Photoshop layer blend technique – using multiple layers to create a different scene

While on my trip to Oregon, I found myself looking at images of various waterfalls from around the area on 500px or instagram, all which largely looked the same. A few factors were driving this from my perspective. The first being, many of these falls are shot and over shot by everyone who visits the area as they are easily accessible. Another issue is that it is hard to get a different perspective on a falls where you are more or less contained to a given area. They all fall into a bowl like arena with rock faces that are several hundred feet tall. I had my hip waders along which helps me get to areas that other may not, but the spray from the water falling from those heights pours out over 50-100 feet away from the base of the falls depending on the wind. This makes the rocks very slippery and can get you soaked in a short period of time. It is a constant battle to keep your camera dry. At Elowah Falls, I surveyed the scene for a few moments and watched the wind patterns in an effort to get closer to the base while avoiding the spray. Most of the images I saw online were clearly long exposures with the stream of the falls a solid white stream. My personal preference is to have some detail in the water vice a solid washed out stream of white. While observing this falls, I noticed that the water would come down in sheets instead of a constant flow. I realized with a little work in photoshop and several exposures, I could create an image that looked different from the rest out there. With this in mind, I needed a  slightly faster shutter speed to change the look of the image and get more detail. I started with 1/30 of a sec which turned out a little too fast. I tried a few different shutter speeds and ended up shooting in the 1/15 range. I took 5-9 images in the same position with the intent to catch the falls in different intervals. I changed compositions a bit and took another series. Here are a couple of those images from the camera.

Two individual images in Lightroom - you can see the pattern in the sheets of water.
Two individual images in Lightroom – you can see the pattern in the sheets of water.

I took a series of 5 images like this and then brought them into Lightroom for my first step in processing. Even at 1/10 of a second, the water had blown out highlights at the top of the falls. I pulled back the highlights all the way and then filled in some shadows as well. I always turn on the Enable Lens Profile Corrections and Remove Chromatic Aberrations in the Lens Correction category, then added a little clarity, vibrance and saturation before bringing all of the images into Photoshop. Typically what I will do in Lightroom is make the changes to one of the images and then copy and paste my develop settings to the other images – provided they were all shot with the same exposure settings. I then select all of them and go to Photo > Edit In > Open as Layers in Photoshop to bring all of the images into one file with multiple layers.

Open as Layers in Photoshop
Open as Layers in Photoshop

Once I have it into Photoshop, the process to blend them all together is relatively simple. First to ensure you have a good blend, select all of the layers by clicking on the top layer, holding the shift key and then selecting the bottom layer. Now all of them should be a darker grey color than before. 

All layers selected
All layers selected

After selecting all of the layers, you need to ensure all of the layers are aligned. Even though I took the images with my camera secured on a tripod and used a cable release, the images will almost always be slightly misaligned when bringing them in as layers. Go to Edit > Auto Align Layers…

Auto Align Layers
Auto Align Layers

You will get a dialog with a bunch of options. For this instance, I leave it on Auto and let photoshop do the rest of the work. 

Auto-Align dialog
Auto-Align dialog

You will get a progress bar while Photoshop does the alignment. 

You may see a bit of space around the image after it is done. Photoshop will make the image a bit larger around the edges if it has to shift one of the layers. My next step is normally to crop this extra space out. 

Once this is complete, the final step is simply to blend the layers together. The object here was to allow the different patterns of water to show up as one. This is the beauty of layer modes in Photoshop. Control click on the bottom layer to deselect it from the stack. You should have one layer that is a different brightness than the rest and will look like this.

Bottom layer deselected
Bottom layer deselected

Now in your layers palette, go to the pull down the menu where you see “Normal” and select Lighten. 

Pull down menu for Layer Mode
Pull down menu for Layer Mode
Select Lighten Layer Mode
Select Lighten Layer Mode

Bam! You will now have an image that allows what is different in each layer to show through. It is that simple. 

Before - Single layer showing waterfall
Before – Single layer showing waterfall
After - with 5 layers blended to show the true nature of the waterfall
After – with 5 layers blended to show the true nature of the waterfall

Once I have completed this step, I zoom in on the image and look around for imperfections, especially around the edges. I’ll crop as needed, then I will flatten the image to continue with processing in Photoshop. The final image will have some other changes to boost contrast and increase color to what was really present at the scene. 

