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How You Shot It: The Colors Of Lake Michigan, Image By Brian Baril

By Anthony Thurston on March 25th 2014

How You Shot It is a series where you show us how you shot an image. Many who use our presets love to share their special processing recipes. You can join the SLR Lounge Textures and Presets group on Facebook and share your favorite images and recipes as well!

Today’s post comes from Brian Baril.

Final Picture

I was in Chicago area for work and my co-worker and I decided to go downtown to capture some photos of downtown after it snowed a few inches the night before. When I flew into O’Hare airport, I noticed that there was ice near the shore of Lake Michigan. I thought it would be a great shot from the Planetarium to get a photo of the Chicago skyline and frozen Lake Michigan at sunset to get the light reflecting off of the ice.

When I got there, I was at first disappointed because the ice was loose and thrashing around the shore. As I walked down, I noticed all the wonderful ice on that was pushed on to the shore. I waited until sunset to get the sun light bouncing around on the ice. I am from Arizona and forgot my hat and gloves. Waiting by the lake was probably the coldest 10 minutes of my life.

Here is some raw video of Lake Michigan while I waited a few minutes for the sun to set.

How I Shot It

Since I wanted to capture the color of the ice on shore and the sky, I knew that I needed to bracket 5 photos so that I can create a HDR (High Dynamic Range) photo to capture the light correctly the way I was seeing it with my eyes.

Additionally, I wanted to take a long exposure to have the ice on the lake look blurry and surreal so I set the aperture to f/18. I carefully placed my tripod between the ice to make sure it would stay still and not fall into the lake. (I had trouble keeping my feet firm and from falling into the lake myself).

I attached my remote, took a test shot to make sure my exposure is correct and then took my five bracketed shots and ran back to the car to warm up.

Raw1 Raw2 Raw3 Raw4 Raw5

Gear I Used To Shoot It:

Camera settings

  • Aperture: f/18
  • ISO: 100

How I Processed It

I first used Lightroom to edit the 3rd photo to make small adjustments on exposure, contrast and lens correction.  I synced those adjustments to the other 4 photos to make the 3rd photo.  I then moved these 5 photos into Nik Software (Google) HDR Efex Pro. I made my adjustments and saved them to produce one HDR photo.

HDR image

I then opened the photo in Nik Software Color Efex Pro to enhance the light on the ice and added a gradient filter to darken the sky a little.  I used the following filters: Detail Extractor, White Neutralizer, Skylight Filter and Graduated Neutral Density.

Color Efex edit

After make these adjustments, I couldn’t help to notice that the yellow ladder handle was distracting.  I used Photoshop to do a simple “Content Aware” fill to remove the ladder.

Final Picture

I am not a professional photographer and I do this as a creative outlet.  This article is about how I took this picture and how I processed it.  I am sure there is a better way of doing things and I would love to hear any constructive input.  Thanks for your time.  Get out and go shoot.

You can see more of my work at and

About the “How to Shoot It” Series

This educational series highlights amazing images from our writers as well as our community. The goal is to not only feature inspirational work but to provide valuable education for our photography community. If you would like to submit your work, please click here for more info on writing for SLR Lounge.

For more information on learning the ins and outs of HDR Photography, check out the SLR Lounge HDR Workshop DVD, a 13 hour workshop on DVD that will guide you through every step of creating amazing HDR photographs from prep to post.

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Anthony Thurston is a photographer based in the Salem, Oregon area specializing in Boudoir. He recently started a new project, Fiercely Boudoir to help support the growing boudoir community. Find him over on Instagram. You may also connect with him via Email.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Graham Curran

    Excellent post.

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  2. Basit Zargar


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  3. Jacob Jexmark

    Great image! End result makes it looks REALLY cold and almost an ethereal aura. Love it!

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  4. John Caplis

    i always enjoy your work. Thanks for sharing your experience in making this image. I think it looks great and reflects your creative vision for the scene. People should view photographers as artists, and their images as art, not necessarily a reproduction of reality (unless the photographer is indicating that it is in fact reality). I think your colorful image is impactful and the fact that you thought enough to go out on the ice and brave the cold inspiring (and something I would probably do too)! Another way to possibly capture this scene would have been to shoot three exposures, one for the shore ice, one for the water and ice, and one for the skyline. Later you could adjust each one as you see fit, and then simply blend the portions of each image with layers and masks. This is the latest evolution in my journey as a photographer, and I really like the control it gives me over my image, and for me at least, it is cleaner than HDR (less noise etc). Using this technique, you could pick a faster aperture for less diffraction, adjust the focus in each for the focus area, and you could adjust the shutter speed as needed for the water and ice shot to get the amount of motion you wanted. A different method, hard to say if it would have given you what you wanted or not. Again, bravo, great work!

