Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Reflections on Shenandoah River

Shenandoah River near Front Royal, West Virginia, July 11, 2016. Twelve panel panorama (2 rows x 6 columns), Canon 550D, Rokinon 16mm f/2.0 lens @ f/2.0, exposures 30 sec @ ISO1600.
I captured this view of the Milky Way over the Shenandoah River near Front Royal, West Virginia last month while on a trip to Washington DC. Since the only patch of clear-ish sky on the east coast was forecast just 90 minutes from my hotel, I dropped my bags off around 11 pm and drove west. The situation looked rather bleak while leaving DC. I could only spot a handful of stars through the light pollution and moonlight scattering off high level clouds. Undeterred, I left the city, arriving at the Shenandoah River as the moon set. The sky had cleared somewhat and the Milky Way was visible, but light pollution still brightened the sky in the direction of the city.

I really like this stretch of the river. There are several public access points where folks were still awake, camping and fishing. I could hear their voices echoing down the river while I worked. This photo is a 12 panel panorama, 2 rows x 6 columns, each 30 seconds in duration. While I worked on capturing the panels, a possum munched on a bag of garbage that someone had left on the riverbank, just ten feet to my right. He scared the crap out me when he showed up out of the darkness and broke the silence with hair-raising crunching sounds. I hastily grabbed my flashlight and blasted it the direction of the noises only to find two small, silvery eyes staring back at me. We stared at each other for a good minute before he slowly began munching again. It seemed we each agreed to mind our own business so I got back to work.

The yellow glow of light pollution really bugged me with this image, so I decide to present it in monochrome. I made use of the color information to suppress the yellows in the sky while converting which helped I suppose. Altogether I think it came out ok. I was shooting for an old-timey look which hearkens to whisky jugs and banjo pickin’, but I don’t think it quite happened. Despite my grumbles about light pollution, it was a memorable night by the river and West Virginia is always a wild and wonderful experience.

-- Revised 9/29/2016, added sepia tone.

Processing Workflow
(LR) Lightroom, (ICE) Microsoft Image Composite Editor, (PS) Photoshop CC
1. Raw conversion: correct lens distortion, exposure -1.0, blacks +30, export individual panels as sRGB 16-bit .tiffs (LR)
2. Stitch panels (ICE, spherical projection)
3. Duplicate image layer so one is for foreground, the other sky
4. Convert to foreground to black and white via adjustment layer (PS, channel mixer, monochrome R,G,B +40,+60,+0)
5. Convert to sky to black and white via adjustment layer (PS, channel mixer, monochrome R,G,B +30,+35,+35)
6. Increase foreground brightness (PS, brightness adjustment layer, mask selecting foreground)
7. Increase foreground brightness (PS, exposure adjustment layer, mask selecting foreground)
8. Contrast curve to sky (PS, curves adjustment layer, mask selecting sky)
9. Convert to smart object to allow subsequent steps in PS
10. Local contrast enhancement (PS, unsharp mask, amount 15%, radius 100 pixels)
11. Noise reduction (LR, luminance 20, detail 70)
12. Increase exposure because saving to jpeg darkens image.(LR, exposure +0.18)
13. Darken sky slightly (LR, tone curve, darks -7, shadows +18)
14. Give the stars some punch (LR, clarity +10)
15. Apply sepia toning with a gradient map adjustment layer (PS, Sepia 2, opacity 25%)