Shot of the Year 2016

Reflections – Compositing in Threes

Our favorite shot of the year, hoarded away in RAW to savor as a treat on New Year's Eve. This is a shot of the Milky Way reflected in a lake, taken on a midnight hike high in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado.
We break it up into three sections, treating the lake, the land, and sky each as a separate image. Then we assemble them using the Watermark Module and finish processing the image as a whole.
This video builds on knowledge from previous videos, running full-tilt through tools and methods to achieve the edit. For fuller explanations, return to the Home Page and scroll down to Topics Discussed or Modules Used on the right-hand bar. Click on any of these, and we assemble a complete playlist of every instance for quick review right here on the site.

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(coast of Hawaii Island near Pahoa)
(lava ocean entry at Kamokuna)

Aloha and welcome to Weekly Edit's first edition of the new year, Wednesday, January 4, 2017.

We are recording this on New Year's Eve, as Hawaii gets ready to bring in the new year and chase out the old year.

Harry has a special edit to share with you this week.

It's one from the mountains of Colorado, a midnight hike he took with a friend.

It's a single shot, lit only by starlight.

The challenge will be the balance between detail and noise reduction.

I hope you enjoy it as much as he has.

(Harry's voice) In this image, I've got really dark mountains because they're only lit by the stars.

The area down here, which is a lake, also is brighter.

I have different colors in the sky because of the airglow and because of the light from the city of Durango.

So, I need to break this image into three parts.

I'll give the sky one treatment, the mountains another, and the water a third treatment.

I've made copies of this image and put them in different directories that I've called 'sky', and 'earth' and 'water.' I'll process each of them separately and combine them using compositing.

There is a lot of glow here from the city; we'll have to deal with that.

And we have a lot of noise.

When I bring out the mountains, it will be a lot of noise.

I'll use this feature called Fusion, which takes various exposures and blends them together with an HDR-like technique.

There is Two Exposures.

And you've got this Exposure Shift, too, which lets you push this.

I don't know how that will look different from using Three Exposures with a different Exposure Shift, so I'll take a Snapshot.

I'll go with Three Exposures for this side and try to match the level.

Does it look any different? No, not really.

It looks a little different in the sky, but I'm not going to use this sky, so it doesn't really matter.

It looks like it doesn't matter which one I use.

Well, things are brighter.

We've got some sensor noise here.

I can deal with that with a Tone Curve.

We've got a lot of noise in this, a lot of noise.

And these mountains look flat; I want to be able to discern the contours in the mountains.

How can I do that? It looks like I should get rid of as much of the noise as possible and then work on those contours so that I don't exaggerate the noise when I do that.

The Denoise (profiled) gives us this pattern.

I can get rid of some of that pattern by decreasing my Patch Size; that helps, but we still have this crazy pattern.

If I turn up the Strength, I can get rid of that pattern.

Right about like that: 2.481.

We're getting this crazy green-red-green-red pattern also.

Maybe we should split off the Color and the Lumanance Channel on this Denoising.

So, that Non-local Means I used on the L Channel.

Now I'll knock down this color noise with a separate instance.

I'll use Wavelets for that.

Now we'll do that on the Color Channel.

We can probably knock down the Strength some.

Whoa: too much.

We still have this leftover gunk.

I don't think I can get rid of it.

Even when I turn up the Strength, it doesn't go away.

I don't see any improvement past 1.7, so I'll leave it there.

I will deal with this separately.

Maybe I can use the Equalizer to get rid of some of that.

Let's see.

Yeah, that gets rid of some of it.

Maybe some of it's in the Color Channel.

That didn't go away.

Let's try Lowpass Filter.

Set the Radius way down, and bring it up slowly until we get rid of that noise.

There we go.

Now the noise is blended in.

I'll see if I can just apply that to the Color Channel.

No, I've still got it in there.

It looks better, there's less of it, but it's not all gone.

One more pass.

I'll make the Radius as small as possible: 1.2px.

That will make everything soft.

It gets rid of a lot of the noise, though.

I'll turn on Hot Pixel detection.

