!
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