Michael Breitung Photography

Behind the Shot – Marinha Night

Last October I visited Portugal for two weeks. One of those I spent in a town called Benagil. It was the perfect location to explore the magnificent coastline of the Algarve and in close proximity to Praia da Marinha.

When I did my research prior to the trip photos of Praia da Marinha instantly appeared during my photo searches. This place is a dream for seascape photography. Unfortunately the tides weren’t favourable for shooting the rocks down at the beach when I was there. So I scouted for alternatives up on the cliffs.

I found a promising location at the western end of the beach. A view including all the sea stacks, perfectly framed by sandstone cliffs. My thoughts were racing, picturing how impressive this scene would look under a glowing sky. I made a commitment to myself that within the week I would photograph it every morning until I got such a sky.

During my first two attempts I only got wet. It was frustrating. On day three I stayed dry but the sky didn’t offer any clouds and there was no lightshow for sunrise. At least I had taken a long time exposure during astronomical twilight. Despite the absence of clouds I got some glow in the sky and the startrails gave it a nice finish.

Startrails and a glowing city at the algarve

Marinha Night : Prints Available
Equipment: Canon EOS 5DsR | Canon 16-35mm f/4

The morning of the shoot

For a photograph like this preparation is fundamental. After scouting and two missed attempts I knew exactly where to put my tripod and how to compose the shot in the dark. With a spirit level I aligned the camera and then took a set of test exposures at open aperture (f/4 for my 16-35 lense) and high ISO. This gave me a first idea how the colors would look.

For the human eye the sky appears black during astronomical twilight. But with some haze and an artificial light source in the distance a camera can reveal beautiful warm colors. You can already recognize those in the unprocessed raw file (lower right).

Following was an exposure that I took at the brink of civil twilight, 40 minutes later (lower left). Here I started to use filters to balance sky and foreground and I was also able to switch to ISO 100 and a smaller aperture for better quality and a larger depth of field.

While with the first photo my aim was solely to capture the light in background and sky, with this photo I wanted to render as much of the frame sharp as possible. With similarly smooth water those first two photos would later make up the major part of the blend.

As the morning progressed I took more photos, this time also adjusting the focus to the close foreground for later focus stacking. All in all I pressed the shutter 50 times. Better deleting 46 redundant photos in the end than missing one essential piece.

Raw material for Marinha photo

upper left: ISO 100 | 16mm | f/11 | 20s | Lee 0.6 GND + Singh Ray 0.6 reverse
upper right: ISO 100 | 16mm | f/9,5 | 30s | Lee 0.6 GND + Singh Ray 0.6 reverse
lower left: ISO 100 | 16mm | f/9,5 | 197s | Lee 0.6 GND + Singh Ray 0.6 reverse
lower right: ISO 200 | 16mm | f/5,6 | 883s

Marinha shot after exposure blending

after Exposure Blending

The post processing

First I had to blend the raw material. In addition to masking, each photo had to be adjusted in both color and brightness for a plausible result. I wanted the final photo to essentially look like the long time exposure from astronical twilight. So during blending I focussed on bringing in the details from the other three photos, while maintaining the dark appearance of the first one.

The most crucial blend was that of the lower two photos. It was important to darken and tone the water in the left image, so it would look similar to the water on the right: very dark with a hint of blue in the shadows and an orange glow building in the background to complement the sky. The only adjustment layer I used to match the exposures was a curves layer where I changed both the brightness curve as well as the individual tone curves.

After the two main parts fit together I masked in some foreground from the upper two exposures to get perfect sharpness out to the edges of the frame. Again curves helped me to even out the blend.

What followed was the creative part where I used my memories to create an image that for me reflects so much of what I loved about this place on this particular morning: the calmness of the sea, the warm light on the rocks, the energetic glow of the city in the background and the stars above that lend the scene an ethereal feel.

I further darkened large parts of the photo while keeping the brightness of a few spots to guide the viewer through the image. I stayed with the soft overall contrasts of the blended image and focussed mostly on details. I selectively enhanced the color contrast between the orange and blue tones. In total I invested around two hours in the post processing.

Although this photo doesn’t contain the spectacular sunrise I had come for, I like it just as much. And, two days later I even got the envisioned sunrise – Goal achieved.

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