Detect by 3 Neighbors is the way to go.

I'll turn on Chromatic Aberrations correction.

Now I'll save this.

Hopefully, that will give me a lower-noise version to work with.

Then I'll work on enhancing contours and things like that.

Okay, I put it in the right place: Reflections/earth TIFF.

Create Unique Filename.

I'm working in Adobe.


Okay, let's see what we can do with this.

There is a lot less noise now: good.

Maybe the Equalizer can help us bring out some of these details in here.

Okay, that looks pretty good.

I can increase the Edges on some of these.

That gets a little more definition.

Maybe a little color too? Nice.

Oh, I want to do something about this sensor noise here.

I don't worry about this sensor noise down here; I'm only working on the mountains right now.

That looks better.


I want to see more contours in the mountains and bring out more shapes.

I think the Lowpass Filter is our best bet.

Set the Saturation down to zero and get my Radius so I get the features I want.

Softlight Blend Mode is the ticket.

That's before, and that's after.

Now my valleys look a little deeper.

I want more contrast.

I should finish sharpening and then add contrast, because the sharpening will add SOME contrast.

I'll bring out a little more contours and features with the Highpass Filter, then I'll use a Highpass Filter to add some contrast too.

For the contours, I'll just use an L-Mask with a Softlight Blend Mode.

What I'm doing is bringing out these little rounded areas.

You can see the size of the features that I'm accentuating.

Then, with the Softlight, it adds these tones.

That's before, and that's after.

It gives me a little more of these fine-grained tones.

Now the sharpening part.

I want to bring my Sharpness way down until I'm just getting the sizes I want, like these little rocks.

Then I'll bring my Contrast down so I'm not getting any of that noise.

I'm just looking for edges.

The trick here is the Overlay Method.

Then I'll have to turn down the Opacity; it's too much.

Right about there: 32%.

What else? It's a little too bright.

It's night time, so it should be dark, not light.

This is awfully light back here.

I'll take care of this first, and then worry about how light the whole thing is.

That looks better.I don't really care about the sky because I'm not using this sky.

It's still a little bright right in here, like it could have a little more contrast.

I'll do another instance.

That looks better to me.

The whole thing is a little bright, so I'll bring this down a little.

There we go; that looks more like a night time shot.

So, I'll crop it so we've just got the part we want.

I think that's as good as we'll get.

Okay, let's start on the sky.

Base Curve.

Do we want to use any of this Fusion? I don't know; let's see.

That looks pretty cool.

I'll take a Snapshot.

Change that to None and compare.

I think the original is better (laughing).

I've got more delineation between the Milky Way and the rest of the sky on the original.

I've got vignetting up here in the corners from my lens.

I made a Preset for my lens that gets rid of most of it.

It has this size and shape, and then it adds a little Brightness and keeps the Saturation at 1.000 It looks like I could use a little more Brightness on this one, so I pushed it up to 0.200.

These lights of the city down here are too bright.

Let's knock them down before we do anything else.

Probably centered right about there Let's concentrate on this, right there Uh-oh; this starts to look dark.

Alright, I've added back in a little contrast and knocked down the brightness a little.

Speaking of brightness, the center of the Milky Way looks a little bright to me, so I'll knock that down too.

There we go.

One of the things I'd like to do is: some of these bigger stars got totally burned out.

See that? I want to get rid of the fringing around the outside, this purple fringing, and make these larger stars a little smaller.

So, Lowpass Filter.

Now, for the fringing: I'll use a Parametric Mask.

That fringing has got an awful deep color, so I'll use the C Channel.

Turn on the Mask Indicator to see where I'm at.

Then I'll bring up these levels until only the most colorful parts of the image are selected.

See? It's got this down here too; I don't want to select that.

So, I'll combine it with a Drawn Mask and select this area.

Then reverse that.

Oh, it looks like I need to go out a little more.

Then a little Mask Blur around these.

Like that.

I'll turn off our Mask Indicator.

We've got these bright purples: that's what we're trying to affect.

So I'll turn my Saturation way down -- way, way, way, way down, like zero; that sounds good.


