The Making of “Clear Water, Hudson River” Panorama

Clear Water, Hudson River

Clear Water, Hudson River

I received a few emails with questions about January’s wallpaper photo “Clear Water, Hudson River”, so I thought it would be a good opportunity to write a “Making Of” article for the benefit of all readers.

Planning

This photograph was very much planned in advance in the sense that I needed a very specific and limited window of conditions for the image I had in my mind. I wanted low tide for a strong foreground (the rocks are completely submerged during high tide), sunrise during winter for quality and direction of light, and optimally minimal wind. Because the sun rises much further south during the winter, it actually creates a nice backlighting condition when looking south on the Hudson. This creates a subtle but dramatic lighting effect which improves the sense of depth and dimension in the image. Notice how the rocks in the foreground (especially on the lower right) and the mountains across the river have a beautiful 3 dimensional quality to them as the light seems to flow around their shapes.

Of course we can plan for these conditions, but there is no guarantee that everything will come together when the time comes to set up the camera. After several failed attempts, I found myself standing on the edge of the river once again this year hoping for a chance to capture something special. The weather forecast predicted clear skies for the day, but the morning started off rather cloudy and somewhat foggy. Patience and perseverance paid off however, and all of the elements I look for in a successful landscape photograph came together for a few moments: light, color, composition, and drama.

Setup

Wanting to create a panorama, I setup my Canon 60D with a Canon 24L f/1.4 lens and shot 7 images in a vertical position. I leveled the tripod as best I could, and used reference points along the river to make sure each successive shot would overlap the last by about 25%. Camera settings were Manual, f/11, 1/250 sec @ ISO 200 with highlight priority turned on. I also used a remote shutter release with mirror lockup enabled to keep movement to a minimum and ensure the sharpest and cleanest image possible. No filters or multiple exposures used. (No bias here, just didn’t think about either at the time.) I especially dislike polarizers when shooting a panorama because of the inconsistent look you’ll wind up with as you change your angle to the sun – given the effect is most pronounced at 90° and least effective at 0° or 180° from the sun.

Notice the focus point in the foreground, which is about 12′ from the camera – @ 24mm, f/11 gives me a hyperfocal distance of about 9′, so I approximated the distance and focused there. This brings everything into focus from 5′ to infinity, plenty for this image. I used manual focusing to avoid any anything changing between the 7 images.

Post-Processing

I processed the 7 images in Lightroom, making slight brightness adjustments to each so that they would match up better when merged in Photoshop. Lightroom has a great feature which allows you to select several images,then export them directly to Photoshop for merging into a Panorama. (Control-click on a group of selected images, then select “Merge to Panorama in Photoshop” from the menu).

Once the process is complete, I flattened all of the layers in Photoshop, then saved the new panorama to Lightroom. I don’t crop in Photoshops because I would rather use the non-destructive cropping in Ligtroom instead. This allows me to experiment with different crops and sizes. Finally I added a graduated filter in LR to control the highlights (and sun) in the upper left, and added some subtle dodging to some of the foreground rocks.

The resultant image is the equivalent of 32 megapixels, enough to make a print 54″ wide a native resolution of 180ppi. I could probably go much larger using Alien Skin Blowup (my favorite plugin for re-sizing images).

Lightroom Print module showing native resolution and size.

Summary

The important points I wanted to share here are:

  • become intimately familiar with your favorite landscape locations
  • be aware of light at all times
  • use a tripod
  • don’t use a circular polarizer for panoramas
  • patience is your best ally, time is your best investment
  • think about what inspires you to make photographs

Finally, why this image and why does it work for me? The lighting was the critical element since it had to be made in winter, yet I didn’t want it to be a “winter” image. The calmness and clarity of the water, together with the overall mood of the image is what I wanted to capture –  that helps convey what I felt, and often feel about the Hudson Valley. It shows how I view the world, how it inspires me to appreciate the very basic and simple things in life, and most importantly how I want to share that with others.

Thanks again for your questions, and please feel free to leave any other questions or comments below.

 

9 Responses to “The Making of “Clear Water, Hudson River” Panorama”

  1. Nancy Rohrig says:

    Thank you so much for the information. You are a wonderful teacher and I love the fact that you share your vision and knowledge with everyone. Everytime I am taking pictures I think of all the advice you give and try to use it. This particular photo is so peaceful and inspiring to me. I cannot choose a favorite because it changes everytime I see another photo you have taken but for today this is my favorite!! I did purchase lightroom but have yet to get through all the tutorials and will be a slow process for me to understand it…Looking forward to 2012’s shots!!!!!!!

    • RR Jr says:

      Thank you Nancy – thanks so much for the kind words, I certainly do enjoy sharing as much as I can in hope others will become inspired to do more than just take snapshots…it becomes so much more meaningful when there is passion involved. I never think in terms of favorites for my images, they each represent a point in time and a particular perspective, no one better or worse (at least from a non-technical perspective). As the old saying goes, “it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey.” Also, thank you, thank you, thank you for purchasing a 2012 calendar!

      RR

      • Nancy Rohrig says:

        Thanks for having them to purchase! Seriously I am so glad that I met you via Facebook. Your life and photos have inspired me and one of the nicest comments made on one of my photos was “I love seeing the world thru your eyes”. Kind of what taking pictures is about! That’s what your pictures do for me and so many others, I feel like I am standing right at that place with you. Pretty extraordinary the way you can do that for us with your photos! Hope you and your family had a lovely holiday and looking forward to seeing the new year through your lens!

  2. Hillel B says:

    Thanks for sharing your process from the mental picture of what you wanted, to waiting for the opportune time (and maybe not after the first try), to your setup in the field, through all the editing. ‘Good case in illustrating the whole process. Is the reason for using manual mode as opposed to aperture priority mode, to best ensure the same relative lighting across all shots?
    Thanks!
    Hillel

    • RR Jr says:

      Thanks for the feedback Hillel – always appreciated. Yes you are right about using manual – it just makes sure the settings don’t change as I rotate the camera to shoot the panorama. That also explains why I had to make slight exposure adjustments to some of the images as I turned away from the sun and the scene became darker. No big deal really…

      RR

  3. Virginia kolstad says:

    It is impressive and educational to have you explain the forethought, planning and processing that went into making this picture. Thank you for taking the time to do that.

  4. Peter Guerard says:

    I believe I met you at an art and crafts show in Glastonbury, CT., a couple of years ago. Excellent photography.

    Regarding your ‘Clear Water, Hudson River’, what technique did you use to properly stitch the pano when there are elements in the image that are moving, like water, clouds, etc. I have tried many panos along the Connecticut shore and Photoshop can’t perform the merge because of the waves. Any help would be appreciated. Thanks…Peter

    • RR Jr says:

      I think you hit on a key point which is that movement in the images should be kept at a minimum, especially with foreground objects (water, trees, leaves, greass, etc). I always try to be mindful of this when making panoramas, especially when water is involved. You’ll notice that the Hudson was especially calm that day, with little or no wind.

      I also used relatively fast shutter speeds in order to avoid any blur or movement as well (I was at 1/250 sec), and I try to minimize the time between frames, usually no more then 3-4 seconds at most, this keeps the scene relatively consistent. Another issue to consider is the amount of overlap you are allowing between each image. As I mentioned. I keep them to approximately 25% or less, which means Photoshop has less work to do with merging the overlapping areas of thee panorama, which may cause some of the problems you’re having.

      Hope that helps, and thanks for the feedback and comments!

      RR

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