Photo Ed. | How’d You Do That??

My grandmother and grandfather used to get National Geographic magazines delivered to their home and when I was a little girl one of the first things I would do (after raiding the cookie jar) was thumb through their latest arrivals when we’d visit their home. Looking at those pictures I remember always thinking “I wonder how they got that shot?“.


That question doesn’t stop even now as a professional photographer. I look at images all over the web, magazines, books…even on the television, be it landscape, wildlife, or even wedding photography. And I still ask myself, “how’d they get that shot?“. I love it when photographers share their settings, the set up, post-processing techniques, what kind of things they had to do and go through in order to arrive at the final image. Josh and I watched that Planet Earth series this past winter, and aside from the fantastical (love making words up) imagery, the coolest part of the whole series was when they spilled the secrets in what those videographers and photographers had to do in order to get those shots.


I don’t know why I haven’t been sharing details of the images I shoot and share, but here’s to starting a new habit.


So I am going to start by breaking down one of the river images I posted earlier from my special spot that I blogged about here and here. Earlier on when I first started shooting professionally I had a tripod. I didn’t like it. I felt inhibited. I ditched it long ago (but now I kind of wish I still had it). For landscape photography (and even macro photography) you pretty much need it. So now I do crafty things like rest the camera/lens on rocks, the truck, my bag, tree branches, railings…you name it, I’ve probably done it.

I got to my spot at about 10:30am, which is a little late (ok a lot late) for morning light and trying to beat the direct over-head sun. For these images I had to have a slow shutter speed to try to get a nice smooth motion flow for the river. This means I should have been on a tripod, but sans tripod I rested the camera on rocks, my bag, and the legs of this picnic table that was put up from the winter. This picture is Straight Out Of Camera (SOOC), meaning I didn’t edit/retouch at all. I was shooting with my Nikon D600.


(SOOC) I rested my camera on the legs on the picnic table.

(SOOC) I rested my camera on the legs on the picnic table.


Of this particular angle/POV (I was shooting the rock and falls behind the table) I took 21 pictures at various settings/exposures to find the one that worked the best. I should have had a neutral density filter or something of the like to reduce the glares from the water and snow, but I forgot those at home. Whoopsies.

For these images I used a Nikon 24-85mm F3.5 lens. You want a very slow shutter speed for showing motion in the water, but this results in overexposure since more light is let in as the shutter stays open longer. So to compensate I moved the exposure down several steps until I found the one that worked best for the picture I wanted, which ended up being -5.

For the image I chose to share on the website, I was at a focal length of 36mm, F25 with a 1/2 second shutter speed, ISO 100 and no flash. The straight out of camera (SOOC) picture looked like this:

SOOC image of the waterfall

SOOC image of the waterfall


The thing about winter in upstate NY is that everything is grey and brown and dismal. I intend to go back when vegetation begins to leaf out and the light finds its way through the diffused canopy…hopefully this will reflect warmer colors off the waters and surrounding environment.

In the meantime the image kind of looks flat and cold, so next I go to post-processing. I’ve never been a huge fan of Photoshop. That doesn’t mean I don’t use it, I just am not a fan of creating an image from multiple composites. I prefer to use Photoshop to enhance what was already there. Generally, my images don’t stray to far from what the SOOC shot was. I can’t stand when you see an image and instantly you fall in love with it, but then almost immediately you can tell that it was a created image in Photoshop. Ruins it for me. I don’t really want to live in a fantasy land. Just like when I was a little girl readying my grandparents’ Nat Geo magazines, when I fall in love with a picture I always ask “how’d they do that?“. And then I fall out of love with the image just as fast when I realize it was several different images chopped together to make it what it was. I think it is still art, but its just not for me.

Anyway, in Photoshop I did some sharpening, I helped the lighting a little bit more since in camera I was already at the extremes of my settings for trying to achieve smooth water flow and no glare. Under the Hue/Saturation tab you can use the dropper icon to pick out specific color ranges to enhance or limit. I picked up some of the blue hints in the water and enhanced it. I also enhanced the greens in the conifers. And here’s the  result and final image:


A wintering river in upstate NY

A Wintering River in Upstate NY | click to enlarge

And now you know how I did that.

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