I still have quite a bit of purple in here.

I can take my Saturation negative.

That gets rid of it: perfect! Now our fringing is in check.

Did that affect our Milky Way in a negative way? No: good.

Now for these larger stars: let's fix them.

Oh, look; we still have some of this purple here.

I'll bring down this bottom one a little to see if I can pick that up.

It should be picking it up.

That's about as good as I'll get with that.

So, another version of the Lowpass Filter, and this time I'll set my Radius to, like, one and a half pixels or so.

That fills in the inside of the star with the color around the edge.

Now I'll change my Blend method to Darken only, so it won't affect the outside.

It just affects the insides of these stars.

And I don't want to do it on the smaller stars; I just want to do it on the brighter stars.

I'll use this with a Parametric Mask based on the L Channel and then I'll select for the brighter stars.

There they are.

Give it a little Mask Blur.

A couple of pixels there.

There we go; that knocks down these bigger stars a little.

Okay, before we started messing around, we had this purple fringing and these bigger stars were burned out in the middle.

Afterward, we've knocked down our fringing and our stars look better.

That worked out pretty well.

Let's do a Highpass and see if we can bring up some of these lighter stars.

I want to avoid the brighter stars, so once again I'll use a Parametric Mask based on the L Channel, turn on my Mask Indicator.

This time I'm excluding the brighter stars instead of specifically including them.

So, this is where I'm at.

I'll give it a little bit of a Mask Blur, not much: half a pixel.

Then I want to increase the Sharpness for these smaller stars, but not the noise.

There we go: like that.

Then I'll use Overlay Blend Mode.

Let's see what that looks like.

I might need a little more Contrast here.

That's bringing up the noise too; I don't want to do that.

If I can exclude the sky but include the lighter stars, that would be better.

Then maybe a little Mask Blur.

If this doesn't work, I won't do it at all.

I'm not getting good results with that.

Try the Equalizer.

Okay, we'll bring that up a little.

Once again, I want to exclude the brighter stars.

Let's see if we can do that.

That's probably messing with the Milky Way, isn't it? Right in the middle.

Does that do anything, though? Did that hurt the Milky Way at all? No, it doesn't.


Then I want to knock down this noise some.

Maybe we can do that right here.

Oh, that looks better.

A little bit of this Chroma noise too.


The Milky Way still looks good too.

I want to get a little more impact on the Milky Way itself now.

I'll do another instance of the Equalizer, and I want to work on these larger values here.

That brings out these larger structures of the Milky Way, too: nice.

And how about this next one up? Oh, that looks good too.

Maybe the Chroma also? That looks good.

The Milky Way is looking pretty gold to me.

I think it needs to be more blue.

I'll knock this down some.

There we go.

That's starting to be more of what I'm looking for.

And I think we can go a little brighter.

Oh, I don't want it to look too crunchy.

Hey, that looks good.

As a matter of fact, I wonder if I could get deeper colors and knock down my highlights by just using a Subtract method instead.

We'll use a Parametric Mask based on the L Channel.

Turn down our Opacity.

Use Subtract.

And bring this up slowly.

That knocks down our high end.

That looks pretty good; I think I like that even better.

And our noise looks pretty good.

Our stars look good.

Our fringing looks pretty good.

And we've got color.

I'll turn on Chromatic Aberration control and Hot Pixels, and Export this one.


This one's going into 'sky' Same thing: TIFF, 16-bit, go.

Now, the last one is the water.



Okay, Base Curve.

Let's look at our Fusion here.

Two Exposures, and Exposure Shift.

Oh, nice: I can see the Milky Way nicely in the water now.

I don't care about the sky and I don't care about the mountains; I only care about the water in this one.

I want to show the Milky Way more; I want to control noise.

Yeah; there's a bunch of noise.

Let's see what we can do about the noise first.

Now, this one doesn't have sharp edges because it's in the water.

Maybe we can get by with the Wavelets.

That gives a real shiny look.

Can we bring down the Strength some and still be okay? That's the limit.

Then can we use the Equalizer to finish? No, maybe not.

