How to create Color Harmonies

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In 2018 I only made one blog post for Caught in Pixels. I did write a handful for though. But 2018 was in many ways a strange year. Far too many things happened in my life and very little time was available for writing blog posts.

It is an ambition of mine, is that 2019 will be different. My goal is to write more blog posts for

The first topic I thought I would cover is Color Harmony. It is something, that I have spent some time investigating and understanding over the past couple of years and have become increasingly fascinated by it. It is something that you can use intentionally and it can make quite dramatic changes to the perception of a photo.

Color theory and color harmony were formalized by painters way back long before the invention of any camera let alone cameras that could take colored photos. Nevertheless, it is still highly relevant and also to photographers.

When you have begun to understand color harmonies, you will see them anywhere you look. You will find them in commercial photos, old and new paintings, movies – literally everywhere.

When you photograph cityscapes and landscapes like I mostly do, you can sometimes find natural color harmonies and photograph them, but more often than not you can’t control the colors of the environment.

You can make some choices on what to include and what not include, but the general mix of colors you can’t change at the time of photographing. Sometimes, you can change the time which you photograph, like nighttime, daytime, blue hour, golden hour, autumn, summer, spring, and winter, but even that is not always possible and you get what you get.

Very often you end up with photos that are not in perfect color harmony and you will have to create that in the post-process. That is what this blog post is about.

Colors and moods

Colors can change the mood of an image. Colors like yellow, orange and red are considered warm because they give a warm feeling. Blue and cyan, on the other hand, are cold colors. You can intentionally use warm or cold colors to make your image convey the mood you want it to.

A good and simple way to change the mood is to simply to shift the white balance either towards the warmer or colder temperatures. This can often also push the image towards a color harmony, as you will see later.

What is a color harmony?

Color Harmonies are colors that look good together. There are many different systems to create a color harmony. Adobe has one that is free and very easy to use. The online version of it is available at, but you can also download it to Photoshop as a plugin. Basically, it is the same tool.

The Adobe color wheel shows how the Red, Green and Blue (RGB) colors can be mixed to any color. On the opposite side of the wheel you can see the complementary color. The complementary colors to the primary colors are:

Blue has Orange as complementary color.

Red has Green as complementary color.

Yellow has Purple as complementary color.

The purpose of this article is not to explain Color Theory in details, but rather to show how change the colors of a photo to have a color harmony. If you want to get a deeper explanation of Color Theory and Color Harmonies, I find Blender Guru’s video very explanatory.

In Adobe’s color tool you can put together 5 colors based on a Color Harmony Model and those colors will be a good match. If you pick Triad as shown below you get three hues with an equally distance on the color wheel. You can then drag the colors around the wheel and get different sets of colors. The two additional colors you get (to make it five), are shades of two of the colors, in the example it is red and blue respectively.

On the left you have a number of color harmony types.

By fiddling around you can find various color harmonies that you like and try to use them in your photos. It also holds a huge library of Color Harmonies, which you can if you like. Personally I don’t use them.

Color harmony is a bit like a chord in music. You can make some that are more harmonious than others, but somehow, they always fit together.

A compound Color Harmony.
Analogeous Color Harmony.

What you find out after having used color harmonies consciously for a little while, is that as soon as you get a color harmony, something incredibly amazing happens to your photo. It’s like it reaches another level and gets pleasing and calm. It is not without a reason it is called Color Harmony.

In some cases, it can be the difference between ‘just a photo’ and a pretty cool photo. Another er weird thing is that the colors do not even have to match reality … not at all!

Have a look at this photo from in a forest in Denmark. This mist will never look that color, yet, because the color of the mist is in harmony with the leaves and it works out just great.

How to Create a Color Harmony?

The trick is to twist the colors into a color harmony. This can be done in many different ways and it is called color grading.

I will show you a couple of easy ways available in Lightroom to color grade your images. This is the before and the after:

My goal with this image was to get a dark and warm ‘feel-good’ forest image. I did some simple basic image editing before I began working with the colors.

Basic Image editing used + a vignette.

