Surpassing Memories with edited image shown first

Critique Style Requested: Standard

The photographer is looking for generalized feedback about the aesthetic and technical qualities of their image.


Surpassing Memories

This spot has been very good to me over the years. I’ve photographed baby Tree Swallows clamoring for a meal as the parents fly in. I’ve captured fantastic shapes in the mud bubbles at the Paint Pots. We have taken family pictures here with visiting guests. One time I watched a chipmunk pulling down the flowers of a Harebell and running off with them. I once photographed the light of the full moon here, making the sky look as blue as daytime, then came back for a stunning sunrise a few hours later. On May 10 though, every past memory of this spot, while no less meaningful, was surpassed by the experience of watching a crescent moon set while a powerful Aurora display danced overhead, almost appearing to spill out of the Big Dipper.

Specific Feedback

There’s a lot going on here and to get it all in one image, I had to use 3 horizontal images merged into a vertical panorama. I used as fast a shutter speed as I could so as to gather enough light, but keep at least some semblance of a crescent moon in there at the bottom. I used Photoshop to warp the wide angle distortion out of the trees. I used the tone curve tool to brighten the sky and also added a little contrast there, but have not otherwise added saturation to the sky. All of these colors were visible to the naked eye, just not nearly as colorful as the camera sees! Anyway, is this too much in one photo, or does it all work together well? What do you think of the way the pano effect curves the lines of the Aurora a bit? I did brighten the stars of the Big Dipper too…does this look too contrived?

Technical Details

3 image vertical panorama
Nikon D850
Sigma Art 14-24mm 2.8
ISO 2000, f/2.8, 3 seconds, 14 mm

Processing methods are mentioned in the “feedback requested” area. I did also use Topaz Sharpen to help remove a little bit of the noise and sharpen the foreground some. I

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Hi Paul,
wow, Congratulations on capturing three great celestial events in one photo.
This place seems to bring back so many good memories for you. That’s fantastic.

I’m a bit jealous of your aurora shot. The northern lights were very well visible her as well, but as the weather forecast wasn’t so promising, I stayed lazily on the couch. :see_no_evil:

No, it is not too much. I love that combination. Well done!

In my opinion, this is not recognizable as a pano effect, since the northern lights take on unpredictable shapes.

The big dipper also stands out very well when you look at the night sky with your own eyes, I don’t think your editing here is too much.

But what strikes me is the horizon line. Maybe it looks like this in reality, or perhaps it was also caused by the Pano effect… my brain wants to straighten this line.

I just used the liquify tool in PS quickly to straighten the horizon line. Additonally, I darkened the image slightly, as I like my night images darker (This is of course a matter of personal preference.).

However, your picture is of course great as it is. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that we’ll soon be able to see the northern lights at our latitude. :crossed_fingers:

Wow! Amazing capture! And extra points for all the processing work! The aurora is amazing and I love the reflection and the tree shadows in the water. It looks natural except for the curved horizon. It feels to me that it could go even further than @Jens_Ober’s version. I like the added darkness he gave it, too – it feels more like a night scene. The stars look natural. The camera does record them more evenly and I think it’s a good idea to enhance the ones that are brighter to our eyes.

I do think the moon is a bit strange. I don’t know what you did but I wonder if it could be put in from a less-processed stage.

@Jens_Ober @Diane_Miller Thanks so much for your very thoughtful input you two. Jens, you’ll have to tell me how to find the liquify tool in PS. I am not very proficient in PS and only use the warp tool after someone here introduced that to me! I went back and looked at the lower image of the 3 and the horizon is indeed fairly flat. I’ve done my best in warp to fix it without bending the trees too much. Diane, the moon is definitely over-exposed so I had tried to reduce the brightness in just the moon. It did look a bit off, so I just removed that mask and left it bright. Tough to expose both the moon and the aurora properly! I put the reworked image at the top.

Add images

Hi Paul,
the Liquify Filter is accessible in the Menu under Filter → Liquify…

It has a similar effect on the image as the warp tool you used. The difference is that you can warp circular areas in the image with the mouse.

Please note: As this is a destructive filter, I recommend that you start this edit with a copy of the layer.
You can also create a selection with the Rectengular Marquee tool to define an area beforehand if you don’t want to edit the whole image.

If you select the filter from the menu, a new window opens which presents your image in the center.

The Liquify window can seem a little daunting at first glance because it offers a lot of option panels on the right-hand side. But don’t worry, we only need one tool to straighten the horizon, the so-called “Forward Warp Tool”:

You can try out different brush sizes or play with density and pressure:

So that the manipulation is not too obvious, you should choose a brush size that is larger than you would initially think:

If you mess up, you can click Cancel at any time and start again.

Bonus Tip
There are two other tools in the Liquify filter that I use very rarely.
There is the Bloat Tool (1) and the Plucker Tool (2).
In relation to your picture, the tools could also be called the Moon Inflate Tool and the Moon Deflate Tool :rofl: :

I hope that helps. Let me know if you have any questions.

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@Jens_Ober I am SO grateful for your help with this. I think I am getting somewhere with it now! That liquify mask does take some finesse doesn’t it? I made the moon a little bit bigger which I think actually makes it look closer to how it did in person. 14mm is pretty wide and this one is even wider since its a pano cropped to 4:6. Your input is invaluable and is really helping me grow. Thank you so much.

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Hi Paul,
I’m glad I could help.

Yes, you have to experiment a bit with the Liquify filter. But it is the ideal tool for straightening a bent horizon.

Haha, yes, that’s the big disadvantage of the ultra-wide angle, that the background objects always look so tiny.

You are very welcome, that’s why we are here :slight_smile:

Thanks from me, too, @Jens_Ober, for an excellent tutorial! And just in case anyone isn’t aware, in PS you can do Ctrl-R (Windows) or Cmd-R (Mac) to toggle rulers on the top and left of the window. Click in the ruler to drag horizontal or vertical guidelines into the image. The Move tool lets you move them or drag them off the canvas to get rid of them. (They won’t print or show in an exported JPEG.)

Well that’s just an amazing shot Paul! I loved it as posted, but think the edits really make it sing. Well done (and I too thank you @Jens_Ober ).

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Paul, this is a great catch, with the mist from the hot springs, the setting moon, the big dipper and especially the aurora. Since I know this spot well, I’d say that #3, with the sloping “horizon”) is true to the location. I also think that #3 handles the moon the best.

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Thank you Mark!