Well, we know we can do it with the Lowpass Filter.

1.8px Alright.

Let's try to bring out the Milky Way.

Oh, that works.

So does that: nice.

And that one too: great.

Okay, how about on Color? Then I want some Edges too.

This is looking better down here; I like it.

Now, we had to make a color adjustment to the sky, so we should make a similar color adjustment to the water because it has the Milky Way in it.

Like that; that looks good.

Maybe we could make this a little brighter still? Oh, I'm afraid I'll lose these stars if I do that.

Tone Curve maybe? Let's see.

Then, this looks a little bright towards this end, so another Tone Curve with a Drawn Mask.

Bring this down a little.

Oh, there we go; it was almost like I had to squint when I was looking at it.

That's looking better.

We've got our noise under control.

Let's turn on our Hot Pixels and Chromatic Aberrations control and Export that one too.

It is going into 'water' (Mouse's Voice) This week I'd like to share with you another Island photographer.

This woman, Leslie Gleim, is not just a photographer; she's an artist who uses photography.

That distinction is what sets her apart.

She inspires me.

She makes me look at her work.

This was her New Year's shot.

A depth, a complexity, a simplicity.

I really enjoy her work.

Check her out; she's only on Facebook.

She doesn't have a website.

Leslie Gleim Photography.

Enjoy it.

(Harry's voice) Let's take a look at our exports and make sure everything is good.

First, we can crop this: we only need the water.

Our black level looks good; our colors look good.

I bet we can get a little more color in here.

There we go; that looks better.

I think I'm good to go on this one.

Let's look at our 'earth' one.

It looks like there's not much contrast.

Okay, one more, just a simple contrast.

There we go: like that, and like that.

I don't want it to be black.

Okay, I think that's about it; it's about all I can do.

Maybe I can bring that down a little.

Oh, there we go, that looks a little more night-like.


We'll export this one first.

It will go here: .config/darktable/watermarks I'll save it as this tmp.jpg here.

I've got a pre-set I call Watermark that saves it there as tmp.jpg.

I've got to change that to Overwrite.

93? We'll see what size it is.

And I'll leave these sizes the same.

I might be able to increase this.

Okay, I've got a little script here.

Here's what it looks like.

It just looks for the most recent file that starts with tmp and converts that with Inkscape to tmp.svg That's all.

Then it reports back the size.

We'll run that.

Oh: 1.2M We can have that be a lot larger.

Let's see if we can increase the quality all the way.

Don't forget to Overwrite.

Yes! Great.

Now we'll go to our original image here, with the sky.

We want the Watermark module.

Here's our file.

Let's bring it down a little.

We'll set our Opacity down so we can do some aligning.

That looks like the hot ticket right there.

Now we'll use a Parametric Mask to separate it from the background.

Let's see: Blend method; Parametric Mask.

You know, sometimes it's nice to use the Gray scale instead of the Luminance Channel.

The Gray scale is based on a mixture of red green and blue that isn't equal amounts of each.

I don't know that it really matters a lot of times, but where it can really make a difference is that it goes from zero to 255, and the L one only goes from zero to 100.

You get finer granularity with the Gray.

So, when you get to the end, here, and you have very few numbers to work with, sometimes it's better to use that.

Let's see what the Mask looks like.

Well, that looks pretty good.

These look awful bright.

Let's give us a little blend there.

I don't want to include this area here, so I'll combine this with a Drawn Mask and just draw this out.

There, that looks better.

These mountains are awful bright.

Let's go back and fix the original.




Let's make these darker back here.

Tone Curve.

And Drawn Mask.

Let's try that.

I want these darks to come down the most.

Maybe I can bring this down a little bit too.

I don't want to lose contrast back there but it's so bright...

That's a little better.

Let's hit it again.

It's starting to look more like night time back there.

Now look: my Black Point is so off.

Let's see if we can fix that for the whole image.

There we go.

Alright, that's looking more like a night time scene.


Now we'll go back to our sky.

Did that replace it? Yeah, it did replace it with the new one, automatically: nice.

That's sweet how that works.