White Balance

Normally you would probably not see White Balance as a color grading technique, but it does change the colors of a photo.

The colors straight of the camera are on the cold side, but by shifting the White Balance towards the warmer segment it gets closer to what I want.

I suggest that you begin by adjusting the White Balance, because it makes it a lot easier later on.

The White Balance has been warmed slightly, to push the colors more into the Yellow and Orange color range, in which I want the image to end up in.

Color Adjustments using HSL

There are so many different ways to tune your color harmony, one of the best and simplest yet also most effective ways is use the Hue, Saturation, and Luminosity (HSL) panel in Lightroom.

The HSL panel, not surprisingly from the name, allows you to change the hue and saturation (and luminosity) of individual colors and this way you can nudge them into a color harmony.

In the example below I have used exactly the same basic image editing on both images (highlights, shadows and contrast), except for White Balance and HSL settings.

After having adjusted the White Balance you go to the HSL / Color panel in Lightroom and begin to push the Hue sliders to the left and right accordingly to what you want to achieve. Below I have pushed the colors towards Orange and Yellow.

These two photos have exactly the same editing, except for the White Balance and the HSL (Hue, Saturation and Luminosity) settings. Notice that there is a much better color harmony in the photo on the right.

Then you adjust the saturation to balance the saturation or take out a color of the equation. I remove some of the Blue because I found it too dominant.

The image on the left is not bad, but the one on the right has a better balance – a better harmony. It not only because it is warmer it also has a subtle, yet important, color balance.

These are the HSL settings I used:

In the Hue section you can see that I have pushed Yellows towards Orange and Green towards Yellow. This warms up, and makes it more Orange-ish. The Aqua I have pushed towards Blue, the complimentary color of Orange. And then I have biased the saturation to something pleasing.

The White Balance is a part of the equation above, but I can take it out of the equation by making the same warmer White Balance settings on both images. Now you see the difference the HSL settings do.

The photo on the left now has the same White blance. It still doesn’t have the same harmony in the colors, as the right one has.

Essentially there is no right and wrong, but if you want to achieve a perfect color harmony, you can get a lot out of the HSL panel, by tuning the individual colors.

Some images will need more bending than what the HSL will allow, and then you will have to turn to other methods, like local changes using brushes and gradients or even taking the image into Photoshop.

Split toning to add color harmony

You may have heard of split toning. It is a more creative way to work with your colors and it can be very dramatic, but it is a tool you should use with care.

Split Toning is a process where you add one color to the highlights and add another color to the shadows. If you do it in a subtle way, it will hardly be noticeable, but it can make a difference. If you do it more aggressively it will make a strong impact on your image, for better or worse.

You can create Split Toning in many different was. In Lightroom, it is very easy from the Split Toning panel.

In the first example, I have first turned it into black and white photo and then I have colored it using the Split Toning. I have added an yellow/orange color to the highlights and a bluish color to the shadows.

Black and white photo split toned with Yellow in the highlights and Blue in the shadows.

And these are the settings.

Add yellow-ish to the highlights and blue to the shadows. I used a black and white photo to make the color grading very easy to see.

The colors you add, might not be natural even if they are very pleasing to the eye. This is a creative decision for you to make.

Here is another example. Same principle – first black and white, and then split toning it.

Split toning using Yellow for highlights and Purple for shadows.

While split toning is an incredibly powerful tool and can be used to create fantastic creative colored photos it is not always enough to create color harmony.

My personal preference is to use Split Toning later in the process to see if it can add just that spice, that makes the difference.

I have a strong belief about image editing: you cannot do everything in one big step. The is no silver bullet, no one-button image processing. It is the many small steps, that may be tiny, that adds up to the big change.

In the example below, the same split toning is added to the colored version of the photo. It changes the photo into a warmer photo.

On the left without split toning and on the right the same split toning as above, just on the colored version of the photo.

And if you look at Color Harmony, it is the one showed earlier.


Time travelling photos

Mound Sunset and Stars

A Mound, stars and sunset.

I have had the photo of the beautiful clouds and the old rock formation on the mound lying around for a couple of years. Once in a while, I have tried to process it, but I always found that the photo lacked something.

