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Anatomy of a photo: San Francisco Bay Bridge Rainbow

5DMKII+16-35mm, 1/80 @ f/8.0, ISO 125.

Mother nature is on fire these days! As a follow-up to Tuesday’s gorgeous lunar eclipse, I was fortunate to catch a shot of this spectacular end-to-end rainbow over the Bay Bridge. Since there is so much chatter about it being real or fake or completely imagined, I thought I would share the anatomy of  how I took and processed this shot.

When the rainbow first appeared it was quite faint in the middle. I actually grabbed my iPhone first and started snapping shots.

Over the next few minutes, the rainbow grew stronger and formed a complete end to end rainbow across the sky… I grabbed my 5DMKII and started furiously snapping away at around 1/80 at f/8.0 ISO 100 with my beautiful 16-35mm lens. After the rainbow faded, I imported the photos into Lightroom.

I always use compare mode in the library to view the images in side-by-side comparison. It makes it much easier to pick the best shot, which in this case was the one on the right with the most sunlight and vibrant rainbow.

After choosing my favourite, I did basic RAW processing in Lightroom. Straight out of the camera, RAW images look flat — lacking contrast and saturation of colours. RAW images do not represent what your eye sees, which is why you have to process them to bring out details, contrast, and saturation of colours. For this image, I wanted the contrast to be quite heavy. I increased the contrast to +100 so that the shadows of the building would stand out in the water and the clouds in the sky would be more distinct. I also increased the vibrance to +30 to liven up the entire image and make the rainbow look more like what it did in real life.

After I pulled a bit of colour and contrast into the photo, I exported the file into Photoshop (command+e). Immediately, I noticed all of the lovely rain splotches and streaks from the window, including a giant dark spot in the middle of the rainbow. I used the healing and clone brushes to zap those splotches.

The streaks were hard to completely clean up, but I used a fine clone brush set to a 50% opacity to try to preserve the details as much as possible.

On areas that were a bit too smudged I used the lasso tool to select the area and added a noise filter of 1.1% to make them blend a bit more into the original picture. After I cleaned the image up, I duplicated the layer and set the blending mode to Overlay 85% to bring out more details in the sky. I wanted the buildings to remain as is, so I added a mask to the layer and painted them out.

I’m a big fan of highly saturated colour, so I increased the saturation +30 at 75% Opacity. This is where I’m taking a few leniences with reality. I think it adds to the surrealism of the shot, but you can experiment with it to find a good balance for you in your photos.

I wanted the clouds to stand out even more so I created a Curves layer and pulled the middle up to 136, 113. Then, I inverted the layer (command+i) and used a white brush to accent the white areas of the clouds. I repeated this with a Curves layer set to 101, 138 to accentuate the darker clouds.

I then imported the photo back into Lightroom by saving the file. For the final touches, I increased the Clarity +11 (to give the bridge a bit more contrast and sharpness), reduced the Noise a smidge by tweaking Luninance +15 and added a Vignette -11. I always add a subtle vignette to all my photos to draw the eye into the centre of the image.

Before: RAW image straight out of camera

After: Processed with Lightroom and Photoshop
San Francisco Rainbow over the Bay Bridge

Hope this helped you get a bit of insight behind my work flow and how I created this image. Processing is subject to personal taste, and what looks like the perfect image to me might look like a hot mess to someone else. For me, vibrant colours, high contrast, and emphasizing certain eye catching points in photos is part of my photographic style that I’ve developed over the years. :)

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  • Reply
    December 24, 2010 at 2:44 PM

    I LOVE this shot. Amazing job, Lisa.

  • Reply
    December 24, 2010 at 2:53 PM

    That’s interesting! One question: why ISO 100? You chose the setting or it was full auto?

  • Reply
    Vincent Knaus
    December 24, 2010 at 2:55 PM

    Great image! Thanks for posting how you processed it. It’s great to see how other photographers process their images.