Final image of Elowah Falls

Elowah Falls - Columbia River Gorge, OR © Rob Loughrey
Elowah Falls – Columbia River Gorge, OR © Rob Loughrey

This entire process took about 20 minutes total. I also use On1 Photo Effects in my post processing. I’m a big fan of the Dynamic Contrast and Vignette filters in this software. You can apply this technique in so many other ways in your photography. One example would be to make a night photo with star trails. Hope you enjoy…

Oregon trip – final morning

The final morning of my trip I decided to head up to one of the lakes that surrounded Mount Hood for the morning. After doing a bit of google map recon, I decided on Trillium Lake, which was a short 45 min drive from the hotel. I gave myself plenty of time in the morning to be on-site before twilight which meant an early start for me. I got up at 4am and was on the road a short while later. As I drove on RT. 26 heading toward the park, I could see Mt. Hood in the light of the full moon towering over the landscape. It was an amazing sight in the dark of night with the moon really bright in the cool, crisp & clear Oregon air. As I drove higher into the mountains, the temp was dropping rapidly and finally leveled out at a cool 40 degrees, quite a drop from 75 in Portland. I arrived in the parking area and realized I was there all alone which was both exciting and a little unnerving. I looked around a bit and found a spot to shoot from and took in the amazing scenery before me. The conditions were just right that morning for the cold water to release water vapor in the form of fog. The only noise I could hear was a bald eagle calling as it flew around looking for food. I really can’t explain what an amazing sight this place was. To the West, the full Moon was getting ready to set behind the mountains. To the East just over 4 miles away Mount Hood loomed over the lake at 11,250 feet tall. The side of the mountain still had a fair amount of snow on it from the previous winter, which I assume is the norm. I imagine the air temps up that high are never high enough for it to melt entirely. I spent a couple of hours shooting as the sun came up, changing locations around the lake. After a little while, some campers with fishing rods started to show up and enjoy the pristine wilderness. If you make a trip to Oregon, this area should be at the top of your list to visit and perhaps spend the night. What an amazing place. Here are a couple of shots from the visit. Hope you enjoy…

Moonset over Trillium Lake, MT Hood National Forest, OR © Rob Loughrey
Moonset over Trillium Lake, MT Hood National Forest, OR © Rob Loughrey
Twilight at Trillium Lake, MT Hood National Forest, OR © Rob Loughrey
Twilight at Trillium Lake, MT Hood National Forest, OR © Rob Loughrey
© Rob Loughrey
© Rob Loughrey
The light of dawn, MT Hood National Forest, OR © Rob Loughrey
The light of dawn, MT Hood National Forest, OR © Rob Loughrey

The amazing Oneonta Gorge

The Oneonta Gorge was one of the places on my list to check out during my trip to Oregon. After doing my research of the area, the images I saw online were intriguing and what I would call typical of Columbia River Gorge.  The gorge appeared to be a much smaller version of the canyon at Zion National Park but covered in moss and ferns. There are a total of 4 falls on the Oneonta Creek which dumps into the Columbia River. The lower falls is located just over 1/2 mile upstream from the parking area along the Columbia River Gorge Scenic Highway. From the road, you go down a short set of steps and start your journey upstream. Not too far along, you come across about a 20′ pile of dead fall trees that you need to climb over. Not too difficult of a climb but can look intimidating. Once you are over the trees, you are moving upstream in the Oneonta Creek. There are some areas where you can find some dry area to move along, but eventually you are going to get wet. To make it all the way to the lower falls, you need to trek through some water that is over 5′ deep. It lasts for about 10-15 feet of the journey and there is no way to avoid it. Even in mid July, the water was ICE COLD and took my breath away. That is the price you pay to make it to see this massive 100′ waterfall first hand. Most of the way to the lower falls you are in a deep chasm that is covered in moss and ferns from the top to bottom. It is really an amazing place and one of my top hikes while I was visiting Oregon. The middle & upper falls are accessible from the #400 hiking trail that starts from a nearby second parking area just to the west of where you park to hike directly up the creek. When you are on the trail, there is a point where you can drop off the main trail and go onto #438 Horsetail Falls trail. This will take you down towards the creek and had a short bridge that crosses over heading east. Before crossing the bridge, you can climb down on the south side down to the creek and wade through some water south. At this point, you will be at the top of the lower falls. Turning around and going back upstream a short distance will put you right in front of the middle falls. This was another beautiful location surrounded by moss covered rocks all around the 20′ plume of water. I decided to shoot that falls in a panoramic format to help capture some of the amazing plant life along the creek. If you head further up the #400 trail you will come across Triple falls, the 4th falls along the creek. This falls you view from across the gorge. It is another beautiful 100′ or higher falls. The view of this falls is from a higher elevation about 100 yards away but it is still an amazing site. Here are two shots from this hike. Hope you enjoy…

Lower Oneonta Falls, Columbia River Gorge Scenic Area © Rob Loughrey
Lower Oneonta Falls, Columbia River Gorge Scenic Area © Rob Loughrey
Middle Oneonta Falls, Columbia River Gorge Scenic Area © Rob Loughrey
Middle Oneonta Falls, Columbia River Gorge Scenic Area © Rob Loughrey

Columbia River Gorge & Proxy falls

The second day of my Oregon trip was spent trying to catch a sunrise at one of the Columbia River Gorge overlooks along the Historic Columbia River Highway. The morning proved to be a tough one with not a single ray of light to be found due to the heavy cloud cover. While I was a little bummed about the sunrise, I was stoked about having another overcast day to do some more waterfall Photography. The overlooks along the scenic highway are a perfect way to spend a morning in the area. 