A couple of days ago I got the idea to mix in some stars above the clouds and then darken the clouds some. That did the trick and finally, I had a finished photo.

In a way, it is a bit like my “Time compressed” photos, as I am portraying photos from two different times of the day, but the difference is, that these two are not shot on the same location. The stars are from Norway and the clouds and ground from Røsnæs in Denmark.

If you have a photo that is lacking something, don’t give up. If you have some quality, but just a missing piece, try to solve that piece. I find such task immensely fun and that is where the creativity sparkles.

To get inspired, look at other photographers photos and suddenly you might find the muse that you need.


How to photograph something classic

Leaving Eltz Castle by a Car

Eltz Castle in Germany.

How do you shoot a unique photo of something that one million others have shot before you? It’s tricky and it requires preparation and patience, and in the end, the result may “just” be your version of a classic shot.

For a long time I have wanted to take a photo of Eltz Castle in Germany and finally, I got the chance when I came back by car from my exhibition in Paris.

I really wanted to have one that I had not seen before, but it has been shot to death and therefore no easy task. There is quite a steep walk down from the parking lot and the first time you see the castle is from a viewpoint you pass as you walk down.

As preparation, I had watched other photographer’s photos of the castle and studied the paths around the castle at OpenStreetMap has a lot more details than Google Maps when it comes to paths and hiking routes. In short, I had some kind of idea how to area was arranged and the viewpoint was high on my list of potential shooting locations for my hopefully unique shot.

All shots I looked at when I Googled Eltz Castle without exception was shot at daytime, at various times of the year. I realized I could shoot a night time shot and that alone would make it a special photo and that was my plan.

I arrived well in advance of when I planned to shoot my “photo”. That is always a good thing to arrive in good enough time, to allow you to search the area for compositions as well as be prepared for the light.

I examined the different places to shoot the castle and shot various compositions. After having taken the classic pictures in … classic light (ie daylight), I decided to use the viewpoint. There are probably 10,000 photographers who have got a nice picture home from there, but I prepared myself to wait for the light.

When I had waited for 30 minutes I realized that I had forgotten my jacket in the car. Mental note for later: Always bring warm enough clothes. As the light dimmed the cold came too and the wind felt really cold and I still had a couple of hours ahead of me.

As I waited the clouds began to clear somewhat, from a total clouded sky to something with holes. That was good. A very nice little moon appeared, but of course outside the frame and the composition would suffer too much if I tried including it, so I ignored it.

After hours, the staff began cleaning up and driving back up using the shuttle bus.

Finally, they lit the light on the castle and just as I thought that I had shot the last shot, a car came up from behind the castle and while it picked up the last group of people, I set the camera to a 20 second exposure and I got my picture of Eltz Castle, which I have not seen before.

Sony A7RII, 24-70 f/4

EXIF: ISO 50, f / 8, 24mm and 20 seconds.


Aurora HDR 2018 – the honest review

Hallstatt in the morning

Hallstatt in Austria. Edited in Aurora HDR 2018. 0% Photoshop used and 1% Lightroom used.

Initially, when Aurora HDR came out two years ago I was very intrigued by the software. No doubt the makers of Aurora MacPhun have put themselves in a good position, by allying themselves with one of the HDR giants Trey Ratcliff. But, after the first initial rush of interest, I was deeply disappointed.

I did go into the software with a very open mind. I am a software addict and I love to use new software. However, I instantly ran into trouble. It was Mac only, I had Windows. I did have a 4-year-old MacBook Air. The biggest 2011 model, 4 Gb ram and i7 CPU. Powerful enough to run Photoshop, Photomatix, and Lightroom. Not the fastest car on the highway, but certainly working.

But, starting the first version of Aurora HDR with a 36-megapixel image was impossible. I then downscaled the images to about 12 megapixels and I was able to start the application, but I ended up waiting until I got a MacBook Pro.

On my fully loaded, top of the line, all maxed out MacBook Pro I still found Aurora HDR was extremely slow. Whenever I did anything it took seconds and some operations took up to a minute. I timed it and filmed it.

