The Making of Moraine
Moraine Lake has to be the most famous lake in Banff National Park, during the summer months access can be restricted from as early as 6:30am as the car park fills. People travel from all over the world to see this icon of Canada hoping for that perfect Instagram shot. It's an incredible site as the towering ten peaks reflect into the still lake below with the light brushing their summits. However Moraine Lake's beauty is also its demise, as years go on the lake becomes busier and busier so getting that perfect shot you dreamed of is harder than you think.
The shot below has to be my best shot of Moraine Lake and has by far out sold any other print, however there's a lot more to it than meets the eye. To deal with the crowds of people I had to blend multiple images taken over a period of hours to give me a balance of foreground, reflection and light. Below is an insight in to how I did it and the work that went in to the making of Moraine.
Shooting Brackets and Focus Stacking
Often when I shoot I'll shoot brackets as well as focus stack, using these two techniques means you'll have plenty of options for when it comes to your edit. It gives you creative freedom to change things after the fact as well as make sure you get clean shadows and perfect highlights no matter what the dynamic range.
Bracketing: I find this to be an invaluable tool and a technique well worth investing some time in learning, not only on how to shoot like this but how to edit using the results. On most modern cameras you can set them to automatically shoot at a correctly metered exposure as well as several stops above and below in quick succession. You'll end up with a series of shots of perfectly exposed highlights, shadows and mid tones. This will allow you to use these to blend perfect exposures later on.
Focus Stacking: For complete front to back sharpness in an image it's best to use a lenses sweet spot, an aperture where it gives the sharpest result (normally around F8 or F11), and then focus in multiple locations to guarantee the image is as sharp as possible front to back.
On the image above I used a combination of both of these techniques.
The Original Three
Above are the original 3 images I used to create the blend each one was taken for a different purpose for the best exposure, focus and to remove people.
Number 1 was taken during the blue hour before the sun came up, this allowed for a perfect reflection as the heat of the sign hadn't yet made the lake ripple. As you can see there is another photographer in shot.
Number 2 was taken slightly later in the day as the sun started to illuminate clouds and mountain tops, as you can see there are several people in frame. At this point I know I was just exposing for the clouds, sky and mountains so I wasn't concerned about the tourists in view.
Number 3 was taken once everyone had left the frame. At this point I focused on the foreground, as this was all I was shooting for I wasn't concerned about the blown out highlights or lack of reflection. You'll notice how the foreground is correctly exposed but the golden light is no longer present in the sky.
I then used a combination of all 3 of these shots to create the final blend. When shooting like this it's good to get into the habit of keeping settings like aperture and white balance the same. The camera will change the shutter speed automatically when shooting brackets.
Firstly the 3 images are loaded in to Adobe Camera Raw. This gives you a series of adjustment sliders that effect your images in different ways. When blending it's important to have images that will match well so I recommend doing a couple of things.
Start off my selecting all 3 images on the left hand side in the film strip column. Then adjust white balance temperature and tint, if you have all images selected this will ensure all images match. To make the blend as seamless as possible it is also worth bringing down the highlights in the brightest image and bringing up the shadows in the darkest. You'll need to flick back and forth and compare images but the closer they are to each other the better they will blend. You won't get it perfect as they are shot at different exposures (and we did this as the dynamic range was too extreme) but you'll get it pretty close.
Number 1 shows the single frame from the blue hour with the perfect reflection.
Number 2 here I've added in the focus stacked foreground and mountains behind shot approximately 30 minutes later. All that's kept from the original is the reflection on the lake. Everything also looks a little warmer due to the increase in sunlight.
Number 3 a more evenly exposed sky is added bringing back detail into the clouds. You can now see how no highlights are blown out. This is the shot that originally had a tourist sat in front of the camera.
Number 4 the final blend with the final removals, using the clone stamp and brush tools it's possible to duplicate parts of the background removing the photographer.
These layers were all blended together using a mixture of masking both by hand and by using luminosity masks. These are both incredibly powerful photoshop techniques which I may get into in more detail in a later post.
The final blend result when using techniques like this, and shooting raw files, is often a rather flat or grey looking image. This shows you have all the details and information you need and it is now time to add in contrast, colour and other adjustments as you see fit. The blend is a digital negative, an almost blank canvas with endless possibilities.
If you'd like to know more about any of the techniques or processes above let me know in the comments below and I'd be happy to answer any questions!