Idea To Image

All of our photographs start with an idea. After we have our idea, we set a goal on how to create the image we see in our mind’s eye. We shoot, then we process. In this column, I’ll take you through the steps in one of my idea-to-image sessions, during which I made a photograph I call “Jewels of the Sea.” As you’ll see, there are many elements that go into the making of an image. The idea is to show you how you can use similar techniques to turn your photographic ideas into images.

Workshop participant David Recht nailed the shot, which he showed me during our evening processing session. His black-and-white photograph inspired me to get a shot the following day.Photo by David Recht


I took my “Jewels of the Sea” photograph on my October 2015 Iceland photo workshop. The previous day, before we set out to shoot on the beach, I gave the workshop participants the assignment of trying to get an image of grounded icebergs framed by moving water—an image that captured the beauty of the Icelandic coast. When we arrived onsite, my focus was on helping the workshop participants, so I really didn’t get a shot of my own that I liked.

Here’s my original RAW file. Yes, it’s a bit dark, but I intentionally underexposed the image to prevent the highlights from being overexposed and washed out, which is easy to do when you have lots of white (foam, in this case) in the frame.


I took dozens of photographs of the same scene, from the same position, that morning on the beach. The opening image for this column is my favorite shot for several reasons, the most important being the mood and feeling of the image, created by the overcast sky, the beautiful jewels of ice and the movement of the waves. I like the movement of the incoming waves on the beach and the burst of water on the iceberg in the background. I also like the way the foreground iceberg frames the background iceberg.


When you’re shooting on the beach, remember this important tip at all times: Never turn your back on the ocean. A “sneaker wave” may drench you and your camera, or you even may get knocked over. It’s also important to dress properly for the wet conditions, and that includes your feet. If you plan to photograph on the beach or in and around water, I recommend wearing NEOS, waterproof, flexible and collapsible boots that fit over both hiking boots and shoes. NEOS come in different sizes and heights, as well as insulated and non-insulated models.

Here’s the result of my Lightroom adjustments. I like the effect, but I still wanted a more dramatic image. I felt, in part thanks to David, as though black-and-white was the answer.


When shooting in the sand, unscrew or unlock the smallest legs of your tripod first and place the feet of those small legs in the sand. If you unscrew/unlock the largest legs first and place them in the sand, sand will get in the joints of the smaller legs, which can cause screwing/locking/sticking problems. (When you get back to your hotel room, shower with your tripod, legs extended, to remove sand and salt spray.)

Wind + waves = salt spray. Always have a microfiber cloth (or two) handy to clean the front element of your lens. If it’s very windy, it’s a good idea to have a plastic bag on hand to protect your camera.

Once your camera is set up, it’s time to shoot. Basically, you want to control/reduce the amount of light entering your lens so you can shoot at slow shutter speeds to blur the water. On bright days, that means using a neutral-density filter. I have a three-filter set (0.6 = 2 ƒ-stops, 0.9 = 3 ƒ-stops and 1.2 = 4 ƒ-stops) of Tiffen ND filters, which let me reduce the light from a few stops to several stops. Usually, the brighter the light, the darker the filter. I also have a 2- to 8-stop Tiffen ND filter. The difference is that, with a variable ND filter, which is basically a double polarizing filter, you can get banding in your photograph if you dial in too much of the ND effect. That banding is impossible to remove even for a skilled Photoshop expert.

A variable ND filter is less expensive than a set of three ND filters. If you’re serious about blurred water shots, I recommend the set of individual ND filters.

If you don’t want to invest in an ND filter, you can use Mother Nature’s ND filter: a very overcast sky or shooting before sunrise and after sunset, when the light level is low.

The key to getting the desired effect is to experiment with different slow shutter speeds. What’s the ideal shutter speed? It depends on your desired effect (amount the water is blurred), how fast the water is moving and the direction in which the water is moving (incoming or outgoing). It also depends on what lens you’re using and how close you are to the water, because the closer you are to the water, the faster it appears to move.

To capture subtle differences in the waves, set your camera on rapid frame advance as high/fast as it goes.

When you think you have a shot, keep shooting—because everything looks good on a small screen.

After opening my file in Lightroom, I only made basic adjustments, because I was striving for a realistic-looking image, as opposed to an artistic impression of the scene. Here are the adjustments I made on the Lightroom Basic panel:
• Increased the exposure slightly;
• Increased the contrast for a more dramatic image;
• Reduced the highlights to maintain detail in the highlight areas;
• Boosted the blacks for a richer image.
I also used the Clone Stamp tool to remove the blurred seagulls in the sky, which looked more like dust spots than flying birds.
From Lightroom, I opened my image in Nik Silver Efex Pro (Lightroom > Photo > Edit In > Nik Silver Efex Pro). I added the Red filter (for a more dramatic sky) and boosted the contrast (also for a more dramatic image). That’s it. The opening image for this article is the result of that final enhancement.


When you’re shooting with other photographers, watch what they’re doing, even if they’re not pros. You may be inspired to create a gem, or jewel, of an image.

Prelude To The Shoot

Location: Black beach opposite the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon, Iceland.
Goal: To convey the beauty of the grounded icebergs—gems of frozen water—framed by the slow and graceful moving surf and positioned against a background of powerful, crashing waves.
Thought Process: Compose a scene that includes the icebergs, the beach, the waves and the sky. Experiment with a variety of slow shutter speeds, from 1/60 to several seconds, to convey the power and beauty of nature.
Camera Gear: Canon EOS 5DS, Canon EF 24-105mm IS lens, Tiffen 0.9 ND filter, Really Right Stuff tripod and ballhead.
Camera Settings: Manual focus to maintain sharpness because moving waves could change the focus setting, as well as slow down the autofocus process; rapid frame advance to capture the subtle differences in the flow and position of the waves; and ISO 100 for shooting at long shutter speeds, ƒ/20 for good depth of field, 1/6 sec., to blur the movement of the water, and EV -0.67 to prevent highlights from being washed out.


Rick Sammon is a longtime friend of this magazine.
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