  • Reply
    Mostly Lisa
    December 24, 2010 at 2:59 PM

    @Titanas: ISO 100 gives you the least noise & I always shot in Manual mode. :P

  • Reply
    December 24, 2010 at 3:04 PM

    @Mostly Lisa: Oopsy :P Lowest ISO doesn’t cut some of the “data” the sensor gets vs with a bit of higher ISO or “filling the gap” in post processing is a no brainer?

  • Reply
    Tweets that mention Anatomy of a photo: San Francisco Bay Bridge Rainbow | MostlyLisa.com | Photography tips & tricks -- Topsy.com
    December 24, 2010 at 3:05 PM

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Lisa Bettany, Carol Levesque, Peggy O. Butler, Tahoe Bill, Ken Yeung and others. Ken Yeung said: RT @mostlylisa Anatomy of a shot: San Francisco Bay Bridge Rainbow http://bit.ly/hItMHH […]

  • Reply
    December 24, 2010 at 3:07 PM

    WOW no HDR or mirrors involved, you really do have a talent to see beyond the lens. Hope you are not paying a million dollars a month for that million dollar view out your window.

  • Reply
    Drew Griffin
    December 24, 2010 at 3:12 PM

    Treasure at the end of this photo! Beautiful

  • Reply
    Mostly Lisa
    December 24, 2010 at 3:35 PM

    @Titanas: ha! image sensors are calibrated to give the best image quality at the lowest ISO, and greater light sensitivity at a higher ISO. Since there was enough light for this photo,so I didn’t need to increase my ISO to get detail. As a general rule, I always try to shoot at ISO 100 and compensate with my aperture and shutter settings :)

  • Reply
    Gabriel Morosan
    December 24, 2010 at 3:52 PM

    Thank you for sharing your work flow Lisa. The image you capture is beautiful and the processing adds to the surreal of the ambiance.
    Happy Holiday to all your fans!
    Gabriel / Vancouver

  • Reply
    December 24, 2010 at 3:56 PM

    Excellent read and really informative! It’s interesting to see how you post processed that photo with all the various settings and editing. It really is fantastically surreal looking, and shows that nature is full of surprises! It also shows that photography is largely personal (e.g. with all the post processing) and as you say what might be liked by some may not be liked by others. Very rare do you see the ends of a rainbow! what luck!
    Thanks for the great post.

  • Reply
    bob hoh
    December 24, 2010 at 4:11 PM

    Beautiful shot Lisa,it feels like I’m there watching it.

  • Reply
    Carolyn Haines
    December 24, 2010 at 4:26 PM

    Unbelievably gorgeous.

  • Reply
    December 24, 2010 at 4:50 PM

    Great explanation Lisa, for all those naysayers that think every magnificent digital photo is fake. You did exactly what any film photographer would have done, only your time was measured in hours not days. Thanks for sharing the workflow on this image, great work start to finish!

  • Reply
    December 24, 2010 at 5:06 PM

    Made this my wallpaper.

  • Reply
    Matt Graham
    December 24, 2010 at 8:37 PM

    Lisa amazing and great shot. I just wonder how it would have looked with a polarizer. I love the step by step PS tutorial

  • Reply
    December 25, 2010 at 12:34 AM

    My favorite shot of the year if not decade. Beautiful work!! Thanks for sharing!

  • Reply
    December 25, 2010 at 3:00 AM

    Thank you for taking the time to share both the photo and the technique.

  • Reply
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    December 25, 2010 at 7:43 AM

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  • Reply
    December 25, 2010 at 8:02 AM

    Great shot, and great step by step on your post-production. I had a hard time believing it was real at first, because the rainbow was so pronounced… Now I believe it and think it’s awesome!

  • Reply
    Ron K
    December 25, 2010 at 8:17 AM

    You are amazing! What a magnificent, grandiose image. Possibly best ever..

  • Reply
    December 25, 2010 at 10:10 AM

    Good job Lisa. I really like your shoots.

  • Reply
    December 25, 2010 at 11:02 AM

    “vibrant colours, high contrast, and emphasizing certain eye catching points in photos”, the key ingredients to any popularist mainstream flickr photography.

