I recently got up early to beat the crowds up to a popular hiking spot called West Fork in Oak Creek Canyon. But apparently I didn’t get up early enough — the parking lot was already lined up out to the street by the time I arrived.

Lucky me! It pushed me to try a new spot on the creek. I love it when a plan falls apart. Here’s the result.

Hike

From a pullout on the side of the road, I scrambled down the hill to the creek. Armed with my tripod, cameras and lenses I moved along the creek banks.

I choose a spot that looked deep down the waterway and showed some depth. My lens choice was the M.Zukio 12-100mm f/4, because it allowed me to work many different compositions of the scene. It has a similar field of view to a 24-200mm full frame lens.

Exposure

One thing I have been doing lately is slightly to severely overexposing the scene when in challenging lighting conditions. I find overexposure gives the highest quality pixels and me greatest latitude.

In the past, with what I thought was a good exposure, left me with blocked up blacks and noise in deep shadow areas. It calls for a bit more work in post-production, but it’s more than worth the extra time.

oak creek raw image
Image Straight Out of Camera. Overexposed a bit to avoid blocking up shadows

Being on the water I like to deploy the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III Live ND feature — which creates a look representing a Neutral Density (ND) filter. In this case with slow moving water, it helped to smooth out the creek a bit. The filter works by making five exposures and blending the moving bits together.

Fotopro carbon fiber waterproof tripod deployed in the creek to get a better angle.

A 25-second exposure calls for a steady tripod, so I relied on the Fotopro Eagle E6L. This is a light yet sturdy carbon fiber tripod with dust and waterproof legs. I like the quick level ball head for making leveling adjustments without having to adjust the legs.

The final exposure took a little over two minutes. Luckily for me, there was not a breeze stirring in the predawn hour.

Post-production

Layers palette showing most of the processing.

The image was processed two separate times in Adobe Camera RAW; once each for shadows and highlights. Layered together, these images were blended using Raya Pro luminosity masks.

There are a number of luminosity mask extensions available. I like the one put out by Jimmy McIntyre. He has a free panel version and a full extension panel that make more selection possibilities available.

Following the blending of exposures a bit of cleanup was needed. Small changes were made using the Clone Stamp, Spot Healing Brush and Patch Tools. Additional work was done on the shadows and highlights with Soft Light Layers to dodge and burn, which adds additional depth and dimension.

All layers were merged for a trip to Luminar 4. The Mystical filter was employed in addition to some enhancement with structure.

A small bit of Gaussian blur is added to it’s own layer and masked in. It was added to the trees in the distance.

The final

Here’s a look at the final image. A bit of selective sharpening and more Soft Light Layer dodging and burning completed the process.

Yours in Creative Photography, Bob