The Making of "Morning in Wetlands"

How the winning photo of the "Mirror Image" contest was made

By micromacro in Photo Contests on Nov 30, 2018

"Morning in Wetlands"

I took this picture on a short vacation where I drove to Central Florida to visit a friend of mine in Melbourne. While I was there my friend told me about a place nearby which I might find interesting for bird photography. Next morning I drove there before the sunrise. It was indeed an amazing gem well known to local photographers. I fell in love with it from the first steps around the wetlands and came back to the hotel with a good amount of keepers that day.

After I submitted this image for the competition, I read some comments which suggested that this is not a real image, but rather Photoshop manipulated. I'm happy to get this chance to tell that it's real. This is not a composite image, but at the same time this is the result of more than twenty images: from the moment I spotted the anhinga jumping out the water to dry its wings to the moment I took the final image.

When I spotted the scene and pre-shot it, I knew exactly how the final image should be, and started to slowly walk around to find the position with the best light. At the same time I changed the aperture from the average "good for everything" F6.3 to F11 to get the whole frame in focus. I was careful, and I also got lucky with my cooperative "model".

Here is the whole set of the images I took. The whole session took 4 minutes and 23 frames. The last one was the image I selected to edit.

Click to enlarge

The first frame

The last frame

I shot with a Pentax K-1 and my favorite DA* 300mm F4 lens in Av mode. I prefer Av mode when the light direction changes often and when I don't have the option to think constantly about camera settings.

Exposure Settings

  • First image (test shot): F6.3, 1/800 s, and 200 ISO.
  • Last image (submitted): F11, 1/200 s, the same 200 ISO.

Post Processing

First, I applied the basic adjustments in Lightroom: lens correction, horizon correction, white balance, contrast. Then I opened the image with the LR adjustments in Photoshop Elements where I did cleaning, level adjustments, a bit of color desaturation, and I adjusted the sharpness and applied a bit of haze removal. It looked ok, but it did not reproduce neither the impression I had on location nor did it have that  "wow" factor. It was time to add gradients to make the image more dramatic.

I used single gradient, radial with the mask and soft brush to remove the colors  from selected areas. I don't remember exactly what blending mode I choose to blend the gradient layer, most likely it was either Soft Light or Multiply. I usually play with blending modes and opacity for a while to find the best combination.

And that is pretty much the whole story on how I made that image.

I'm delighted to win such a tough competition with those many amazing entries from truly great photographers, and I'm glad to have the chance to congratulate the all participants; it has been a pleasure to compete with you all on such high level.

I also appreciate all the nominations and comments, it helped me also to make some important decisions on how to move forward and keep improving. You thus helped me one more time, as you always do. Thank you so much!

- Lana (micromacro)

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