In this article I'll take you to a grizzly scene I encountered, which enabled me to produce quite a rare shot. This image is special to me for two reasons: First of all, it's a very unique image, telling a story you don't come across very often. Secondly, I've had to put in work I usually don't do when it comes to post-processing, to make it look right. All in all, I'm happy with the result, and it has won good acclaim in international competitions and publications.
|'Watery Grave', Grundarfjörður, February 2013|
The shot was taken back in February 2013. I was visiting the Snæfellsnes peninsula in western Iceland while scouting locations for my 'Winter Paradise' workshop, and the hotel owner told me about a terrible phenomenon. Tons upon tons of herring entered Kolgrafafjörður, one of the fjords near the town of Grundarfjörður, and simply suffocated from lack of oxygen in the fjord's water. This was sadly caused by man-made constructions which limited water (and hence oxygen) circulation in the bay. A very sad outcome indeed.
I was wondering what the smell was about before being told, but as bad as it was, I had to see it for myself. When nearing the bay, the smell got worse until I got severely nauseated. There was no option but to walk on countless dead herring, not a pleasant experience if I might say so, but seeing the scene, I felt I could get a truly unique shot here, since this kind of thing only happens once every several years.
Shooting conditions were dismal. The moist air destroyed visibility, and the light situation in midday was not in my favor. Add to this the fact that I was feeling quite sick and couldn't stay for much longer, and the result was perhaps the "worst good image" I've shot. The Raw file doesn't look like what I want to convey here, not at all. But since I felt the image was special enough, I put some work in it, and transformed it into something I'm proud of, and more importantly, tells a natural story in a visually compelling way.
I took the image using my Canon EOS 5D Mark III and my Canon 16-35mm F2.8L II lens (at 16mm). I also used a Lee Pro Glass 0.9 ND, a Lee 0.9 soft grad and a 105mm Heliopan circular polarizer. The ND filter made the exposure longer, and the grad partially balanced the global contrast in the scene.
This is a 1.3 second exposure at ISO 200, F16. The narrow aperture served to increase depth of field and to make the exposure longer in order to ensure the water was flat. The long exposure caused some movement of the fish- I actually like that, it contributes to the grizzly feel of the image in some way, and I think the amount of motion blur is quite adequate.
Composition is pretty straightforward here, but there are a few points worth mentioning.
First of all, the small rock at the foreground is a very important compositional element. It serves both as an anchor - a sharp, non moving object to complement and counter the blurred fish and water - and as a parallel to the mountain. In my eyes, the top and bottom parts of the image reflect each other, in that there's a solid object surrounded by a blurred mass: on top, the mountain range surrounded by clouds, and on bottom, a rock surrounded by water and dead fish. The position of the rock in the right side of the foreground was carefully selected to counterbalance the mountain, whose main mass is on the left.
Another thing I like here is how the seemingly infinite mass of fish slowly gives way to the mountain's reflection. Personally I find this compelling both visually and as a story-telling tool.
As I've mentioned before, the quality of the original RAW file is quite poor here, and if it hadn't been such a unique image, I would have probably deleted it. But since I wanted to keep the shot, I needed to make the most of it in post processing, and this meant major retouching work which might upset some. It's important for me to mention that this is quite far from the amount of processing I usually allow myself to do, but when you look at it, all I really do here is enhance contrast, clarity and color - never really adding things that weren't there. Like it or not, I don't hide my process, so let's see what I did to make the image match my artistic vision.
Most of the post processing of the image was done using Adobe Camera Raw version 8.1. I prefer working with ACR since the changes you make to the image are both easily traceable and individually undoable. First let's see the untouched RAW file.
The initial steps were automatic lens correction and cropping the image slightly to balance the composition.
To enhance the drama in the image I even added some post-crop vignetting. This served to darken the margins and create a gloomier atmosphere.
Now begins the heavier processing. First I needed to counter the poor visibility, which ruined saturation and contrast. I boosted the image's contrast, clarity, saturation and vibrance.
This resulted in exaggerated saturation in some parts of the image, but I'll deal with that later. First I need to make I have enough saturation where I need it.
Next came quite a few local adjustments. Let's review them in a series of screenshots.
After finishing work in ACR, I saved the file as a TIFF and opened it in Photoshop.
The image still looks too bright to my eyes, and the dark solemn look I'm going for is not yet complete. I need to darken the image, but avoid losing detail where it's already dark. I did that by darkening only the not-so-dark parts of the image. The process was already explained on my article 'Behind the Shot: Winter Paradise', but I'll explain again quickly.
First, I needed to create a selection restricted to the very dark pixels. This was done by inverting the image (duplicate layer, then ctrl-I), and creating a selection of the brightest pixels of the inverse image. This is done by ctrl-clicking the channel mask (channels view), and then multiplying the selection by itself several times by Ctrl-Alt-Shift-clicking on the channel mask.
|The inverted image. The marching ants roughly show the selection of the dark pixels.||A mask created from the dark selection. The brighter the pixel is in the original image, the more 'strongly' it's selected.|
By using this mask for a levels adjustment layer, I could darken the image without losing detail.
Now it looks very gloomy, exactly what I wanted.
