Queen’s Bath Victory

130802_QueensBath-v2_ZF “Queen’s Bath”
Arca Swiss rm3di with Phase One IQ180 back, Rodenstock 40mm HR
2 seconds at f/11, iso 35

I’ve been trying to catch up on my image processing.  I’ll admit for a while now I’ve been a little discouraged, and haven’t really worked hard on finalizing images.  From the very beginning of my career I was engaged in printmaking, and it has always been both challenging and rewarding to create a “perfect” print.  While the techniques are different with digital technology, the challenges are still there.  So while I don’t spend hours in the darkroom creating contrast masks, complex dodging and burning maps, and numerous test prints, I still spend a good deal of time perfecting each image – and to me “perfect” means a print, not just an image on a computer.  Most people over rate the contribution of the camera to the final image, not realizing all the camera does is focus light and capture data.  Be it a film camera or a digital camera, it’s all just data.  For film cameras the data is manipulated dramatically by the engineers who created the film, and indeed in my film days I used several different types of film based on the scene and what I was trying to capture.  Fortunately those days are gone, and I can just capture the raw information and control the look myself.  The end result is actually more true than most film shots, as I can fix things that film couldn’t handle (and that was quite a bit).

How long it takes to create the perfect “print” depends on many factors.  Occasionally it’s only a few minutes.  The scene was within the capabilities of the camera to record, so a few basic adjustments and perhaps a little dodging and burning and I’m done.  Other images are more difficult, and one of the most difficult I have ever encountered so far is this image from Queens bath.  I was challenged with two major problems in capturing this scene.  First was my lens selection.  My 23mm was way too wide, and my 40mm wasn’t wide enough.  No real problem because I stitch all the time anyway, so I decided to do a simple 2 shot stitch with the 40mm.  I normally do more shots to stitch, but I knew I would be under serious time constraints when the light would be good … high enough there was still light shooting through the gap and hitting the waterfall, yet low enough to create a nice sunset.  That meant less time than when shooting a normal sunset image.

The second problem is typical when shooting sunsets, which is dynamic range. There needs to be detail in the foreground (which is easily seen by us as humans when standing there), and also rich colors in the sky (also easily seen by humans).  Unfortunately the camera can’t handle the difference in brightness, requiring a shot for the shadows to be blended together with a shot for the sky.  But that’s nothing new, I’ve been doing it since my film days.  I decided to try to take three shots.  One of the left side of the scene exposed for the shadows, and two for the right side  – one exposed for the sky and one for the shadows. Then I realized if I used a split ND filter on the second exposure I could preserve shadow detail for the rocks on the right which is all the shadow detail I needed in that image. I could get all the data I needed to blend into a final image with two shots this way. Finally I decided to use a 2 stop ND filter for all the images to get a smoother look to the water.

But things didn’t go as I expected.  I ended up with flare because my filters became a little “fogged” in the sea spray. I was trying to hand hold the filters in front of the lens which allowed light to hit the side and cause some issues as well.  I frantically cleaned them between each series, and managed to get 3 or 4 different series of the two shots.  All of the series had issues, and since then I’ve done some things to my setup so a situation like this would be easier to handle. In the meantime, I’ve tried 5 different times to get what I feel is an acceptable quality image from this shoot, and while all looked pretty good, (especially with little web jpegs), none were good enough I was willing to add it my available images for purchase.

Each time I tried I got discouraged, and would just quit working on any images.  Last week I finished a couple of others, and decided it was time to either finish this shot, or bag it and hope I could shoot it again some day.  I spent all of several evenings working on it, once to the point of printing a test print, and still wasn’t really happy.  I went back through all of the series of shots I took, and decided to try it from a different set of  shots.  The sun was slightly higher in the sky, but I had less flare problems.  After about 2 hours, I was pretty encouraged.  The process is pretty complex, with two images stacked in Photoshop that have been aligned so one of them is pretty distorted. Next is blending the two so so the result is natural, ending up with a correct looking sky as well as foreground. Then come several layers adjusting densities, fixing color problems, burning and dodging, etc.  Pretty tedious.  Once things look good, that file is saved in case I find something I need to fix later, then flattened, and saved as a new file which will become the final file to print.  This file needs some major warping to get things back into perspective, and then some tweaking with adjustment brushes in Lightroom before printing.  After flattening it once and getting it ready for printing, I was disappointed with a few things, and had to go all the way back to the layered work file to make some corrections.  Then reflatten, fix perspective with warp tool, and make local adjustments in lightroom again.

But finally I printed it out and like what I saw.  A few tweaks later, another test print, and it was time for the 24×30 artist proof (my standard portfolio size).  As I put it up in the viewing area on my wall, I was pretty excited, because all the work paid off.  The image was pretty much just what I was after … really allowing me to reconnect to that magnificent experience on the beautiful island of Kauai.

My top 10 from 2013 included a version of this image which wasn’t too bad, but didn’t really hold up to printing that well.  That’s the major reason it came it at #9 instead of higher in my list.  Now that I have a version which I really like, it would definitely have affected my rating … probably moving it all the way to #2.

I’m just glad all the work paid off and I’m done so I can move on to all the other images I have waiting to be finished.  🙂

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4 Responses to “Queen’s Bath Victory”

  1. Whew… Finally conquered the Queens Bath! Next challenge will be the King’s Shower! 🙂

  2. It is nice to know the back story on this image Wayne. It’s gorgeous.