I did make a couple of OK-ish images and I did a review while still biased by the hype. But, as soon as the smoke did clear I was not overly happy to work with the tool. It was far too slow and the results were not always satisfying.

Aurora 2017 arrived

What? Do I have to buy a new version? Not just an update? All of my other tools for Photoshop come with free updates. That didn’t feel right. Particularly, because the first version was more of a Beta than an actual working tool. And looking at all of the praise on the internet and feeling the hype, I thought “This is the Emperors New Clothes”. They were selling a turd as if it was the greatest pumpkin pie ever made.

Anyway, I bought 2017 reluctantly. The speed issues were mostly gone, which was good. A new luminosity feature had arrived, not very fast though, but most things were snappy enough.

I tested the quality of the tool, but I was deeply disappointed by the tool itself. It generated halos no matter what I did and I could not really get rid of them. The brush left strong edges between the layers, making it even harder to work with.

Once in a while, I have tried to process a photo in Aurora 2017 just to be sure, but I never liked what came out of it and I simply stopped using it.

The hype was still going on. To me, Aurora HDR 2017 seemed just as much The Emporers New Clothes as the first version.

Aurora 2018 – I have to pay – again?

I almost didn’t buy it.

Come on, make a subscription out of it! It is ridiculous to buy a new version every year!

Being so disappointed with the two initial versions I had almost given up on it. But being the software addict that I am, I bought it and in short, I was deeply impressed.

Let’s begin with a screenshot:

This is a 5 exposure bracketed image series and I have merged the 5 images and nothing else. I have touched no sliders. This is the clean HDR merge that Aurora HDR does. Notice the very strong dark halos on the left, which is the 2017 version. It is that type of halos that torments almost any image in Aurora 2017, almost no matter what you do.

I have tried to make counteractions to get rid of the halos or try to hide them, but it shouldn’t be that way. Almost all tools can generate halos if you go over the top, but not out of the box. This is what Aurora HDR is put in the world to do. Merge exposure bracketed photos to something decent.

Almost all tools can generate halos if you go over the top, but not out of the box. This is what Aurora HDR is put in the world to do. Merge exposure bracketed photos to something decent.

On the right there is you can see the new Aurora HDR 2018 merge and not only, does it not have the nasty halos, it also does a very clean and nice merge. That has changed my mind entirely on Aurora HDR. At least the software now does, what it is supposed to do.

Edit: To be very strict the merge in Aurora HDR 2018 is not 100% perfect. Halos are just so soft and big, that you have to look for them and it is very easy to work with. I don’t believe in “press a button processing”. I believe what comes out of any HDR tool has to be blended with the original photos to achieve a perfect HDR photo. There is no silver bullet.

A few other very nice new details that I like:

  • The speed has improved even more. I would go so far as to call it very snappy and responsive in most respects, even on my 42-megapixel images. They have certainly worked on optimizing the speed. It does get slower as you add more layers, but then again so does Photoshop. I have triggered something that requires heavy calculating, but mostly it is snappy.
  • There are the necessary tools to finalize a photo in Aurora HDR 2018. You have:
    • Transform features to correct perspectives. However, this feature is only available at certain times which makes it very confusing to figure out. A good beginning, but there is room for improvement.
    • Crop tool.
    • The Heal tool is an external tool that requires an additional license, but it is accessible from Aurora. You can also just remove the spots when you bring the photo back to Lightroom.

Other improvements that I like

  • The brush is soft enough to make nice blends between layers. In 2017 clear edges appeared around the brush, which was another reason not to use Aurora 2017.
  • Original images are not apart of the new file format, which I guess is fine if you don’t need them. You can load them if you need them. Edit: This has been fixed in a later update.

What I don’t like

  • The merge is very clean and the halos are super soft, if there at all. The images do tend to be a bit flat. That is normal behavior for HDR software and you will have to process the image more, to add depth back into the image. The best way to achieve this is by blending in the original images.
  • Minor things that I find annoying, like:
    • There is no “Save as…” feature – but why not?
    • Some features are located in strange places, like for instance the Transform.
    • No preview from Finder or Bridge. A small thing, but it just would make it easier to handle Aurora HDR files in a workflow.
  • Call it a software subscription instead of a new paid version every year. I don’t mind paying for a subscription, at least I know it’s a subscription.

