<<< o >>>you said it would last forever 21 comments + add yours

Every year at the main Gulf Photo Plus training event we set aside one evening to go out as a group: all the instructors, Mohamed and Hala who run and organise the event, many of the other staff who are involved, the assistants, and so on. In past year's we've visited Ravi's (a fantastic Pakistani restaurant), another year we went to a fish restaurant, but this year we had a picnic on the beach, quite close to the Burj-al-Arab. There was plenty of great food even better company, and the opportunity to paddle in the Gulf.

I also decided to take some shots of the Burj-al-Arab and the reflections in the water. I took some shots from the beach but then moved onto a concrete structure running out into the sea. I'm not sure what it was for, but there was a huge pile of sand behind it, so I guess it's the start of some new project. Anyway, the paddling was fun, but the shots were less rewarding.

Here's a typical example ...

As you can see, it's nothing special. It's kind of nice to take the shot simply to record the fact that I was there, but it would have been much better if we'd been there at dusk when there would have still been some light in the sky. Anyway, the net result is an OK documentary shot, but nothing I would blog.

Fortunately though, I found something else to photograph ...

As many of you know, I like to photograph things that are easily overlooked – maybe small objects on the ground, obscure details, unusual objects – things that are there, but not immediately obvious. In this case, as you can probably imagine if you take a look at the shot below, I almost didn't spot this one, mostly because it was just so dark. This is the concrete structure I mentioned, lit by the Burj and other buildings in the distance, and it was so dark that it was almost impossible to compose the shot.

Once I had spotted though I was determined to get the shot, but it proved to be a bit difficult, mostly because I didn't have my remote release with me so could either shoot sub-30s exposures or hold the shutter button down for several minutes in bulb mode (which is never a good idea). Instead then I switched to ISO 800, f/8, and shot a range of 30s exposures. I was fairly sure I'd nailed it so wandered back to the group.

The more I looked at it though the more it looked like a bodged shot. It was fine on the LCD, but the depth of field was too shallow, there was a fair amount of noise, and I decided I needed to tweak the composition. So I went back and shot it again.

This time though I shot at ISO 400 (less noise) and switched to f/5.6 to compensate. This meant that the depth of field was now even more shallow, so to compensate I shot five exposures, each focussed on a different part of the structure. In the first the detail in the foreground is sharp, in the next the detail just beyond that, through to the final shot where the horizon is sharp. I then stacked and masked these images in Photoshop to create a combined version with a much larger depth of field.

After that it was just a simple matter of adding a few curves, taking the noise out of the sky, and boosting the saturation.

Motto of the story: there's nearly always a good shot you can take, you just need to pause long enough and look hard enough to find it.

focal length
shutter speed
shooting mode
exposure bias
metering mode
image quality
RAW converter
image editor
plugins (etc)
9.32pm on 10/3/11
Canon 5D Mark II
EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM
Camera Raw
Photoshop CS5
Topaz Detail
3x2 + travel [Dubai, UAE] + night shots [long exposures] + show the original
comment by beeveedee at 06:49 PM (GMT) on 11 March, 2011

Love the colors. Your post processing really brings out the image and color, while feeling real too. You can take the most mundane and turn it into art.

comment by Carlos Garcia at 07:19 PM (GMT) on 11 March, 2011

Rich colors and contrast! Nice. Post that reflection shot. It's a good one!

comment by Al at 07:24 PM (GMT) on 11 March, 2011

Well done. I enjoyed reading how you were determined to make this image work David. I especially like the way the word "forever" is starting to erode away from the bottom. It kind of gives an answer to what was written : )

Just curious on a few items on how you managed to get this shot... You mentioned you had to take several exposures with same aperture and shutter speed but focusing on different areas of the subject. Did you have a tripod to accomplish this or did you do your best while shooting handheld? If I had to speculate if you had to do the former, did you do the "auto-align" feature in photoshop that you've mentioned (from some of your past tutorials) to align the series of refocused images?

comment by djn1 at 07:32 PM (GMT) on 11 March, 2011

beeveedee: thanks.

