Blending moments in time

Image credit: Cedric De Boom

Blending moments in time

For those who do not know Elia Locardi, go check him out on 500px. He is a professional landscape and cityscape photographer who has inspired me ever since I have gotten interested in photography. His point of focus is to photograph famous landmarks in the world in such a way that no-one has seen it before. His landscapes are so vivid and spectacular and the colours in his photos really pop out. He also developed a technique called ‘blending moments in time’. In short, he takes multiple of pictures of his subject as time progresses and then he blends the best aspects of these pictures into one blend. For example, he takes pictures all the way from the golden hour, through sunset and blue hour, and afterwards he combines the most dramatic sky of the sunset with artificial lights that have come on during the blue hour. Really, go and check his photos out and you will see what I mean.

Inspired by his pictures and his moment blending style, I decided to give it a try myself. The city of Ghent in Belgium is my current home base, and it is the ideal spot to try out new photographic techniques. The city centre - although many landmarks are fake or rebuilt - is very photogenic as it is home to a lot of medieval houses, churches, towers, canals and castles. For this project I decided to take a picture of the famous ‘Graslei’, which in the summer is the hotspot for tourists and the operating base of many boating companies. Below is a blue hour picture of the Graslei I found on Flickr.

Graslei in Ghent
The famous 'Graslei' in Ghent, image courtesy Marco Günther (Flickr).

Let’s tackle this. I waited a long time for the perfect evening (it has been overcast and raining a lot these days), and finally it came. The colours in the sky were really amazing: a mix of oranges, reds and purples. And there were some clouds, so this could be the perfect shot. However, I came too late to the spot I picked out. The sun had already gone below the horizon and the clouds were mostly gone. I really have to come earlier to scout the location, pick my favourite spot and set up the camera. That’s the first take-home lesson. Still, the colours in the sky were quite beautiful, and after shooting for a while some clouds returned. This is the base sunset shot I picked (unedited).

Base RAW
ISO 100 - \(f\)/8 - 1/5 - My base RAW image.

Maybe it is a good time to point to my camera settings. I shoot with my EOS1100D in RAW and AV mode. That way I can enable exposure bracketing; I shoot three exposure brackets, and the picture above is the +0EV image. The lens I use is the amazing Sigma 17-50mm (f)/2.8 with image stabilization.

The image above is quite underexposed for the subject, but I do not have any blown out sky in which there is still a lot of detail and colour. Above that, Capture One 9 (my RAW processor) does an amazing job at recovering shadows, which is a process people used to avoid as much as possible, but is not much of an issue anymore with the current camera sensors and RAW processors. On the sides of the picture there are some annoying elements, so I slightly crop the image. My resulting balanced RAW is shown below.

Adjusted base RAW
ISO 100 - \(f\)/8 - 1/5 - The cropped and balanced base RAW image.

Some time later it becomes darker at the Graslei and more lights come on, of which I also take some pictures. As I know the location, I knew that after a while no more lights would come on, so I did not wait for the blue hour. The camera did not move in the entire process! This is the cropped and balanced resulting RAW image. Note that the sky is not that colourful and interesting as before.

Second adjusted base RAW
ISO 100 - \(f\)/8 - 0.4s - The cropped and balanced second base RAW image.

Now we want to blend both images so that the artificial lights from the second RAW are brought into the first RAW image. Then we have nice looking lights on the buildings together with a rather interesting sky. In Photoshop this is done by choosing the ‘Lighten’ blending mode, so that only the lighter parts of an image shine through. At this point I also decided to remove all people in the scene using the clone stamp - prepare for at least one hour of work! This is the resulting image.

The blended image
A blend of the first and second base RAWs. People removed using clone stamp.

Let’s make this image vivid. I first correct the perspective distortion as the towers on the side now look skewed. Then I fire up Color Efex Pro, which is a plug-in part of Google’s Nik Collection, and which is now totally free! I added Pro Contrast, Tonal Contrast and Contrast Color Range, and the result is shown below. There is now more contrast and color separation between the colors in the sky, and there is also more contrast in the buildings.

Result after Color Efex Pro
The blend after applying Color Efex Pro.

Finally we do some selective sharpening using a high pass filter on the buildings through a mask. In the water and the sky I apply a Dfine effect (also part of Color Efex Pro) to reduce the noise. I also fix some of the reflections in the water with the clone stamp since there are still some people visible. Finally I apply a slight purple photo filter to the sky and the water, and I add some overall contrast. The final result is shown below.

The final picture
The final picture.

This was my first experiment with blending moments in time. If you have any comments, questions, or suggestions, feel free to post them below!

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