To finish the work and prepare the image for internet-use, I converted the color space to sRGB, performed size-reduction and some sharpening and I was done.
Erez Marom is a professional nature photographer, photography guide and traveler based in Israel. You can follow Erez's work on Instagram, Facebook 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 Hiking Annex - Patagonia
Tales of Arctic Nights - Greenland
Saga of the Seas and The Far Reaches Annex - The Faroe Islands
Desert Storm - Namibia
More articles by Erez Marom:
- Behind the Shot: Dark Matter
- Behind the Shot: Nautilus
- Behind the Shot: Lost in Space
- Behind the Shot: Winter Paradise
- Mountain Magic: Shooting in the Lofoten Islands
- Behind the Shot: Flames of the North
- Behind the Shot: Spot the Shark
- Ghost Town: Shooting in Kolmanskop
- Behind the Shot: Dali's Dream
- Quick Look: The art of the unforeground
|Dirt Hose by poppyjk|
|European bee-eaters by drvanger|
from A Big Year - birds
|Fat Is Beautiful Guinea 2008 DP by MarioSS|
from - Fat is Beautiful - (Woman's Portrait n Black and White+ A Border)
As summer really gets going over here in the Northern hemisphere, the team at Imaging Resource has put together a list of the best cameras for backpacking.
The Ukrainian Parliament banned statues of Lenin in 2015. Two years later, the monuments no longer adorn public buildings or stand watch over town squares, but they're still there.
If you had to choose one camera to bring along for the ultimate West coast road trip, what would it be? DPR's Sam Spencer choose the X100F. Read more
The a9 boasts impressive capability. As more examples of it in practice pour in, Sony's claims hold up. Watch the a9 track and maintain focus on a rapidly approaching basketball.
Last week, more than a million tonnes of Californian coastline slid into the ocean, taking part of Highway 1 with it. Check out the remodeling in photos taken before and after the landslide.
Even after eighteen months of reviewing the latest, greatest, shiniest and must-buy-me-est new gear, DPReview staffer Carey Rose has continued to use older DSLR cameras for his freelance work. But now, that might be changing. Read more
Sony is the world's leading mirrorless camera brand but remains third for ILCs overall, it's said in a presentation to investors. A focus on high value cameras and lenses should boost operating income, it says. Read more
It's nicknamed the 'Cycloptic Mustard Monster,' and is a 3D printed medium format camera. Read more
The new NanGuang LED lights are battery powered and come with accessories including filters and diffusers.
Have you been telling yourself, "Hey, I really need one of those 8K displays?" A video about Dell's new 8K monitor shows you what to expect. Is it really that much better?
Tamara Lackey, a Nikon ambassador USA and pro shooter, discusses embracing self-consciousness as a means of connecting with subjects.
There's a new Spiderman movie coming out and the poster been generating a lot of online chatter. Mostly about how it looks like the creation of a fevered teenager that just discovered Photoshop.
An honest defense of the system's merits, with photos as proof.
Copyright disputes are no fun at all. 'Binded' is a new startup that aims to simplify the process of registering - and enforcing - copyright for photographers. Read more
Not everyone wants to pay a premium for a long zoom camera. Thankfully, there are many reasonably priced cameras available, though they won't offer the same image quality as enthusiast models. In this updated roundup we look at big zoom cameras with more consumer-friendly price tags. Read more
Think Tank Photo has updated two of its popular bag lines with improvements to functionality. Read more
We’ve all seen Bob Jackson’s Pulitzer Prize winning photo, but there's another.
The sample footage looks good.
It will automatically pick the best camera settings depending on shooting conditions. It even promises enhanced functionality for your camera, like exposure and focus stacking. It already supports many cameras from Canon, Fuji, Nikon and Sony. Read more
As if $13,950 wasn’t enough to pay for a special edition lens, the Leica Store in San Francisco is offering a prototype of said lens for $24,995. Read more
Make those old photos disappear without deleting them forever.
Firmware updates enable 10 fps shooting with adapted A-mount lenses, and faster startup times and better compatibility for 20 fps shooting when using native lenses on the a9.
Fujifilm has released firmware updates for its camera models X-T2, X-Pro2, GFX 50s, X-T20, X100F and X-T1 and updates to three of its software products.
A 22 year-old Romanian photographer uses his DJI Phantom 4 drone to capture unique perspectives of the city where he now lives.
What's it like to ride the waves with champion surfer Kelly Slater? This VR video from Teton Gravity Research gives you a taste.
When Nikon released the full-frame D3 in 2007, it changed the professional photography industry. In this week's Throwback Thursday, Barney remembers a legend. Read more
The new stuff should have better red hues, improved sensitivity and finer grain - but don't worry - will still shift blues to green, greens to purple and yellows to pink.
Ricoh has introduced a new rugged compact camera with a 16MP CMOS sensor, 28-140mm lens, 2.7" LCD and built-in LED macro lights. Read more
This compact drone can shoot HD video using a 2-axis stabilized 12MP camera. Read more
The new Prynt Pocket can print a photo directly from their iPhone simply by inserting the phone into the printer, then snapping a photo. Each print will cost about 50 cents. Read more