Who is Aurora HDR 2018 the right tool for?

When you begin to use a tool, that does a lot automatically, like Aurora HDR 2018 does, you also have to accept that it has a distinct and recognizable style.

Aurora HDR has a distinct style and you have to do some work, to get rid of it, just like you would with any other tool. That doesn’t make it a bad tool if you like what you get out of it.

Aurora HDR is capable of producing high-quality HDR photos, without the nasty halos the first two versions created. It is packed with a lot various effect tools, like Radiance, Glow, HSL panel, Split toning panel, various HDR structure sliders, vignette tool as well as old plain contrast, highlights shadows and white and black sliders. You also have the Luminosity masks available. In short, it is a pretty full package.

So, who is this tool for? Anyone how likes to shoot HDR photos and who might feel that dancing with Photoshop is too difficult, but Lightroom is not enough.

Aurora HDR 2018 is finally ready for real use and it is a full package, that can produce final images, maybe with the exception of removing dust spots.

Will this be my tool of choice? For some things, absolutely, but not solely. Why? Because I love to work in Photoshop and some of the highly advanced things I like to do in Photoshop, are not available in Aurora HDR. I love to post-process the images. I don’t necessarily want the fastest route through the forest. That is just how I am. You may feel different.





Voigtlander 15mm FE in action in Barcelona

The Cathedral by the Sea

Basilica de Santa Maria del Mar in Barcelona. A vertical panorama of two stiched photos.

I am a total wide angle lens addict and I have much more than I actually need, but they serve different purposes and have different strengths and weaknesses.

The Voigtländer SUPER WIDE-HELIAR 15mm III is one of my favorites, even if it has some limits. The most obvious advantage is the size of this lens. It is super small and it is a perfect match for a Sony alpha FE camera, like Sony A7R or Sony A7RII.

The build quality is solid, but due to the small size, the weight doesn’t run off, even if it is all metal and glass. That makes it great for traveling light.

What I also like about it, is that being a prime, it is super easy to focus. I just crank it all the way to one side and it is focused at infinity, which often is good enough. With a little practice I have even found the amount I have to twist contra to get to the hyperfocal point.

I work a lot in the dark and focusing can sometimes be a hassle, because the lenses hunt. But the Voigtländer is super easy. Of course, it does not offer autofocus, but for my line of photography, this is no problem, as long as infinity focus is easy.

It does come with soft corners at f/4.5, but even at f/5.6 this improves and at f/8 it is reasonably sharp across all of the frame. It is not as sharp as my Zeiss Batis 18mm f/2.8, which is insanely sharp, but plenty sharp to be working seriously with. The Zeiss is just in a league of its own, and it is twice the price.

The most obvious drawback is that it is a slow lens. It is only f/4.5. But, when I attach it to my Sony A7RII, which has image stabilization in the house, I can handheld 1/8 of a second, if I concentrate. This makes it possible to shoot HDR photos indoor, in fairly low light conditions.

A Lady in the Boys Choir

Hand held at ISO 1600 and f/4.5 using image stabilization. Slowest exposure is 1/8 of a second.

This photo from the Cathedral of Barcelona, I have handheld three shots at 1/125, 1/30 and 1/8 of a second, at f/4.5 and ISO 1600 on Sony A7RII. Here is a 100% crop of the 1/8:

This is the unedited RAW, without sharpness and noise reduction applied. This is highly usable, even the noise levels are well under control, thanks to the amazing Sony A7RII.

I also find it very resistant to flares, compared to some of my other wide angle lenses. Flares are a part of a life with wide angle lenses, but I rarely get frustrated when I use the Voigtländer 15mm.

The lens allows screw on filters, but you can’t remove the lens hood and attach a filter system. As I started out with, the various wide angle lenses have their strengths and weaknesses. For that reason, I also have the Zeiss Batis 18mm f/2.8, which allows 77mm filters to be attached, and I can use my Lee filters on that.

