The Finished Product

When we visited Olympic National Park in Washington in 2009, we spent hours shooting at Second Beach. We arrived when the sun was low in the sky – hoping to capture golden light as the sun sank towards the horizon… and maybe a nice sunset, too. We’ve been to this beach many times before and since. It’s a gorgeous location with large and small rocks, sea stacks, tide pools, and smooth sand. I took this shot a few minutes after sunset – as the tide was coming in and the color in the sky was at its best.

Processing a photo with a wide range of light usually requires bracketing. In this case, I took two bracketed shots and opened them in Adobe Camera Raw. I selected my color balance for a natural-looking sky, and then adjusted the contrast. I ignored the foreground in the first image, and processed it for the sky alone. The second image would be used for the water. I made sure the highlight areas in the water were not overexposed, and opened the photo in Photoshop… then opened the RAW file again in Adobe Camera Raw. This time, I reduced the clarity of the photo… allowing the waves in the foreground to soften even more. (If you make different adjustments to a single RAW file, you can save a “Snapshot” of each version for easy reference.)

You can see my three adjustments in the triptych below. Notice that the sky in the photo on the left looks good. The highlights in the water are just right in the middle photo, and the foreground waves look nice and smooth in the third. In all, these adjustments took me three to five minutes to make.

Once I’ve prepared these three versions of the same composition, I use our iHDR manual blending technique to produce a final image that is as close to my memory of scene as I can bring it. I stack the image in three layers, and use selections and masks to blend the images very carefully. Sometimes the process takes a while – but if I know what I want in my final image, I can finish in just a few minutes… so an image like this one might take me about ten minutes to process from beginning to end.

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