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  5. Chad Whiting

    This finished photo has merits and issues. Others have addressed it all, so I’ll simply say it is interesting and leads me to imagine the movement I can see. Also, I imagine why I live in Michigan.

    I think it’s important when looking at a photo that is heavily saturated to consider the pattern of the photographer’s previous products. I had a 5 minute look-through of his website, and found that Brian can probably perceive as many colors as the famed mantis shrimp. I see varying color gradients, something that to my [B&W and bland-preferring] mind is often oversaturated to the point of [my] distraction, and compositions that are almost where they need to be.

    Looking through his work has led me to believe that he perceives differently than I do. Vastly. For Brian, contrast and tone will be at the forefront of his conscious thought, as can be composition. But that gets overrun when the colors are so vivid and often fleeting that he needs to capture that first.

    We all do this, guys. We all have our pet elements, our strong tendencies, and an affection for the result well-done. I will say that color is Brian’s comfort food. I find that charming, promising, and ultimately good in a photographer. Just imagine what he will be when he evolves even further!

    Thank you for the tutorial, Brian. Taking the time to teach others is an admirable trait. I hope others will take a deeper look at your history, and come to their own understanding of you.

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  6. Larry Pollock

    HDR is simply a technique. Like Focus Stacking, this is Exposure Stacking.

    As for photography? We are Artists and Artists push boundaries and try new things. This is how a style is developed over time. A specific Artists look.

    I for one don’t want to limit any Artist Photographer. It is the process we all go through. The process of creating. Not all will like it or love it. Even the Artist themselves my look back at some point in the future and sigh…

    Photography is no longer about simply creating “realistic” looking landscapes and other images. It is about finding out what the possibilities are. Experimenting.

    If you saw the originals that Ansel Adams had before processing in the Darkroom you would see how much he altered and created his vision of the photo. A good friend of mine worked with Ansel and knew him as a friend. I get my information from him. I’m certain there where folks in the photography community that though Ansel was doing it wrong…

    Keep on creating Brian..

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    • Matthew Saville

      My thoughts exactly. If Ansel Adams were around today he probably wouldn’t be using HDR photography exactly in this way, but he sure would be doing crazy things with dynamic range just like he’d been doing since the 1940’s lol, long before any digital photographer ever thought about creating an HDR…


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  7. Ed

    Looks amazing!

    haters gonna hate

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  8. Jonathan

    Yet another massive HDR tutorial… are we still talking about photography? (just asking)

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  9. dave

    Overly saturated to make it unrealistic looking. Have to agree with the other poster this bear no resemblance to reality.

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  10. David

    Hate to be a naysayer but there’s no reality left in this shot. Proper exposure lies somewhere between the 2nd and 3rd brightest exposure. The color reads as and is completely fraudulent. Purple might as well been painted directly over top. It bears no resemblance to reality.

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    • Brian Baril

      David, Thanks for your feedback and I respect your opinion. I know not everyone is a fan of HDR. The reality of the shot is that if I used a photo at the proper exposure and tweak the exposure and contrast and whatever else it wouldn’t capture what my eye was seeing and the feeling I wanted to portray (boring). With HDR, I wanted to bring out the dynamic range of light that I was seeing with my eyes. The purple wasn’t painted on the ice in post processing. I may have enhanced the photo a little in Color Efex Pro to bring out the color that was already there. I could see it when I was there or I could have been delusional because it was super cold. :)

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    • David

      I understand the purple wasn’t painted on top, I was saying it might as well have been. I understand you were making a stylistic choice, but no one with human eyes sees vibrant purple in the scene. You “may have enhanced the photo a little in Color Efex Pr”…. Lets be real, you don’t see those tones or colors with your eyes. The color is a unnatural byproduct of overprocessing/destructive editing.

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    • Matthew Saville

      Well, that’s part of why photography is “art”, not just some sort of final exam on realism / accuracy. Whatever the shot fail to replicate, it makes up for by being a beautiful piece of art just the same.



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  11. enricht

    Wow, great shot! And post.

    Just a quick question, did you find that F/18 starts reducing your resolution via diffraction?

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    • Brian Baril

      Just a little, but to me it was more important to blur the ice than to worry about diffraction.

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