I always carry my 15mm Voightländer with my Sony cameras, because it is so small and easy to bring along.



Visiting Liverpool

The Entrance to Button Street in Liverpool

The entrance to the area where The Cavern is located.

Liverpool has a strong history in many ways. It has football, shipyard industry and the music to mention a few. The Beatles came out of Liverpool and in particular, one club is known for having the Beatles playing there, and that is the Cavern.

In particular, The Beatles have put a lot of footprints in the Button Street and Mathew Street area, where The Cavern is located. The Cavern as it was back when The Beatles played there, does not exist anymore, due to construction work. But a new Cavern has been built in some of the original areas. Whether that is kind of fake or good enough I think is a subjective matter.

To me, The Cavern was a bit over the top touristic wise, but the rooms were pretty cool and gave an impression of how it might have looked back then.

We went on a Beatles tour too, with our own cab with a knowledgeable guy from Fab4Tours. There is a huge amount of mythology and The Beatles stories. Some are just good stories but have got nothing to do with the real world. Sorting out what is real and what is not, is hard work or impossible work. Fab4Tours have tried to find into the core what supposedly is the truth.

But seeing Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields and how they relate to the songs is quite fantastic.

This photo I shot at the entrance to the party area. It is a 3 shot HDR I shot on my new FujiFilm X100F. Did I mention, that I love that camera?


Long Exposure photography on Sony A7R

Kastrup Søbad

Kastrup Søbad which is located in Greater Copenhagen.

This location in Greater Copenhagen I have had on my to do list for quite a while. This particular day, I wanted to test my Lee filters on my Sony A7R using the Sony Zeiss 24-70 f/4 lens. Normally I use my filters on my Nikon camera, because they have the 77mm size that fits my adapter ring. But I have bought a 67mm adapter ring and had a 67mm -> 62mm step down ring, which made it possible to use my filter kit on the 24-70 f/4.

I had an upcoming UK trip and I seriously considered leaving the D800 at home, and stick to my Sony’s, due to the much smaller size and a little more flexibility on the lenses, by carrying only one system.

As it turned out this evening, the Sony A7R did very well with the filters and long exposures. This photo is a 79 seconds exposure and I have no complaints about the quality of the image.

For the shoot I used a 6-stop Lee filter, also called The Little Stopper, and then a 2-stop soft ND-grad.

The Sea Pool is lit until 2300 hours, which I didn’t know. I arrived with the lights on, and I thought it was fantastic with lights on. A bit difficult to shoot, due to the extreme dynamic range, but a challenge. Then suddenly they turned out the light and I thought, that that was that. I shot two shots more, mostly because I just found a composition that I liked. And I shot them without the lights. This being one of them.

As it turned out the ones without the light are by far the best. Learnings to take with me: Even when the moment seems gone, don’t despair, you might get something else, maybe even better.



Fujifilm X100F is a great camera but…

Morning View of Åre Skisport Resort

Åre early in the morning seen from my hotel room.

It was a Fuji X100 that in 2012 was one-half of the cause to start my photo disease. That is the sickness in which one is driven to take the next bold photo.

A lot has happened since 2017. I have moved to first DSLRs and later I included mirrorless cameras. But even the mirrorless cameras are not pocketable, the X100 was.  , but I was very pleased when there was finally a

The X100 had two major limitations, which meant that I didn’t use it terribly much. First of all, the sensor was 12 megapixels, which was only just enough. And not enough for cropping. Second, it only did -1, 0 and +1 in bracketing, which is rarely enough to shoot the HDR scenes that I shoot.

But when the X100F got out, I was happy. Finally – 24 megapixel and -2, 0 and +2 autoexposure bracketing, and still the amazing image quality. I bought it instantly and I love it very much. The smallest camera I have, fast and amazing image quality. I have used that diligently since then.

I shot the image on top, with my X100F from my hotel room in Åre, Sweden. It is a panoramic picture consisting of 3 pictures. I actually had much bigger ambitions with this image than I managed. I would have made a ‘compressed time’ picture, in which I merged pictures together, to show time from when it was completely dark until it was bright.