It still looks a little bright on top, so I'll feather this to get all of the pasting down here and then it drops off on top.

Maybe I can get rid of this and instead use this, like this.

That's what our Mask looks like.

Yeah, maybe like that.

Well, that looks pretty natural.

That helps with our transition here, too.

I'm happy with that.

Now all I have to do is save this and paste in the water.

I'll save this into the directory it's in now.



Tell it to give it a unique filename so it doesn't overwrite our original.

And it's a TIFF.


Let's get our water portion.

We'll create this one into a Watermark now.

Set the quality all the way up.

Since it's cropped, it might be just fine with that.

Oh, I should have hit Overwrite, just to keep my directory clean, but my code works either way.

That WAS under 8M Nice.


There we go.

So, we'll grab our most recent one here, which has our mountains.

Let's put our water in.

There we go.

Now we just need to not include the shoreline.

How are we going to do that? I guess we can use the L or G Channel.

Let's try and exclude that.

What does our shoreline look like here? That is not giving us enough differential, is it? Ah, that works better.


Then I want to exclude all of this stuff.

So, I'll combine it with a Drawn Mask and paint over this so it doesn't include it.

There we go.

Reverse the polarity on that.


We've got our shore edge here.

I'll give that a little Mask Blur so it fades in.

That worked out great.

I'm getting a little bit of an edge up here.

See that? I'll add more.

I can make this one bigger because I don't have to be right along the shore.

There we go: perfect.

Now I'll just do a second instance without an L Channel and catch this bottom part.

So, I'll Duplicate Instance and get rid of the Parametric Mask part, and just do a Drawn Mask.

And we don't want these ones; we want this bottom part.

We can make that smaller.

There we go.

Okay, now we've got our water, and we've got our mountains, and we've got our sky.

Everything is put together.

Let's do some final processing.

I'm going to Export it so that everything gets pushed together as a TIFF and once again Create Unique Filename.

I'll put it in the directory I'm working in, not the Watermark directory.

Here we are with our combined image.

Now, let's do final touches.

This part of the sky looks really dark.

I want to do something about that.

As a matter of fact, this whole top part looks pretty dark too.

Well, it looks like I'll be using the Tone Curve for a while here.

We'll hit these one at a time.

Make these blend areas big.

Too much.

Okay, that helps some.

Now the whole top looks like it's dark.

Let's see what it looks like.

This part here looks a little dark, and getting too colorful at the same time.

As a matter of fact, this whole top does.

Okay, so I'll make it a little brighter, but turn off Automatic and put it on Manual.

That will de-saturate it a little.

That helps with that saturation issue.

This looks a little low-contrast -- like the Black Point is off, right in this part.

This is all the kind of stuff that's really nice to do in the GIMP with the stylus.

Oh, this is starting to look better.

This looks a little dark down here too.

Reverse the direction and bring this up.

Wow, that was really dark down there.

Okay, how are we looking? It looks like this, right from here in here could be a little lower contrast, like the brighter parts are a little too bright and the darker parts are a little too dark.

Right about like that.


Mask Indicator.

And we need to go to our Mask Manager.

Cleanup Unused Shapes and this is Tone Curve #5, so we'll change the first one to Union and the second one to Intersection.

Then our Mask Indicator should show us...

There we go; that's the area I wanted.


Now I want to bring this up and this down.

Bring that up just a little.

And this green part here down.

Okay, that's looking better.

This is looking overly green in here.

See if I can make an adjustment for that.

I'm liking that better.

I'd like to bring out some of the large-scale detail in the Milky Way.

I think my best bet for that is probably the Equalizer tool.

Let's see what that looks like.

Yeah, that really helps in here.

Let's see what the next size down looks like.

Oh, it brings out some of these darker ones, doesn't it? And the next size down? Okay.

I think I want to do two passes.

I'll do one with this larger-scale stuff, but I want to do this Lighten only.

There we go.

Then I want to catch some of these mid-scale ones Darken only.

So, a new instance.

Go to Luma.

And bring this up.


A little bit of that.



Darken only.

Let's look at that.

That was before.

