Sunset at Luffenholtz Beach

By PF Staff in Favorite Photos on Jan 18, 2013

Equipment and Settings Used

  • Pentax K-5
  • Pentax M 20mm F4
  • Feisol Tripod and Ballhead
  • 2 stop ND filter
  • 4 stop graduated ND filter
  • Shutter speed: 0.4 sec
  • Aperture: F11
  • Shooting mode: Manual

Getting the Shot

There was a great deal that went into the shot. In the first place, I had to choose a time to travel the twenty or so miles to Luffenholtz Beach (near Trinidad, CA). This meant closely monitoring the weather and the appropriate Caltrans webcams on Highway 101. When the weather looked promising for dramatic seascape photography (i.e., cloudy with some sun), I traveled to the beach and waited for the optimal moment. I used a two stop ND filter and a four stop ND grad filter to try to capture some of the motion of the sea and tame the wide dynamic range of the scene. I left it to the K-5's outstanding dynamic range capabilities to do the rest. Even so, the image would take a lot of work in post to make it come out.


The resulting image, as recorded by the K-5's sensor, could not be fixed merely by adjusting the Highlights and Shadows sliders in Lightroom. To capture the detail in both the shadows and the highlights while preserving the microcontrast necessitated some compositing work in Photoshop. I made two versions of the image in Lightroom, one adjusted for the sky, the other for the rest of the image:

Out of these two versions of the image I created a layered document in Photoshop, with the lighter image on the bottom, the darker on top. I made a copy of the bottom layer, added a mask to the top layer, and pasted in the lighter layer into the mask (by option-clicking on the mask to select it). The resulting mask looked like this:

Even with the mask, the image was still not entirely satisfactory. Not enough contrast, and rather flat colors, especially in the sky:

Using the selection too, I selected the sky and painted it white:


I reversed the selection and darkened parts of the foreground, particularly the rocks and some of the splashing surf. After a bit of cosmetic touchup work along the selection line, the image was ready for display on the web or as a print in a gallery. It's already made a bit of a stir over at Viewbug and I plan to enter it in one of the juried exhibts at the Redwood Art Association next year.

- northcoastgreg

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