Milan cityscape: Before and After

This post is a both a tutorial and a story behind the shot
As for the tutorial part, have a look at the before and after below and, if you want to learn about my workflow in Adobe Lightroom, watch the video I linked further down the page or visit my YouTube channel

Torri Richard and the San Cristoforo area in Milan - single exposure version


I captured this image at sunrise in Milan, Italy, on the 24th December 2016.
Milan is my hometown, but I have lived abroad for over a decade and the day before Christmas I was staying at a friend's place.
My attention was drawn to the colorful sunrise and I rushed out on the balcony, armed with my camera and tripod.

The light being so warm and pleasing, I decided to underexpose my shot so that I could capture all the details in the sky: tones, colours and texture of the clouds. Knowing my camera inside out, I had no doubts I could fully recover the shadows in post-production. 

This is actually my fancy version of the story. I am not saying it is a fake one, just incomplete.
The whole story is that I bracketed 3 shots, 2 stops apart from each other (-2, 0, +2).
I then merged those 3 shots using Lightroom's HDR engine, producing a super RAW file with a much higher dynamic range, which I do prefer to the single shot version. 

Torri Richard and the San Cristoforo area in Milan - HDR version (3 exposures)

I thought the HDR version would lend itself to a more effective post-processing, in terms of contrast and colour grading. I first used Lightroom and then Photoshop.
As a bonus, by including the 0 and + 2 stops  exposures I got the Italian flag (which you can see in the centre of the frame) slightly flapping in the wind - a feature that was lacking in the underexposed photograph.

To keep things simple in the tutorial, I will only be using the underexposed image to produce what I reckon is still a very acceptable result. I hope you will enjoy the video. 

Believe it or not, when I took this photo I did not know the name of the towers, let alone their history.
In the morning light - a truly beautiful golden hour - I even thought they were modern and very recently built, but I was wrong.

It turns out that the Torri Richard (named after Via Richard - i.e. Richard Street) - also known as Torri del Naviglio - were built in the '80s and, since their very beginnings they become the subject of a big controversy in relation to how, where and on top of what they were built. 
Furthermore, most people find them ugly.

It is not my intention to go into any of these arguments. As a photographer, that morning, I simply thought they had an element of beauty and interest, nicely complemented by the grungy railway and nearby buildings.

For living things as well as cities, I believe scars are no less part of history than are beautiful highlights.

Over time, I got to learn how hard it is to judge what is beautiful and what is ugly when reality goes through the process of being painted with light, a process we more commonly call photography.


Behind the shot: Bay of Caldeirinhas

If you don't want to read the story and just want to see my final image, scroll down the page past the first picture.

In April 2017, I visited Faial for three days to shoot Capelinhos, the volcano at the very end of Europe.
During the last day of my stay, I knew I was going to take the ferry back to Pico before sunset and therefore decided to simply wonder around and scout for future shoots.

Below you see one of the pictures I took of the Baía das Caldeirinhas in harsh, unflattering light.

Bay of Caldeirinhas - snapshot

There were two things I very much liked about Caldeirinhas:

1) The water in the bay was so transparent that I could see the seafloor in its shallows, a characteristic I knew I could greatly enhance by using a polarising filter at sunset. Why at sunset? Because the bay faces South and the sun sets at 90° to it - i.e. West. In case you did not know, you get the maximum effect of glare removal with a polarising filter when the sun is 90° to either side of your lens.
On the other hand, the effect is very small or zero when the sun is right in front or behind you. 

2) The Baía das Caldeirinhas is a no-access Marine Protected Area, giving me extra motivation to portrait its beauty through my photography.

I started to plan my sunset shot of Caldeirinhas as soon as I got back to Pico.
Of course, any day with a potential for a nice sunset could have worked. However, I thought it would be a good idea to also try to shoot the Milky Way above the horizon, which requires dark skies (no moon or no much of it, basically).
Due to several factors, such as bad weather, too bright skies and being busy with other things, I only went back to Faial on the 24th July 2017.

The weather forecast looked nice but, as soon as I boarded the ferry from Pico to Faial, it started to rain. The sky cleared during navigation and, when I arrived in Faial, the weather was even too nice: not a single cloud in Caldeirinhas, which was a hit to my hope for a nice sunset shot.
I knew I should not worry too much, though. The weather in the Azores can change so quickly that you should better be quick at complaining about it :-) 
Indeed, after a short drive to my location, I found myself again in a light drizzle.
Fortunately, it did not last long and around 8pm I got set up, ready for the golden hour to happen.

I knew already I was going to shoot at 18mm. Since I am an APS-C shooter, it is the full frame equivalent of 27mm. Furthermore, I knew I wanted to shoot lower than in the snapshot above, especially in case I had a nice sky, so that I could include more of it.
Last, but not least, I wanted the water to be very smooth and I therefore planned to use a 6-stop neutral density filter, along with the polariser.

This is the shot I got. Click it to see the picture on my portfolio website:

Baía das Caldeirinhas - final shot

I must say that I am happy with my image.

I shoot this exact scene for almost 4 hours, all the way from before sunset to complete dark. I did that because I knew my final shot was going to be a blend of at least two exposures:
1) A long exposure for everything but the sky, so that I could get very silky waters (6-stop neutral density filter + polarising filter)
2) A second, much shorter shot to expose correctly for the sky (no filters).

There is a time when you first think of a picture you would like to take. At the beginning, it is just in your mind. Then you start planning the shot and, if you are lucky, one day you will capture the image you dreamt about for so long.

When that happens, it is hard for me to describe the feeling of accomplishment and it is definitely the aspect of photography that motivates me the most.

Later on that night I tried to shoot the Milky Way. I knew its Galactic Centre (the brightest part of it) would appear above the horizon from about 11pm. But this is another story...


My video tribute to Mount Pico

My best shots of Mount Pico as a tribute to the mountain I have photographed the most in my life.
Located in the mid-Atlantic on Pico Island, Azores, Mount Pico is a stratovolcano that last erupted in 1718. Locally called Montanha do Pico, it is best known for its fumarole and the magnificent cloud hats it sometimes wears, which are technically lenticular clouds.
With its 2351 metres, Pico is also the highest peak of Portugal. 


I hope my pictures will do justice to its outstanding beauty.