That's after.

I like that.

I don't like it down here, though.

Look: I've got halos and it looks cartoonish.

So, on both of these, I'll use a Drawn Mask and keep it away from these high-contrast areas.

There we go.

Drawn Mask.

And I'll use that same one.

Okay, what else? The whole image is a little dark.

I think I can brighten it up some.

Look at this edge here: it sure looks like I can brighten it up.

I think I want to do my final adjustments, though, with Black point and White point, when I'm all done.

Let's look at our stars, though, and see how they look.

They still look a little noisy up here.

I wonder if we can do a little color smoothing to help that out.

Take our Radius down; go to our Color Channel only; bring our Radius up a little.

Well, it doesn't hurt our Milky Way, does it? And it definitely puts that noise in check, and gets rid of some of the fringing too.

Okay, I'm happy with that.

We can get more of the large-scale features by using Overlay Blend Mode.

Let's do that.

I'll turn my Saturation way down.

See these features? Let's emphasize them.

Bring our size up, like that.

That looks good.


Then change my Blend Mode to Overlay.

I'll try increasing my Brightness some.

Then, I don't want all of it; I just want to use a little.

That says 35% Here's before, and there's after.

It's a bit much in these brighter areas.

I'll combine it with a Parametric Mask and bring down the brighter ones a little.



Before, and after.

Oh, I think we can do it more now.

And maybe a little smaller Radius.

Bring the Brightness down.

Now let's see our before and after.

Before, and after.

That makes it more dramatic.

I'd like to get some more color in the Milky Way.

I'll use the Equalizer Tool.

So, Chroma Channel and let's try some of these larger sizes.

Oh, look at that: that's beautiful.

I like that.

Then bring it back down a little.

Okay, it's way heavy in here, so let's use a Drawn Mask.

I like it.

Okay, I'll save everything, then change my White point and dark point, and then I think I'm done.




Unique Filename.

Here we go.

Okay, bring up my brightness a little.

I'm pretty happy with my dark point.

It's right there.

Have I got some purple fringing? No, not really; I don't.

Well, a little bit.

A little bit of purple fringing.

Once again, I think we can hit it with this.

I know we did this once before.

C Channel.

Take these brighter parts, this way.

There we go.

Those fringe parts right there.

Mask Blur, a little.

And I hope we're not into the Milky Way here.

No, we're not, but we've got this down here.

I don't mind knocking that down a little, though; that is a little bit much, isn't it? Let's see if it's too much, though.

Okay, turn off that and let's turn down our Saturation.

Oh, good: that got rid of a lot of that fringing.

And, before, and after.

Yes! Too much, though.

Bring up our Saturation a little.

Okay, now: what did it do down here? Oh, that doesn't work.

So, I'll combine that with a Drawn Mask and get rid of this.

There we go.

Everything else good? Maybe a final sharpening? Not much.


Hey, that was a great year! I'm so looking forward to 2017! (Mouse's voice) Aloha friends.

Thank you for bringing in the new year with us here at Weekly Edit.

This was a fun edit, and I'm glad we got to share it with you.

Speaking of sharing, we love it when you upload your Edit my RAW submissions.

Not only is it a challenge and part of the show, but it inspires us to do a little research, find out some new things to share with you, and it shows us glimpses of the world through your cameras.

It's nice to step outside ourselves and see what you are looking at.

And always, feel free to contact us: We always reply and we love to hear from you.

This week we got a fun share.

We showed up on a French Darktable website! This was thrilling for us.

We felt international.

It was cool to see ourselves in another language.

So: thank you to darktable-fr! Don't forget, you can find us on Patreon, where you can become a patron and support us.

You can also find out what our next week's show will be.

And we love to hear from you on YouTube! We get some great comments, and we really enjoy responding to them.

Again, we always respond -- and we love to hear from you.

So, please: send us your comments.

We'll see you next week on Weekly Edit! Aloha.

6 thoughts on “Shot of the Year 2016

    • Mahalo for watching! We always wonder who will see these videos when we post them, so it means a lot that you wrote. –Mouse and Harry

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