Last year I went to Phoenix for a few days for work. Not for "Fro's World work" but for my day job. As I started traveling more for work, it dawned on me that I should be taking advantage of the free travel. Even if I'm not traveling with the intention of going somewhere to shoot photos, I should make the most of it and see what there is to shoot where I'm going. Of course, there is beauty everywhere if you take the time to look for it. So, I just had to find it.
I googled lots of places to shoot pictures around Phoenix, but the majority of them were in neighboring areas, and I only had an hour or two after work and couldn't drive an hour to a better photography spot. One place that kept coming up was Tempe Town Lake and the Mill Ave Bridge. I was planning on having dinner in this part of town, so I figured I'd head down around sunset for some photos before dinner.
I drove to the North Shore Beach Parking Area on Tempe Town Lake and knew I wanted some pictures from below the bridge looking back across the lake. I hadn't taken a lot of pictures in cities before but I had a feeling the straight lines of the bridge would be fun to use as converging lines in the photo.
Seeing as this was one of the first times I traveled for work and brought my camera I wasn't thinking very well and forgot a tripod. This meant that getting good low light pictures, like the ones I wanted to take at sunset would be hard to take without getting a lot of blur. I could always increase my ISO to fix this, but that would create a lot of noise in my images. Not having much choice this is what I was going to have to do.
The three pictures you see above were all taken at an ISO of 1,000. To achieve the look you see in the finished product, I started with three bracketed images taken two exposure stops apart. The lens was a 24mm-70mm Sony Carl Zeiss lens. For all the photos above I took them at 24mm with an aperture of 4.0 so that I would have as wide of an image as possible and let as much light in as possible. The shutter speed of the pictures varied from 1/20 to 1/100 of a second.
As I expected, when I began editing my photos I noticed that they had a lot of noise due to the high ISO setting. I also knew that combining them into an HDR image was most likely going to increase some of that noise, but luckily I also knew I had an excellent noise removing plugin, Macphun's Noiseless. This allowed me to feel confident following my standard editing workflow because I knew I could care for the noise later.
The first step in my editing process is to use Lightroom to apply some lens profiles and some very minor adjustments to the image. Then I combine the images into an HDR image using another piece of software. At the time I took these pictures I was switching from using Photomatix as my HDR processor to the far superior Macphun Aurora HDR Pro. As a result, some of the ones above are edited with Photomatix and others with Aurora HDR Pro.
Once I had my HDR image created, I also created a non-HDR image and then opened them both as layers in Photoshop. Using layer masks, I blended the two images together until I got the look I was going for. Next, I used Macphun's Noiseless Plugin for Photoshop to remove the noise. It worked wonderfully, and you would have never known I took these photos with an ISO of 1,000.
I didn't stop just there and used different tricks on each photo to get different looks. To create the glowing street light look on a few images, I used Topaz Star Effects. On all the pictures I created some glow on the water using a Gaussian Blur in Photoshop and/or Topaz Glow. Additionally to enhance some of the images I used Macphun's Intensity and Focus to create different looks.
I'll be diving into more detail on some of these techniques in a future post or two, so stay tuned. In the meantime, if you are interested in any of the software or plugins that I mentioned click on any of the images below to get more info. You can also get 10% off any Macphun Product by using the coupon code FROSWORLD when checking out.
*** In full disclosure, I receive compensation in exchange for advertising for some of my favorite gear. However, I only comment and advertise for products that I have used extensively, believe in, and continue to use. The opinions expressed here about my favorite gear are my own and have been determined through my own personal experiences with the product.