In this article I'll take you to the Lofoten Islands in Arctic Norway. I visited Lofoten earlier this year to prepare for my upcoming 'Northern Spirits' workshop, and I had the opportunity to visit a unique location: Skagsanden beach. This is a panorama from a cloudy afternoon in Skagsanden.

'Clouds over Skagsanden', February 2014, the Lofoten Islands, Norway

There are several interesting and unique features about Skagsanden. The first is the sharp mountains surrounding it. It's not very common to find beautiful, jagged mountains in addition to a moderate, reflecting beach, and I feel it adds a lot to the image. Secondly, the main visual feature of the beach is its blend of black and white sand. The streams coming from the surrounding mountains flow from the sides, permeate from the bottom and mix the different types of sand to create beautiful and diverse patterns.

COMPOSITION

Let's look at the different components of the image, and analyze it a bit, to understand what makes the composition appealing.

The most important thing here is the balance: both between the main centers of mass and between the lines. The curved lines in the sky balance the straight lines in the foreground. The big boulder to the left balances the mountains to the right. And finally, the reflection of the lit cloud in the foreground balances the cloud itself in the sky. The fact that each element is balanced in the opposite side of the frame contributes a lot to the image.

SETUP AND EQUIPMENT

I shot the image using my Sony A7R and my Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L II lens. To get a super-wide angle of view, I had to shoot a panorama, even with a 16mm focal length. 

I used ISO 100, f/16 for maximum DOF and an exposure time of 10 seconds for each of the 7 shots comprising the panorama. Below you can see the different images.

POST PROCESSING

There were three steps to the post processing workflow here. First, I needed to process the Raw files and convert them to TIFFs. This was done in Adobe Camera Raw with minimal processing, including not much more than a contrast and clarity boost.

Secondly, I had to stitch the panorama. To do that I used a program called PTGui. PTGui is a stitching software I've recently begun to use, which gives precise results even when stitching HDR panoramas. It's also exceedingly easy to use. Simply load the images, choose the format and settings and let it stitch the images.

The resulting panorama is shown below.

See how much foreground I had here: way too much to be balanced by the delicate elements in the sky. I thus cropped much of the foreground, in addition to the sides, in Photoshop, to achieve a more balanced composition.

Now that I had my final composition, I needed to work on the different parts of the image to optimize them. The Sony A7R produces extremely flat files, so one needs to understand it requires stronger post processing to get the result one would like to see. Specifically, a boost in local contrast was needed to bring out the detail, and a saturation boost to make the image more lively.

As a first step, I selected the sky using the quick selection tool, and refined the selection using select->refine edge. I used a levels adjustment layer to improve the contrast in the sky.

In addition to the contrast boost in the sky, I used the same adjustment layer to perform an initial contrast boost in the foreground. See the final mask of this adjustment layer below. This kind of freehand application of contrast can give you a lot of freedom when working on specific parts of an image. The whiter the pixel in the mask shown below, the stronger the effect of the adjustment layer the mask belongs to.

Next, a more serious contrast boost was needed in the foreground. Due to very soft lighting and the flat files off the A7R, I needed to really bring out the details, since I consider the lines in the foreground to be the main appeal of the image.

I did this by using a technique different than what I've previously described in my articles: dodging and burning. To improve contrast with dodge and burn, first you need to switch to LAB color. Otherwise the colors get overly affected. When in LAB color, dodging and burning doesn't affect color. 

Next, a serious of low-opacity passes was made on the foreground, gently altering it to feature more contrast. First dodging the highlights to bring them out, then burning the mid tones and shadows to make them deeper. After several passes, the image gained beautiful contrast.

The first step when burning was adding a bit of vignetting, to make the viewer concentrate on the central part of the image. Next, a series of dodge and burn passes was made on the foreground to accentuate its detail.

After finishing this process, I switched back to RGB mode. I boosted the saturation quite a lot, to have the red cloud more prominent and the blue sky more appealing. After size reduction and sharpening, I was 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 Nights Part I and Part II - Greenland

Earth, Wind and Fire - Ethiopia.

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