I decided it would be easier to write a post here and create a video demonstrating the techniques. So let’s get started.
The Set Up
This image was created from 37 different images, created using the time lapse feature in my Fuji X-T1. If you do not have time lapse built into your camera, you can purchase a wired or wireless remote with time lapse capability for most camera bodies. The time lapse was set to continue indefinitely, with a one second interval between images. The camera was set to Aperture mode, with the Shutter speed determined by the camera. A sturdy tripod is a must. I also shot RAW and JPEG files.
As you can tell by reviewing the image, the image was created at midday and yet, cloud movement is clearly visible. I was able to achieve this effect by using a Singh-Ray 15-stop Mor-Slo filter. The 15-stop Mor-Slo is a great filter that will allow the photographer to create long exposures in the middle of day. Singh-Ray filters are so well made that they do not add color cast or distortion to the images. (Tip: buy 77mm filters and then a set of step-up rings, this way, one filter can be used on all your lenses).
Once the camera was in place, I triggered the shutter and waited. One thing to consider, when shooting time lapse images, consider bringing a second camera body along, as the wait can be quite dull with nothing to do. This may explain why I shot 37 images and not 100.
As noted above, I shot both RAW and JPEG files. I did this so that should I choose to process a single image, I would have the RAW file and for the time lapse image I could use the JPEG files, which are smaller and easier to manage when blending so many layers. I organize my files using Lightroom and process my images in Photoshop. So after my trip, I imported my images into my Lightroom catalog (for a video on how to do this, click here). I selected the images that I intended to combine (a total of 37 images) and then opened the images as Layers in Photoshop. From Lightroom, this is a simple right click on the selected image thumbnails, Edit in, scroll to the bottom of the list and choose As Layers in Photoshop.
It takes Photoshop a few minutes to open and add each layer to a single tab. Once it is complete, you can start changing the Blending Modes for each layer. At this point, take a moment to check the file size. In this case, my file size was just under 3GB. This is a huge file and I only used the JPEGs! Now, you can start changing the Blending Mode for each individual layer (except the bottom layer) to Lighten. This allows the lighter pixels to come through from the layer below. As each of the 36 layers are changed, you will see the “staccato” effect in the clouds start to appear.
Once all of the Blending Modes are adjusted, you have to decide if you are ready to flatten the image and start processing. I suggest that first you create a “stamp” of the image. Essentially, a “stamp” is a flattened version, that can be created as a separate layer (while maintaining all of the original layers below it) or by having all of the original layers merged together. I suggest that you use the “separate layer” method, so that you can check the result. You can always decide after to remove the original individual layers to reduce the overall file size. To create the separate layer, select all of the individual layers (all 37 in this case), and then right click, and while holding the ALT/Option key, choose Merge Visible. Photoshop will do some work and create a Layer 1, that sits at the top of the Layer Panel. If the result is what you were expecting, then you can select all of the original layers again and delete. This will bring the overall file size down to something manageable and pick up the operating speed of Photoshop, as you start to process the image.
At this point, how you process your image is up to you. I darkened the sky, enhanced the power plant and darkened the foreground with Camera Raw. I then desaturated and slightly toned the image. I did some selective dodging and burning to further enhance the clouds and smoke. Lastly, I added a vignette. Hope you give this “time stacking” shooting and processing technique a try!
To see a video on how I blended and processed my 37 images, click here.
For additional tutorials on how to post-process images, click here.