Carlos: OK, I'll reconsider the reflection shot.

Al: I was using a tripod as each exposure was 25s, and I didn't need to align the layers. If I had needed to though I would have used auto-align.

comment by Al at 07:48 PM (GMT) on 11 March, 2011

How did you manage to focus on different areas of the shot while not moving the camera on the tripod? Did you use the different focus points from your camera?

comment by neil at 07:56 PM (GMT) on 11 March, 2011

very nice, great story and i admire your perseverance. Best wishes Neil

comment by Michael Behlen at 08:51 PM (GMT) on 11 March, 2011

LOVE this shot! Great angle!

comment by Dan Kaufman at 01:31 AM (GMT) on 12 March, 2011

You are truly an inspiration David Nightingale. I would have taken the lazy approach and set the ISO to 6400 at f2.8 (same lens of course) and then converted the result to black and white to "camouflage" making it look like a newsprint photo.

Your perseverance did of course produce an exceptionally fine image!

comment by djn1 at 02:48 AM (GMT) on 12 March, 2011

Thanks everyone.

Al: I used the distance scale on the lens to set the focus, which was a bit tricky because it was too dark to see that too. Fortunately I had a cigarette lighter with me so used that to see what I was doing.

Dan: ISO 6400 would have given me an aperture of f/16 at 25s, so I'd have got the depth of field, but (as you mention) not the detail. It would probably have worked, but would have been quite a different shot :)

comment by sheila at 07:55 AM (GMT) on 12 March, 2011

Love it... your patience is amazing :-)

comment by Jason at 03:50 PM (GMT) on 12 March, 2011

Love It..! Classic Chromasia stuff. I would never in a thousand years have come up with the solution you did to get the shot and I'm sure i'm not the only one :) Also in 8 years here I have never spotted graffiti at the beach so apparently I'm still walking around with my eyes closed. Definitely mini PSD material.

comment by Jessica Sweeney at 06:31 PM (GMT) on 12 March, 2011

Great shot, and great story as well. By the way, I also think the reflection shot is quite good. Not a throwaway shot at all. But the green and blue in this make the image, as well of course as the texture and composition and story.

comment by Karla at 10:49 PM (GMT) on 12 March, 2011

Thank you for the story behind this interesting shot! The technique is something I would like to try. I also would like to see the reflection image! That one might be too ordinary for you, but to some of us not accustomed to night shots, it would be illustrative. ;-)

comment by Martin at 07:57 PM (GMT) on 13 March, 2011

Amazing shot! Love the clarity and your eye for details (even in the dark ;)).

comment by Chris at 06:41 AM (GMT) on 14 March, 2011

Hi Dave, This is quite interesting. It is a good thing you found it and determined to find a way to capture the amount of details. Would a software package such as Helicon Focus serve to be helpful or an alternative way of handling a DOF issue, such as this occasion?

Did the airport locate your missing gear?

comment by Justin Photis at 08:36 AM (GMT) on 14 March, 2011

That's a brilliant shot and thannks for the details of how you achieved it too. Very interesting. One question from me, How did you determin the focal point of each of the shots, did you work it out on your iphone app and then adjust for the next shot ?

comment by Interesting Foto at 02:03 AM (GMT) on 17 March, 2011

Stunning shot

comment by Piet Osefius at 11:23 PM (GMT) on 18 March, 2011

The vivid colours are great!

comment by crash at 07:21 PM (GMT) on 19 March, 2011

fantastic lighting on this wall .... the colors are amazing

comment by Christiane Nicely at 11:24 AM (GMT) on 28 March, 2011

Well, what would I give for a shot of the Burj-al-Arab like that!! ... lol... But I must say, this shot is deep, phylosophical. I love it!

comment by BETSY BARRON at 05:10 PM (GMT) on 10 April, 2011

so full of impact - love the angle, love the torn up , algae covered sea wall - this is awesome!