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Two Frames For A Prayer Flag

Prayer flags at Chele La, Bhutan.
Phase One A-Series IQ3 100MP, 23mm lens, 1/60 and 1/4 second @ f11, ISO 50


Another photograph from the remarkable Chele La in Bhutan, this one taken on our photo tour just a month or so ago on the night of 'that full moon'! Chele La is a 4000 metre pass and each time I visit, it's a little bit different. The flags have changed position or aged, the weather is different, or sometimes it's just me!


On this occasion, I loved the strong colour of the orange flag with the predominantly white flags behind. Using an ultra wide-angle lens, I moved in close to the orange flag (less than a metre distant) so it became a dominant element in the composition. However, I had two conflicting desires when it came to the exposure. On the one hand, I wanted to capture the writing and illustrations printed on the flag, which needed a fast shutter speed; on the other, I wanted to capture the blur and motion of the flags as they fluttered and crackled in the strong wind, in which case a slow shutter speed was required.


What to do? The solution was relatively easy, especially since my camera was mounted on a tripod. I took a series of photographs at different shutter speeds, using a 3-stop ND filter to slow down the shutter speed. I took a lot of shots because you can't always tell when the flag is going to be in an 'attractive' position.


To read how I handled the post-production in Capture One and Photoshop, click through to the website for the full article.


Exposure at 1/30 second.

Exposure at 1/4 second.


The process was quite simple. Both photos were processed in Capture One, being mindful to apply similar adjustments so the two photos looked identical, especially in the sky. The resulting 16-bit TIFF files were opened in Photoshop, one on top of the other in a single file. The long exposure was on top, to which I added a mask. I then painted on the mask to reveal the 'sharp' flag below. 


Interestingly, the prayer flag pole in the long exposure is blurred, so I used the mask to reveal all of the 'sharp' pole as well. I then planned to use the mask to reveal all of the image between this central pole and the pole on the right - which I did. However, I then found that by painting back in the edges of the blurred flag I had a more interesting result - so the 'sharp photo' is really only visible down the central pole and around half the distance across the flag. A further amount of post-production followed.


I guess it's all a matter of understanding what your camera can do - and how post-production can help afterwards. I have no doubt some people will prefer the 100% sharp shot, others the 100% blurred image, but this photograph was created for me. Part of the enjoyment I get from photography is problem solving, especially when I'm happy with the result.


LAST CHANCE! Tony Hewitt and I have one spot left on our South West USA photo tour/road trip from San Francisco to Las Vegas from Jan 23 to Feb 2 early next year. Full details on the Better Photography website!


Peter Eastway Uses

Peter Uses

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