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…

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

Weekly inspiration

Hi everyone,

During the 4th of July holiday, I visited family in North East PA. As one would imagine, I can’t go to PA without including plans to visit Ricketts Glen State Park with a fellow photographer and friend Ian. With everything we had planned, the only day we had open to visit the park was Saturday the 4th. Ian and I watched the forecast and as luck would have it, it was sketchy at best during the early morning. We didn’t let that stop us and got up early to make the 2 hour trek to the park. We arrived with gloomy skies which included intermittent rain and periods of downpour. Still not wanting to be deterred, we pressed forward. The recent increase in rainfall had the water at a level that I had never seen before. I was amazed at how much flow there was even in the smaller tributaries that feed into the main runs. We parked in the Lake Rose trailhead parking lot and headed down the Ganoga Glen side of the falls trail. The rain continued to be a menace making getting any shots challenging. We made the best of it and trekked down the falls trail all the way to the top of the 94′ Ganoga Falls. I stopped at each falls along the way and took in some shots. Most of my time I spent in the middle of the main run, shooting upstream in various spots. Here is one of my favorites from the trip of Oneida Falls. The amount of flow was so much on this falls that there was a wind driven spray even 50 feet from the base of the falls. At this particular location, the falls is exposed to the open sky, where the stream is mostly shaded by the canopy of trees along the edge. I don’t often process my images as monochromatic – it just isn’t my cup of tea. I played around with the highlights and shadows on this image and finally settled on the conversion. I think it evokes the mood of what we were experiencing that morning. If you are looking for a good place to shoot in the coming weeks, I highly recommend a trip here. The flows are likely still very high and will make for some fantastic waterfall photography. Thanks for stopping by to have a look at my work. Hope you enjoy! 

Tech details: Nikon D810, 17-35mm f/2.8 lens @ 25mm. ISO 400, .7 sec at f/11, Singh Ray LB Polarizer, Induro Tripod.  

Morning Mist at Oneida Falls, Ricketts Glen State Park, PA © Rob Loughrey
Morning Mist at Oneida Falls, Ricketts Glen State Park, PA © Rob Loughrey

Wednesday inspiration

Hello everyone,

Just wanted to make a quick post and give everyone a little inspiration for the rest of the week. This image is from a recent trip I took to Great Falls, VA with a friend and fellow photographer Bob Clark. As most of you know, I make several trips a year to this location. For me it is a quick getaway and an amazing place to take in the amazing forces of nature. There aren’t any other locations nearby that can rival the mighty Potomac River as it approaches our Nations Capital. Even during spring or early summer, you can get to the park at a reasonable time and get setup prior to sunrise. This coming weekend looks like it would be a great time to visit. Don’t hesitate and get out there early! Hope you enjoy…

Daybreak - Great Falls National Park, VA © Rob Loughrey
Daybreak – Great Falls National Park, VA © Rob Loughrey

Springtime bliss

The first day of spring? Depending on where you are, it may not have looked too much like spring. Social media exploded with pictures of snow in the Northeast. Although spring is officially upon us, some areas take a bit longer to really feel like spring. I myself am looking forward to the fresh spring air, melting snow and budding trees. A trip to the mountains of central PA will be in order to some of my favorite waterfall locations. The best time for getting amazing shots of these locations is to be there before the sun is up. Crazy I know, but worth every minute. This is really important if you want to get some long exposures and don’t have those expensive neutral density filters. Being on site early allows you to spend time in the forest before the harsh sun gets too high and starts putting hots spots all over the place. High contrast images of waterfalls just don’t work that well in my opinion. If the day is going to be overcast, then you are in luck and can spend even more time getting excellent images. Make sure to bring a sturdy tripod and look at the scene from several different angles. This is a shot from last spring in Ricketts Glen State Park. The sun was just getting to the point where it was a problem. One trick I often use is to position myself so the sun is just behind a tree, branch or just at the top of the  frame.. With just a tiny fraction of the sun showing and a small aperture, the sun turns into a starburst and can give a really nice effect. A little post processing to expand the tonal range and enhance the colors and you have something to hang on the wall in your home. Happy shooting!

