How did he make it look like this? What settings did he use and any special equipment? If anyone has any pointers, that'd be great!

enter image description here

  • 3
    Great result! Where did you find this sequence of images? Do you have permission to post them here?
    – dpollitt
    Jul 26, 2011 at 19:28

3 Answers 3


This reddit comment goes into detail on what the photographer did:

Here's a summary of the settings, technique and post processing used for the photo, taken from a comment on my wallpaper post a month ago:

Canon 5D mkII DSLR + 28mm f/1.8 USM lens. Filters are extremely important for this shot. We shot pre-sunrise at a muddy/sandy area on the coast about half an hour from where I live. Plenty of mangroves and a few trees out in the open like this one that are mostly above ground but start to flood at high tide. I wanted to smooth over the water as much as possible which requires an ultra long exposure, but shooting straight into a bright sun means I needed to use a huge amount of darkening with my filters. After composing the shot without the filters (too dark to see through the viewfinder once they're on), I stacked an ND400, an ND8 and two ND4 grad filters on the front of the lens. The NDs helped slow the shutter speed and the grads helped darken the sky for a more pleasing effect. It took a few attempts at getting my exposure right, but the final result was shot at ISO50 (keeping sensitivity down), f/8 (good sharpness on this lens) and 70 seconds. To get any shutter speed past 30 seconds on a DSLR you need a remote switch, I picked one up off ebay for 4 bucks.

Post processing: This is the one photo that everyone asks or assumed is heavily processed, but it's had hardly anything done to it. I corrected for the red tinge that comes from the cheap filters and added some contrast and blacks for the tree silhouette, and that was it. It's great to see that in the end, nothing beats a photo that was constructed well in-camera. Here's a comparison of original RAW file to final copy.

  • 5
    "nothing beats a photo that was constructed well in-camera" love it
    – rfusca
    Jul 26, 2011 at 19:35
  • 1
    ND400, that is ridiculous.
    – dpollitt
    Jul 26, 2011 at 19:43
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    70 seconds is also ridiculous, as is f8... Jul 26, 2011 at 20:05
  • @ElendilTheTall, dpollitt - Speak for yourself. I regularly shoot at night with a ND400. 15 Minute Exposures? Sure.
    – Fake Name
    Jul 26, 2011 at 23:16
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    Haha! When I take the time to use my ND400, I am usually up to creating something awesome... plus I get only a few shots like that per golden hour, so I have to make them count!
    – Itai
    Jul 27, 2011 at 0:21

This looks like a very easy shot and requires knowing a few tricks. This is my guess:

  • Long exposure makes the water look very soft. Probably 8-15s but that depends on the speed of the waves.
  • He probably used a small aperture (F/8 or so) and got lots of depth-of-field. This helps getting a long shutter-speed as well but so does the use of ND filters.
  • He stacked at least two filters.
  • One was a a hard-stop split ND filter, probably 3 stops, making the sun darker than its reflection.
  • The others are color filters with gradient. He probably did not do that in Photoshop which is why he got some horribly dark corners from having too many stacked filters.
  • 2
    Oops! @rm999 found the answer. Does it helped anyone how I guessed? Or should I simply delete this?
    – Itai
    Jul 26, 2011 at 19:36
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    How to deconstruct is nearly always helpful imho. Its rare to find the actual instructions
    – rfusca
    Jul 26, 2011 at 19:40
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    I like your answer better then the "real" answer from reddit :)
    – dpollitt
    Jul 26, 2011 at 19:41
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    +1 Your nice chain of reasoning is at least as instructive as the documented answer. (But both "horribly dark" and "very easy" are both extreme characterizations, I think.)
    – whuber
    Jul 26, 2011 at 20:53
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    @matt - Which part is no clear? Water smoothness = long exposure; Tree is sharp and clouds are not completely out of focus, so smallish aperture; 2+ filters = vignetting; hard-stop split ND makes the sky darker, otherwise the sun's reflection would not be brighter than the sun; filter coloring gives the unnatural horizontal M-Y gradient. Author claims it is due to the cheapness of his filters and his software-compensation. There are gradient filters to do the same. As I said, just a pile of simple tricks. The art is thinking of applying them in this combination :)
    – Itai
    Jul 27, 2011 at 1:56

The photographer used a tripod, a long exposure, and a remote shutter release to help reduce vibrations. They also likely post processed back in some color enhancements. I would guess that they used either a graduated neutral density filter or a general ND filter to help with the bright light from the sun, but that is just a guess and cannot be said with certainty.

  • 1
    I would say he definitely had some kind of ND filter on there or it would be blown out (more than it already is). You can just see in the second shot that there's something square on the business end of the lens. Jul 26, 2011 at 19:30
  • 1
    I'd guess at least a second (probably more) to blur the water & sky like that.
    – D. Lambert
    Jul 26, 2011 at 19:31

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