  • Reply
    Mac Gallatin
    December 25, 2010 at 12:54 PM

    Many many thanks for the advice.
    You did a great work

  • Reply
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  • Reply
    Rose Graham
    December 25, 2010 at 5:04 PM

    Thank you for taking the time to share both the photo and the technique.

  • Reply
    Andreas (from Photography Tips for Beginners)
    December 25, 2010 at 6:07 PM

    Wow. I wonder what went through your head when you first spotted this fantastic photo opportunity. Kudos on your post processing too, it really made the picture pop.

    Keep up the amazing work. I’ll make sure to keep your work in mind when I update this guide on my blog: http://www.photographytipsforbeginners.com/digital-photography-tips-how-to-take-great-pictures/

  • Reply
    Stuart McIntyre
    December 26, 2010 at 12:12 AM

    Excellent Lisa, thanks for sharing the original photos and the techniques you used to get to the finished product. I must admit, I was one to cry ‘fake’ over the full rainbow, but this is indeed a fabulous image. Well done!

  • Reply
    nina elliott
    December 26, 2010 at 12:58 AM

    Anyone who would speak negatively of this image in any way is jealous or …well, never mind. It’s an impressive subject in the way you captured a rainbow in addition to an already pleasing image. Even more impressive is your techniques in the post production to the image! You brought out exactly what you wanted the viewer to see…and it’s gorgious! Love it!

  • Reply
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  • Reply
    December 26, 2010 at 10:54 PM

    Yay! A tutorial!…kinda. Awesome to see how you make the magic happen. It’s all well and good when a photog shows a photo, but you know when a photog means his/her business when they’re not afraid to show you how they process their pics.

  • Reply
    December 28, 2010 at 1:17 PM

    really, really helpful post. thanks.

  • Reply
    Mike Walsh
    December 28, 2010 at 7:03 PM

    It’s awesome Lisa – I want to purchase a high res print. Is there a way for me to do that?

  • Reply
    Bob Garner
    December 29, 2010 at 9:20 AM

    Wow, what an incredible shot and thanks for all the great tips on how you composed the final image! I love reading your blog.

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    The People of Detroit
    January 3, 2011 at 6:08 AM

    I love to hear about the behind the scene decisions that make a photo what it is. Truly a great moment captured, Lisa!

  • Reply
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    January 4, 2011 at 7:22 AM

    […] completo puede verse acá, además recomiendo seguir su trabajo en su blog y cuenta de Flickr | [mostlylisa.com] […]

  • Reply
    shayne gray learns photography
    January 7, 2011 at 9:44 PM

    Amazing capture – and very tasteful processing. Thanks for sharing your workflow.

    All the very best of the New Year!

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  • Reply
    January 24, 2011 at 9:38 AM

    Awesome shot, I really like your taste with the processing, I share a similar like for highly saturated photos.

  • Reply
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  • Reply
    March 31, 2011 at 3:27 AM

    Thank you for this work description !
    This is fabulous !

  • Reply
    Bob Benson
    April 9, 2011 at 12:07 PM

    I have always contended that the most important tool a great photographer has is their superior power of observation. The really good photographers, like Lisa, who always seem to getting wonderful shots, like her SF Rainbow, are always in observation mode. If her eyes are open there is always some part of her brain that is having her look around, looking out the window, or looking up for that next great shot. The Camera, Lightroom, Photoshop and the Internet are simply tools Lisa uses to share what she sees with us.

  • Reply
    May 7, 2011 at 7:57 AM

    Excellent demonstration of your work process. Nice to see how it’s done.

  • Reply
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    August 7, 2011 at 7:23 AM

    Thank you for this awesome article / tutorial. Many people keep their workflow a secret – but I’ve noticed that the BEST people (in any creative field) are always happy to share how they do achieve their results. Thank you Lisa for sharing!

  • Reply
    Prof. Greg Parker
    August 20, 2013 at 1:05 AM

    Rainbows are not easy to capture and show at their best, you have done really well here. Great workflow write-up as well :)

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