Almost a year and half ago, my friend Richard Bieniek took a day trip to the Marin Headlands outside of San Francisco. The Headlands are the area north and west of the Golden Gate Bridge that border on the ocean. It was a beautiful day. The sun was almost blindingly bright. The waves were tall and strong. As we walked down the steep that was path cut into the cliff side, you could hear the waves thunder before you could even see them. When we reached the small, sandy beach in the cove, the unfolding scene was remarkable. It was mid—afternoon. The sun was so bright it caused strong silvery reflections on the water. Those reflections contrasted with the deep shadows in the surrounding rock. As the waves approached, they gave the impression of a wall of water coming right at you. The scene was full of energy. Though difficult, I knew I had to share the story of what I saw.
I hope this image gives you that picture because it was wonderful to behold.
How Did I Process This Image
Those of us who shoot with a DSLR will recognize the difficulty in capturing this image. The dynamic range, the difference in exposure needed to display some detail in the shadows while not blowing away the highlights in this image is well outside the capabilities of most cameras. The obvious answer is HDR. However, that requires 3 identical images with exposures about 2 stops apart. The problem is that the ocean won’t stand still and pose long enough to make that happen. I might have chosen to blur the waves but that would have defeated one of my main objectives, to show the energy of the scene.
As you can see from the histogram in this this screenshot below, I exposed the image to minimize both the black and white clipping thus minimizing the loss of detail in both shadows and highlights. However, the digital negative is very dark. Despite many hours of trying, there was no way get a good image just manipulating the sliders and using other features of Lightroom. I had to rely on HDR. I made 3 virtual copies of the digital negative in Adobe Lightroom. I opened the exposure of 1 copy about as far as I dare; about ¾ of a stop. I made one of the others about 2 stops brighter and the other about 2 stops darker than the first. I opened the 3 copies in Photomatrix to merge them into a single HDR image. I chose the option that gave me the best, most realistic image I could find. I made a few minor tweaks and created the final HDR image. But even that created an image where the foam in the foreground churn was dark and dingy. I couldn’t open the exposure, the highlights or the whites. It would cause the ocean to blow out and lose the silvery reflection. So, I finished the image using Lightroom’s paintbrush to open the exposure on just that section of the image. I believe it worked.
This and other images are available to view and to purchase at my website: http://www.earthwatcher.us.