I took this image on a recent business trip down to Melbourne. We were staying in the CBD, and I packed my tripod and camera gear in the hope of capturing an image just like the one above. I’m quite pleased with the result, and am looking forward to continue refining my technique of blending multiple exposures. I cover this briefly below, and will be sharing my process here in more detail in an upcoming tutorial.
Step 1: Blending Multiple Exposures
This technique is a clever way to produce long exposures and, as mentioned, I’ll go through the process in more detail in a later tutorial. But essentially, this method helps to combine together a number of individual exposures into one single exposure through post-processing. This alleviates the need for a neutral density filter or having to shoot in low-light conditions to produce long exposures.
On location I shot 5 identical, 2 second exposures one after the other. The structures remained steady, however both the river in the foreground and the clouds overhead were moving between shots. I then processed all 5 images in Photoshop, converted them to a Smart Object, and took the mean of the set of photos.
Think back to your school days (don’t worry, you can forget about them again in a moment), and remember how you used to take the average of a group of numbers? Well this technique essentially does the same for each pixel in your image, taking the average from your set of images. As the structures remained stationary between photos and didn't change, they remained crisp and clear in the final photo. Whereas with both the river & clouds moving between photos, they appear smooth & silky in the final image, to produce the long exposure.
Step 2: General Adjustments
After saving the image back into Lightroom, I began my standard editing adjustments of: cropping and levelling, fixing the white balance (+yellow, +magenta), exposure increase (when shooting, I slightly underexposed the images so as to not burn out the highlights too much) and a contrast boost.
I then sought to raise up the shadows to help bring out the detail in the buildings and on the river bank, and brought down the highlights to recover some of the gorgeous morning sky. Vibrancy and saturation were boosted slightly to emphasise the colour in the sunrise. Sharpness was increased and then I was able to easily eliminate chromatic aberration using Lightroom’s Remove Chromatic Aberration tool.
Step 3: Local Adjustments
While I did underexpose the image when composing, when I viewed the photo back in Lightroom I found the sky to be still slightly overexposed. I then applied a Graduated Filter to the sky, bringing down the exposure and highlights to recover some further detail in the clouds. I also adjusted the white balance slightly to emphasise the magenta in the sunrise.
I found the riverbank and buildings still too dark, (even after boosting overall exposure), and so used the Adjustment Brush tool to select the areas I wished to lighten (tip: holding down alt on the Brush tool allows you to remove the selection, helping to refine the selection’s edge). I then raised shadows, and gave the selected area more warmth too as the buildings had a strong blue cast.
Finally, while the exposure blending in Photoshop allowed me to increase the smoothness in the water, I wished to increase this effect further. I used an Adjustment Brush again to select the river, and brought down clarity & sharpness to give the water a more silky look.
I hope that you found this tutorial (my first!) informative. I’ve included below the original and final images for comparison.