It was an extraordinary scene to photograph, so I started setting up my tripod. But then the man suddenly appeared, giving the magnificent trees scale and adding an eye-catching element to the composition. Before he disappeared down the lane, I had to make some fast decisions that would pay off in post-processing.
This photo of the forest in Heiloo, the Netherlands, was taken in early autumn. I looked for an appealing spot with just the right conditions, and found this lane with good composition, dynamic range, quality and direction of light.
At 10:00 p.m. in September the sun wasn’t too low or too high, providing a nice quality of light and good dynamic range. The sunlight was coming in from the right and created a striking contrast between the shadows and the highlights. I use a tripod and a cable release to ensure maximum sharpness and a polarizer to provide rich colors and to increase dynamic range a little bit.
"I noticed when I was setting up my gear that a man was walking by, and I knew that he would fit perfectly into the frame and provide a good sense of scale to emphasize the majestic trees."
I noticed when I was setting up my gear that a man was walking by, and I knew that he would fit perfectly into the frame and provide a good sense of scale to emphasize the majestic trees. I had to move quickly so I set up my tripod and camera, which still had the polarizer filter attached to the lens. I didn’t have the time to remove the filter, but I did want to freeze the scene, so I decided to make two exposures.
I zoomed in on the subject with a focal length of 144 mm and took an ISO 2500 exposure at an aperture of f/9, which provided a fast enough shutter speed (1/100 second) to ensure sharp focus. After that exposure, I waited for the man to move out of the frame as I focused on a good composition. I reduced the focal length to 111 mm and lowered the ISO to 50. This way I could avoid creating noise in the RAW file, and the final image would be sharp and clean. The polarizer provided better colors and a little more dynamic range, so I didn’t remove it from the lens. At f/9 I had to compensate with a slow shutter speed (0.4 second) so that the light and brightness would match my previous exposure.
The images were processed in Lightroom and Photoshop.
1) I opened up the two exposures in Lightroom, but I only made some adjustments to the environment/forest exposure. The original already had good exposure and contrast, but I wanted a little more light and detail in the tree trunks and the leaves. I copied the original and moved the Exposure slider a little to the right, about half a stop, to brighten the image. Then I made a Tone Curve adjustment with a slight S-shaped curve, which affected mainly the midtones. Now I had three RAW files: one untouched RAW file of the man, one untouched RAW file of the environment and one processed RAW file of the environment. I exported the three files to Photoshop.
2) In Photoshop, the base/background layer was the untouched exposure of the environment. On top of that was the processed layer of the environment and on top of that was the untouched layer of the man.
3) I selected the processed layer of the environment and added a black inverted layer mask. I painted with a soft white Brush, set to about 40% Opacity, on the black layer mask to reveal some light and detail in the trees.
4) After that I selected the top layer, the man, and then made a selection of only him with the Pen tool. Once the selection was completed, I copied him into a new, transparent layer. I moved the subject around the frame to relocate him to a more effective spot. I then scaled the man using the Transform tool until he was the correct proportion (Edit > Transform > Scale).
5) I copied the layer with the man again, changed the blending mode to Multiply, changed the angle and scale with the Rotate and Scale tools (both found under Edit > Transform), blurred it with the Gaussian Blur filter and lowered the layer's Opacity to create a shadow. Then I merged all of these layers into one single layer.
6) I wanted to change the color of the leaves, so I used the Color Range tool (Select > Color Range) to make a selection of all the green tones in the image. I selected the green tones with the eyedropper and then added and subtracted colors from the selection with the corresponding eyedroppers of the Color Range tool. I also played around with the Fuzziness to refine the selection.
7) Once the selection was finished, I used it as a layer mask for two Solid Color layers and a Curves adjustment layer. A red Solid Color layer's blending mode was set to Color. On top of that, an orange/yellow Solid Color layer's blending mode was set to Overlay for more contrast and deeper colors. I reduced the Opacity of the two layers until I was satisfied with the result. The Curves adjustment layer was applied to slightly increase the light and contrast.
8) Using the Clone Stamp tool I cloned some leaves to fill in some gaps in the trees, and I also used it to remove some distracting elements.
9) Finally, with the Crop tool, the image was cropped to a square format and sharpened with the Smart Sharpen tool at a high Amount of 120% and low Radius of 0.4 pixels to emphasize all the little details in the image.
I am 36 years old and I live in Amsterdam, Netherlands. I work as a profiler behind the customs at Schiphol airport. I also work as a freelance photographer. I started photography five years ago. Last year, in cooperation with the organization “Orticola Di Lombardia,” my forest pictures have been displayed in the Modern Art Gallery in Milan, Italy. My work and interviews have been published in several national and international photo magazines/websites. In 2012 I photographed weddings, which also have been published, and since then, the demand for my wedding shots has increased a lot. I very much enjoy combining wedding photography with my personal photography. The latter is mainly focused on nature and portraits and always involves post-processing.