'Prince of the Night'. Parque Nacional Los Glaciares, Argentinian Patagonia, April 2014

In this article I'd like to take you far away to Parque Nacional Los Glaciares, a well known national park in Argentinian Patagonia. I visited Patagonia in April 2014 and spent a month scouting for my 'Giants of the Andes' photo workshop and Fitz Roy Annex. I shot in several locations in Argentina and in Chile, and among those, I spent several nights in Campo Poincenot, a camp offering relatively short hiking distances to some very good view points of Mount Fitz Roy, one of Patagonia's most renowned landmarks.

On one of these days we hiked to Laguna Sucia ('Dirty Lagoon' in Spanish). It's so named because before the glacier that formed it receded, the lagoon was always littered with icebergs. When I visited, there were no icebergs to be found anywhere near the bank.

The hike to Laguna Sucia isn't long, but it's mostly on loose rock, which is no fun at all. Basically you need to always watch your step: some rocks might shift and tumble when you step on them, others are covered with ice so you might slip - you get the idea.

Loose rock on our way to Laguna Sucia. Image courtesy of Santiago Siro Folcini.

Since we wanted to shoot the lagoon and Mount Fitz Roy both at night and during sunrise, we decided to camp there, but as we didn't want to carry the tents, we only carried our sleeping bags and inflatable mats. We set up our 'sleeping quarters' under a large boulder close to the lagoon and went on to explore the area.

Setting up camp in a most unusual location. Image courtesy of Santiago Siro Folcini

After shooting the lagoon and the mountain at sunset, I started looking for nighttime compositions. I was thinking about shooting the moonlight glowing on the very top of the mountain (the same way the sun glows on tops of mountains producing Alpenglow), so I had to wake up before moonrise. This meant it was going to be very, very dark, and thus I had to compose and leave the tripod at the same place, so when I returned, I only had to find it, attach the camera and I'd be ready to shoot. I found a composition I liked, set the tripod and went back to 'camp'. The moonrise was at about 3 a.m., so we set up the alarm for 2:30 and went to sleep.

Upon waking up, things didn't look so good. Clouds had accumulated and blocked the moonlight, so all plans for glow fell through. We were quite disappointed but decided to stay around and see what happened. And surely enough, half an hour or an hour later, the clouds dispersed and the mountain was bathing in moonlight. This was the moment I had been waiting for. I went back to the tripod (which was still at the same spot) and took the shot.

Before discussing how I made the shot, I'd also like to show you two additional images I took at the same place, at later stages. I call them 'Prince of Crimson' and 'Prince of Gold', and it's pretty clear why when you see the colors. I really like these images ('Crimson' is probably the best of the three), but I had much less to say about them, and so I chose the night image as the topic for this article. By the way, I named the images so to allude to the name of the mountain, literally meaning 'Son of King'.

If only I had left the tripod in the same place for the last shot... I'm still sad about it!

Settings and Execution

To shoot this image, I used my Sony A7R and a Canon 16-35 F2.8L with a Metabones III adapter.
The image is a composite of 3 different shots, each taken for a slightly different purpose. Let's view the untouched Raw files.

The leftmost image is a relatively short exposure for the sky and reflection. It was taken at ISO 6400, F2.8 and 30sec exposure. The middle image is a longer exposure, just over 2 minutes at ISO 1600, F2.8 to preserve the luminosity. From this image I took the mountain itself and the other parts of the background, except for the sky which at this exposure time had unwanted startrails. The last image was taken with very similar parameters to the second, but the focal point was on the foreground. I used this image to focus-stack the foreground and background, to get sharpness across the image.

Composition

The composition isn't very complicated. The only point really worth mentioning is that the specific location was chosen since the rocks in the foreground follow a similar contour to that of the mountains' reflection. This contributes greatly to the flow of the image. 

Post Processing

As I've mentioned, the image is a composite of the 3 shots above. Before combining them, I needed to make some initial tweaks in Adobe Camera Raw (ACR). The first thing I did was apply the lens profile, to avoid aberrations and counteract some of the vignetting. I also changed the white balance to better match what I had seen with my eyes, and made some other minor adjustments, visible in the screenshot below.

Next I did some local adjustments. I brightened the foreground (to balance the global contrast) and boosted contrast and clarity in the reflection part, to enhance detail.

I was then ready to combine the images. This wasn't such a hard task, as the different parts were very distinct. I placed the three images as layers in Photoshop and aligned them (Edit->Auto Align layers). The top layer was the sky layer, and I had to delete the mountain from it in order to get the cleaner version of it from the mid layer. I selected the part I wanted to delete, refined the selection (Select->Refine Edge) and deleted it, exposing the layer below. Once done, I merged the two top layers.

I was left with a top layer with a blurry foreground, and a bottom layer which I had to expose to get the sharp foreground rocks. I manually deleted the foreground, following the contour of the rocks to avoid exposing the blurry reflection in the bottom layer.

Once finished, I merged the layers and was left with a flattened image.

My next goal was to increase local contrast and enhance detail in the image, which has a lot of flat parts. Initially, I used luminosity selections to enhance contrast without losing detail in the highlights or shadows. I selected the midtones and used a levels adjustment layer to boost contrast.

At this point I was pretty happy with all but the higher-left part of the image. It felt too bright compared to the foreground and the right side, so I needed to work on that separately. I selected the bright parts and refined the selection once again. I then used a levels adjustment layer to darken it, while keeping it brighter than the other parts of the image, which made sense as it was directly lit.

The last task was to take care of unwanted color, caused by high ISO and shadow recovery. As you might notice, the sky is spotted with purple blotches, and the foreground seems too green. Both these color problems were dealt with in the same way: a color blend layer. The process is as follows: you duplicate the image layer, select blend mode 'color', and then whatever the pixel color on the top layer, it passes to the bottom layer as well. To cancel the purple in the sky, I had to select the sky without selecting the stars. I did that by selecting the whole image, and then subtracting a very light luminosity selection, until I had a selection which almost didn't contain stars. I then used the pipette tool to sample the sky's blue color and gently painted it in.

The same was done with the foreground rocks. I sampled the foreground color I wanted and painted a color layer, until the rocks were grey, as they were in reality.

All that was left was to convert to the sRGB color space, perform size reduction and sharpening and I was finally done.


Erez Marom is a professional nature photographer, photography guide and traveler based in Israel. You can follow Erez's work on InstagramFacebook and 500px, and subscribe to his mailing list for updates.

If you'd like to experience and shoot some of the most fascinating landscapes on earth with Erez as your guide, you're welcome to take a look at his unique photography workshops around the world:

Land of Ice - Southern Iceland
Winter Paradise - Northern Iceland
Northern Spirits - The Lofoten Islands
Giants of the Andes and Fitz Roy Annex - Patagonia
Tales of Arctic NightsPart I and Part II - Greenland
Earth, Wind and Fire - Ethiopia

Selected articles by Erez Marom: