Sunset at the Blue Lagoon

Before taking night shots of Svartsengi power station, I walked around for a bit at the Blue Lagoon. It is one of Iceland’s most popular tourist destination, both for Icelanders and foreign visitors. The water pumped up for the geothermal power plant is collected in some outdoor pools that have naturally formed in the rough lava rock landscape. The water is rich in minerals and some algae, which give it a distinctly blue color.

The wind was causing many small waves to appear on the surface of the water and some low hanging clouds were moving past the sun really fast. I walked around one of the easier accessible pools, just letting the different directions of the light inspire me. While I was still fine tuning from which place and at what height to take a photo, another photographer approached me, noting that the angle I had selected looked very interesting indeed. That’s of course photographer code for “I’m totally going to take the same shot as soon as you leave” and it is something I have gotten used to. I replied that you’d have to shoot directly into the sun though, and configured auto bracketing.

Sunset at the Blue Lagoon

This is not the first photo I post that was shot directly into the sun, but this time I used a more wide angle lens and also needed parts of the foreground to be visible. With several photos, bracketed at different exposure times and later combined into a high dynamic range image, this is not difficult, only a lot of work in post processing. To make it even harder, I had left the tripod in the car and had to shoot handheld, which resulted in images that weren’t properly aligned.

To get the image you see above, I had to run my five different photos through many different pieces of software. After learning that for some reason, neither Luminance HDR, nor Picturenaut could properly align the images, I had to figure out something else. After a while, I got Hugin, originally a panorama creation program, to align and crop the individual exposures, but only after I had developed the raw files with RawTherapee. Then, I could turn them into a single HDR file, tone-map it and load it into The GIMP, along with some of the aligned and cropped versions. From there, it was the usual spiel of experimenting with different layer modes, meticulously painting layer masks and enhancing the final result with some G’MIC magic.

So yes, six different pieces of software to produce a single image. And in the end, only the output of four of them is used in the image. Fortunately, all of these programs are free and what’s even more important, I got to play around with a lot of new techniques and learned some new tricks. Nowadays, all the things the old masters did in their laboratories and dark rooms can be done on the computer. As long as you’re not opposed to heavily processed pictures.

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