We decided to take a 3 hour trip and head south to one of the top locations on my list – Proxy Falls. Proxy Falls is located in the Three Sisters Wilderness off of McKenzie Highway, deep in the mountains. The drive to the area was amazing and continued to look promising all morning. Promising to me – cloudy. That was the case until we passed along the Southern face of the mountains which border Detroit Lake. I couldn’t believe it, but we literally rounded the corner and were greeted with a high pressure system of crystal blue skies. While it was really great to see such a beautiful landscape, I have to admit I was a little disappointed because I had a pretty good feeling that part of the waterfalls would be in direct sunlight. We pressed on, stopping for a nice lunch at Belknap Springs Resort along the McKenzie River a short 20 mins from the beginning of the falls trail head. Our lunch was fantastic and we found a great place to stay the night for future trips out to the falls.

The falls trail is a short 1.5 mile path which takes you through a large volcanic rock landscape that is a sight to see unto itself. The combination of dark volcanic rock and old growth forest was an amazing juxtaposition of nature. The fir trees along the path are gigantic elders that have stood for hundreds of years. As you get close to the falls, you can begin to hear the water falling over the 262 foot vertical drop. A short zig zag back and forth down a small hill and you can make your way over to the bottom of the falls. The main body of the falls cascades over volcanic rock and a large area of columnar basalt formations. Much of these are continuously wet and are covered in moss and other plant life. The numerous steps of the rock formations give way to a wide veil type falls as it widens all the way to the base. As expected, the falls was partially lit by the beaming sun, which made photographing the entire falls very problematic for me. I made the best of it – after all, It is breathtaking sight and I was able to work out some compositions while we explored the area. We spent a about an hour and a half there before making the trip back to the car and then onto our hotel. On the way back to Portland, we stopped for some dinner in the small town of Mill City and had the absolute BEST PIZZA ever. If you are in the area, be sure to stop by Giovanni’s Mountain Pizza. You wont be disappointed.

Blue hour over the Columbia River, OR © Rob Loughrey
Blue hour over the Columbia River, OR © Rob Loughrey
Moss covered columnar basalt at Proxy Falls, Three Sisters Wilderness, OR © Rob Loughrey
Moss covered columnar basalt at Proxy Falls, Three Sisters Wilderness, OR © Rob Loughrey
Proxy falls - Three Sisters Wilderness, OR © Rob Loughrey
Proxy falls – Three Sisters Wilderness, OR © Rob Loughrey

Oregon trip report

If you are a follower of my FB page, you know I recently took a trip to Portland Oregon, piggybacking off a work trip with my wonderful wife. We arrived a few days prior to her seminar, having the weekend to explore places together. The first day we spent at Panther Creek Falls which is just across the Columbia River in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. It was a short 45 min drive from our hotel, the majority of the time was spent driving up into the mountain on a forest service road. It was a little harder to find than expected, mainly because there are no signs directing you to the falls when you were close. Using a drop pin on my google map, I found an area to park nearby the falls and when I looked off of the roadside, it was an extremely steep drop down to the river. We got into the car and started to head down stream looking for a better access point when I noticed spray painted on the road “Falls” with an arrow pointing into the woods. The trail was there, although pretty overgrown and hard to see at first. We found our way down the trail which was only a 5 minute walk and came to an observation platform. The viewpoint of the falls is from across the river and nearly even with the start of the falls from the other side. I looked all around for a way down into the stream but the vertical drop was too much to consider. After a short period, Jenn went back to the car and I looked around some more for a way down to the bottom. I finally found a rope that was tied off onto a rock face, which was there for anyone brave enough to scale down about 20 feet to better footing. I’m sure if Jenn were with me at that point, she would have given me a hard time about taking my chances on it. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to get to a different vantage point. In the afternoon we drove out to Cannon Beach, about a 2 hour drive from Portland. The sunset weather wasn’t cooperating, but we had an amazing time exploring the quaint little town and a portion of the beach. I am already planning another trip back out there to do some coastal photography.

This first shot is from Panther Creek Falls, a 130′ beautiful beast. As you can see, the amount of green foliage is truly overwhelming. The entire area is more or less a temperate rain forest and is everything we expected. I distinctly remember driving the forest service road on the way to the falls and Jenn and I both commented at the same time about how green everything was. It was shade and brightness of green I have never seen before. Amazing is all I can say. More to follow in the coming days…

Panther Creek Falls - Gifford Pinchot National Forest, WA © Rob Loughrey
Panther Creek Falls – Gifford Pinchot National Forest, WA © Rob Loughrey