Springtime flow, Ricketts Glen State Park, PA © Rob Loughrey
Springtime flow, Ricketts Glen State Park, PA © Rob Loughrey

 

In the details

 

 

Hello everyone,

Just wanted to write a quick post to my fellow photographers and readers about a something that I feel is often overlooked when photographing a subject – working the scene or paying attention to the details. Whenever I’m out capturing images, I try to take my time (much to my family members dismay as they can attest) moving around the area before even taking my camera out. I look at the scene and think about what really made me stop and look at it in the first place. Have I seen images of this already? If so, can I tell where they were standing, was it a wide angle or telephoto being used? What time of day was it? What was the weather? All of these thoughts help me determine where to position myself to get a different position on the same subject. Often I will look closely at the little things in the area and just focus on those. In this case, a 25′ waterfall can be really impressive even with a wide angle. I have seen dozens of images of this falls, but none that I could recall that focused on the details of the water and rocks. I decided to change my lens to a 24-120mm zoom and focus on these details. With a long exposure, I was able to accentuate the water flowing over the rocks and create a very peaceful feel. Because this image was largely a high contrast scene already, I decided to convert to Black and White to enhance the elements. Next time you are out shooting, don’t forget to slow down, survey the scene and focus on the details. Hope you enjoy and as always, thanks for visiting!

© Rob Loughrey
© Rob Loughrey

Ricketts fog

Planning trips to Ricketts Glen State Park is usually based on the weather forecasts for me. Of course it is – you say, but not for the reasons you are thinking. For me, I prefer to be there when a storm has just passed or there are chances of fog in the area. Being in the forest such as Ricketts Glen during a time like this takes you to a different world. Low clouds transform the area into something so mysterious. Not being able to see distances that you are accustomed too makes that mystery. You know something is out there, you just don’t know what it is. As the sun rises, the fog begins to break, sometimes shining through in pieces, giving you crepuscular light rays or as some people like to call them – “God Beams”. Whatever your preference, this is an amazing way to experience the forest. Capturing this mood in photography is actually pretty easy believe it or not. The lighting is mostly even, except for the area of bright light where the sun shines through. All you need to do is meter your scene without the sun or rays of light in your image, lock in the exposure, recompose and shoot. If you are nervous about missing the shot, bracket your exposure both over and under. Last spring, I had some luck with the weather predicting and traveled there when the conditions looked ripe for a foggy morning. This shot is standing at the top of the 92′ Ganoga Falls looking down. I am really looking forward to spring! More to follow….

Foggy morning  at Ganoga Falls  - Ricketts Glen State Park, PA © Rob Loughrey
Foggy morning  at Ganoga Falls  – Ricketts Glen State Park, PA © Rob Loughrey

Fall Color – Pennsylvania Waterfalls

Hello all,
It has been a little while since I have had time to get out and photograph and post. Summer has passed and we are in full swing of Autumn now. I made a early morning trip to my one of my favorite spots a few days ago. The weather during the week at Ricketts Glen was showing dense fog for several days. On the 3rd day in a row, I decided to make the trek North. With it being the first week of October, I figured I had a good chance at fall color as well. During the entire drive through PA, it looked really promising. The temp and dew point collided and heavy fog was slowing my drive. I was amazed at how thick it was in some places – reminded me of being in Scotland again. It was great until I made the final turn onto Rt. 487 and I literally drove right out of the fog to the top of the mountain. All was not lost as there was a good cloud cover making for some great photography during my 6 hour hike. The flows were much lower than what I have seen before, but I still made the best of it. Here is a shot of B Reynolds Falls on the Glen Leigh side of the trail. I climbed all the way to the top of bottom of the falls (very slippery conditions) and found some fresh leaves to use in my foreground. I shot this looking back towards the bottom of the falls trying to include as much as possible of the fall color spectacular that was happening. Getting low to the ground with my tripod, I was constantly wiping my circular polarizer to remove the water drops. I was getting pretty wet myself from all of the splashing water. Well worth the effort though in my book. Hope you enjoy…

Fall Color at B Reynolds Falls - Ricketts Glen State Park, PA © Rob Loughrey