What Makes A Photo?


Today I would like to tell you a story.  The story of the image featured in this post.  I class this as one of my best images and it holds a special place in my heart, as it was taken celebrating my 40th birthday on the side of a volcanic mountain on a Spanish island.

But what goes into making the image?

It’s a question I am asking myself a lot recently.  I feel as though my images are never good enough and I tend to be my own worst critic…..which is always interesting to me.  It’s interesting as I do both commercial and personal work, just for me, and I tend to be over critical of my personal work, whereas my clients never seem to have fed back negatively regarding my work for them.   I tend to be critical about the process and about the final image and I always think “I wish I had done…”, so I thought it would be interesting to explain to you how the above image came to be.

Part 1 – The Planning of a Concept….

So I knew that on September 8th, 2015 I would hit 40 and I knew, after talking it over with my partner, where I wanted to be and what I wanted to be doing.  The where was up a mountain on the volcanic Island of Tenerife and the what was based around two of my passions – photography and stargazing.  Therefore, back in June time 2015, we booked a trip and I started planning how I wanted to capture my image – we’ll call this pre-visualising the concept.  I wanted a shot of the sun setting above the clouds from the Teide National Park.

I turned to our friend Google and researched companies that would fulfill a need.  Most people visit Tenerife, situated off the west coast of Morroco,  for its spectacular scenery, warm temperatures, great beaches and lively nightlife.  I wanted to visit for its volcanic heart.

OverviewThe above shows you the outline of the island with Mount Teide, its volcanic heart, perched roughly in the middle.  For more information on Teide itself check out this link https://goo.gl/M8xvY

I was lucky enough to come across Teide by Night a fantastic company that take you on an excursion up the mountain late in the afternoon, staying there until well after dark and give you the best stargazing experience I have ever had.


This meant that from a planning perspective – the getting there and the tour were sorted.

The image capture planning would be down to me.

I use various tools to explore an area prior to shooting, especially if it’s not my local area where I already know the lie of the land.  Two that I recommend are Google Map, to look at the geography and topography and TPE, The Photographers Ephemeris, which allows you to research where the sun will be rising from and setting to, anywhere in the world.

Sunset Info

To use this, I contacted the company for the route and plotted the GPS.

Part 2 – The Image Capture….

The afternoon started out and we slowly made our way up the mountain and towards the National Park


The camera was never really in its case!  Towards sunset the coach pulled into a #VantagePoint on the road and everyone hurried out.  Champagne was served and due to the drop in temperature being so high up, blankets were given out to keep us warm.

Beauty was all around us and in between taking it all in I looked for my viewpoint – the position from which I wanted to shoot, on this special day in my life.  One of the things I like to remind myself of regularly and was top of my agenda, whilst shooting this shot, was that I really needed to “see” my image and not just “look” for it, ensuring I took in the complete visual palette that was being presented to me.

I checked out all the contributing factors, from light to where all the other people were standing and chose a viewpoint that placed the peak of Teide to the left and the cloud level to the right, sloping left to right, with the sun setting on one of the thirds.  As the light was challenging I knew I would need to bracket to show the complete dynamic range of the scene.

I set my Sony A6000 up with the following settings:

  • ISO 100
  • Exposures – 3 brackets at 1/1250, 1/320 & 1/80
  • f/4
  • Shooting RAW

I didn’t use a tripod and shot the three images below handheld, bracing myself on my chest and holding my breath.

The images you see show the actual scene on the left, the overexposed – top right and the under exposed on the bottom right.  Between sipping champagne and engaging with the moment I shot other views but this was the set that I actually picked to process.

My shoot was followed by several hours of stargazing where the constellations and the Milky Way provided us with a visual theatre, that of which I will never forget.  Not having any light pollution really opens your eyes to the world we live in!

Part 3 – Processing….

When we arrived back on the Isle of Wight the first action I took was to back up my photos.  My tip, from experience, is always to leave your photos on your SD card until you have at least 2 backed up copies.

Once backed up securely, I imported the images into Adobe Lightroom.  As part of my workflow, during the import, I apply some basic adjustments to the RAW images.  These include highlight and shadow adjustments, applying my lens profile and adding some clarity.  I also apply GPS metadata that I collect via my phone using an app called Geotag Photos Pro.  I am a stickler for data and like to be able to pinpoint whereabouts I shot an image.

As I knew I would need to use a technique called HDR (High Dynamic Range) to show the full detail of the scene,  I exported the 3 separate images to Photomatix Pro using their merge to 32bit HDR plugin.  Since processing this image, I now use Aurora HDR Pro to process any HDR images.

Within Photomatix, I always apply the basic preset.  I want to be able to craft the image the way I want, not how some preset decides to do it.  For me, photography and post processing are about presenting the world how you perceived it.

Once back in Lightroom, most of my images get exported to On1 Photos.  For reference – at the time I was using version 9.5 but now they have just released 10.1.  This is a cracking piece of software and I overlay 4 filters:

  •  Sharpening
  • Dynamic Contrast
  • Color Enhancer
  • Vignette

Each of these settings could have its own post but my advice is to play around until you find your style.  Saving it sends it back to Lightroom and from here it’s about exporting it to my portfolio or desired social channel.

In Closing….

So I hope this story shows you the little bit of science / workflow / process, whatever you want to refer to it as, that goes into an image.  Yes, I sometimes point and shoot but most of the time I follow this process to get my worthwhile images.

Maybe, in the future, I’d like to try a new camera technology like Light, which has a pocket-sized small camera that produces high-quality images, and an interactive touchscreen feature that allows you to edit photos seconds after you take it.

This way I can continue to capture and live in the moment!

When I did my annual review of my images from the year this shot came out as number one.

I like it and I hope you do too?

If you want to know more about my photography or have an idea for a subject you would like a post on drop an email at info@wightlightphotography.co.uk






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