But, the fantastic little X100F came in short. Funny, because it can easily take time lapse pictures for hours. Even bracketed. The camera also has Manual focus, which works great by the way. First I tried using autofocus, but fair enough, it was nearly pitch dark. The camera could not focus. Instead, I switched to manual focus. But it made a funny mechanical sound after each photo. After having lied in my bed, I eventually got up and checked. All of the images where slightly out of focus.

Then I looked out of the window and thought ‘this is pretty damn nice – I will just shoot a panorama’ – and the result is at the top.

Time compressed photo

A night I picked up my Nikon D800 and put that up for time lapse photography. The good old real DSLR does not play any of the funky electronic games. This image below is 5 hours compressed into one image.

A Mountain Sunset in Sweden

Åre in Sweden in a time compressed photo.


Copenhagen waking up

Copenhagen waking up

Waking up in Copenhagen.

On my way to the dentist one early morning, I suddenly noticed this reflection. I have crossed Kultorvet in Copenhagen hundreds of times. But I have never seen the reflection. I had 15 minutes for shooting photos. I learned the reason why I had never seen the reflection before. just as I was finishing up. It is a fountain, and I had to jump off not to get wet.

Sky replacement can change the mood

Mountain Range and the Lake

Mountain Range and the Lake, New Zealand, 2012.

I don’t have as many landscapes as I would like in my portfolio. In some ways this is frustrating but in other ways, this gives me a lot of fun and artistic opportunities.

Recently I searched my New Zealand photos. I was there in 2012 on a family trip and for that reason true landscape photo opportunities were limited. By true landscape photography opportunities, I mean when you get up early at the right location and have all the time in the world, to wait for the weather to behave. I had a couple of those situations and I am very happy with the results.

New Zealand is packed with beautiful landscape and when I was not driving I often shot photos through the window of our mobile home. It requires a bit of practice to predict an upcoming scene and capturing it. But I managed to get a few. I noticed this photo and thought it had a bit of potential. There is a streak of

Recently, I noticed this photo and thought it had a bit of potential. There is a streak of sunlight on the mountain, which makes the whole difference. We drove past Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea on this day and the light didn’t really play ball with me. But this one is slightly different, because of the sunlight on the mountain. However, the sky was not too good and the wind kind of ruined the water.

The original unedited (except for the crop) shows how much I have changed it. I replaced the sky with a more interesting sky I shot back home. Some time ago I began to shoot interesting clouds when I see some, just in case. This allowed me to try out several different clouds for this image.

What I searched for, was sky and clouds that could add something to the photo in terms of color and light and as well as play a part in the composition. I ended up using this one with pinkish clouds on the left. This is another one of the candidates I considered. I love the cloud formation, it looks almost like a dragon I think, however it is not a perfect match with the rest of the composition.

The replacement itself required a bit of tedious work along the snow-clad in the mountains. It is difficult for selection tools to tell the difference between white snow and white clouds. The eye can see the difference and I had to mask it manually.

When I had decided for the pinkish clouds I noticed a big difference in the colors of the image. The colors of the mountains looked too much like the late afternoon it was and not as a closer to sunset image. I needed to tweak the colors of the mountains and perhaps the water. There are many different ways to do it, I settled for using the gradient adjustment layer in Photoshop.

  1. I added the Gradient Adjustment layer.
  2. Then I changed the blend mode to Color. This affects the colors of the image, but not the tonality.
  3. Then I chose to colors from the clouds for the color gradient. I fiddled a bit with them, to get the right colors. And as you can see it added a nice purple hue to the area where the sun shines. Just what I had hoped for.

From here I worked with the contrasts and the water. I did a semi-motion blur on the water, to smooth out the contrasts a bit and make it look a bit like a long exposure.

These tricks place the image in the landscape category, but it is also more than that. My tricks add something unnatural to the image, which I like and it matches the game I play as an artist. Balancing on the ridge between the valley of the reality and the valley of surrealism.

This photo was great fun to make and it made me happy 🙂