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Sunset at Wilcox Lake Using Google Nik Collection HDR Efex Pro 2

Who doesn’t love a beautiful sunset picture? I find that you can get gorgeous results when the horizon is visible, as at the beach, because then you are catching the sun just as it goes down over the horizon, with all colors blazing in different layers in the sky above. Of course, what colors show up depends on the atmospheric conditions (including, unfortunately, pollution) and the presence of clouds. But when the sun sets behind a hill and trees, you will sometimes catch only the colors in the layer of the sky that is visible above the tree line.

Keeping this in mind, I headed to Wilcox Lake up in Richmond Hill, Ontario, with the idea of shooting the sunset, if possible.

I verified on the Internet that sunset was at 8:18 p.m. that day, so I made sure I gave myself plenty of time to drive up to the place, find parking, and scope out the best location to shoot. Unless you’ve scoped out the place beforehand (which I unfortunately hadn’t), you may not quite know where exactly the sun is setting, especially when it’s cloudy. Looking toward the west, I could only see the glow but not the exact spot the sun would be setting. So, I scoped out a couple of locations that seemed interesting.

Lake Wilcox Park
There is a park close to Wilcox Lake, appropriately called Lake Wilcox Park. It is situated at the intersection of Bayview Avenue and Bethseda Side Road. If you are driving there, note that there are currently road constructions in the area so you may not be able to go straight up on Bayview Avenue (so use a GPS and give yourself plenty of time). Once you get there, you’ll find adequate parking, washroom facilities, water park, picnic areas, look out areas, and a board walk.

I had brought a tripod with me (because as the light falls, you need to use slower shutter speeds), but I found that I could not really use it, so hand-holding would be a challenge. I played around with exposure and eventually settled on an aperture of f/5.6, which required a shutter speed of 1/4 sec. and 1/8 sec. for the two shots that I eventually selected to merge together for the final picture. I dialed in an ISO of 200, set white balance to “Shade” and selected “Vivid” in Film Simulation mode (using my Fujifilm X-Pro1).

Here are the two shots:

1/4 sec., f/5.6, ISO 200

1/4 sec., f/5.6, ISO 200

In the first shot, I wanted to get some details of the scene. But the sunset itself is bland. I wanted more details but since I did not know where the sun would be setting exactly, I had to wait for the sky to darken appreciably before settling on an interesting location, and that is why the foreground is mostly dark. [The foreground is not dark because I metered on the bright part of the sky (which I did). It simply is getting dark, as the lighted lamp post attest to.]

1/8 sec., f/5.6, ISO 200

1/8 sec., f/5.6, ISO 200

In the second shot, I underexposed by using a slightly faster shutter speed, and though the scene darkens to the point that most details in the shadows are lost, the sunset colors look much better. It’s still isn’t that great but waiting longer meant that the colors were slowly disappearing below the tree line. Underexposing further resulted in more reddish colors.

Now, since this is just one stop underexposure, I could have just used the first shot, dial in the underexposure in Photoshop (or another image editing software), save that as a second layer, then do the merging. I also shot in RAW + JPEG, so I had quite some exposure leeway to play with here in post-processing.

I did not just shoot these two shots, but many more shots at different exposures and at a couple of different locations. More underexposure resulted in only a dark red layer, which did not look too interesting, so I decided not to use those shots.

As you can see, too many dark clouds are not a good thing, limiting the colors to a very narrow band. If you visit Lake Wilcox Park often in the evening (or live in one of the houses on Sunset Beach Boulevard that snakes along Wilcox Lake), you will probably be able to get the perfect sunset. If you want to share, send it in and we’ll publish it. If you also know where in the Greater Toronto Area (besides the lake downtown) one can shoot great sunsets, email me.

Some time ago, Google purchased Nik Collection and offered it as a free download (it’s still available). I never really made use of it, so I thought I’d give it a try as I wanted to automatically merge the two images I selected above.

The result:

You can see how much detail was recovered from the shadows in the JPEG files. There were various other options to choose from, some with darker foregrounds like in my first shot, but I thought that particular one above is closer to what I experienced as I watched the sun set.

So here are the steps I used, starting with Photoshop:

1. Open Photoshop and bring up HDR Efex Pro 2

File - Automate - Merge to HDR Efex Pro 2

File – Automate – Merge to HDR Efex Pro 2

2. Select files to merge

Click OPEN

Click OPEN

Select files to merge

Select files to merge

3. Click MERGE DIALOG

Click MERGE DIALOG

Click MERGE DIALOG

4. Create the HDR images

On this screen, you can select various options. I just used the default settings.

Click CREATE HDR

Click CREATE HDR

5. Select your preferred image

Select the image you prefer amd click OK

Select the image you prefer amd click OK

6. In Photoshop, perform any other processing and save

Back into Photoshop

Back into Photoshop

Although I used NIK Collection HDR Efex Pro 2, you can also use the PhotoMerge Exposure function in Photoshop or Photoshop Elements (PSE):

Same two images (+ 3rd underexposed 1 more stop) photomerged in PSE

Same two images (+ 3rd underexposed 1 more stop) photomerged in PSE

Here are a couple of other shots, processed through HDR Efex Pro 2:

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