I am curious about this picture of the week:

Several things don't look quite right to me, and I'm curious if these really are artifacts or my imagination. If the former, it would be interesting to know how this picture was assembled. I tried looking in the image of the week contest and hall of fame threads on meta, but this picture was in neither.

Several things bother me about this image:

  1. The sky and mountains don't seem to fit. There seems to be a halo around above the mountain that looks quite unnatural. It is this deliberate, a artifact of editing, or actually due to some atmospheric effect?

  2. Is the "ground fog" behind the trees and at the base of the mountain real, or something else? It looks more like a compositing artifact, but I wasn't there.

  3. Where is there? Flat terrain abruptly followed by mountains is possible but unusual.

  4. Is the road real or composited in. It just doesn't look right to me, but I can't say exactly why. Something about how it meets the green area doesn't feel right, and the lines in the field that keep going straight regardless of the road's existance don't seem right either. Even the texture of the road looks off. What is really going on here?

In general it would be interesting to hear how this picture was built, if it was. If real, what were the particulars of the lighting, weather, etc, that causes it to look so unreal. What in-camera and post-processing effects were used?

  • \$\begingroup\$ Flat terrain abruptly followed by mountains is very common of glacial valleys. \$\endgroup\$
    – Matt Grum
    Commented Mar 4, 2013 at 9:52

5 Answers 5


Really flattered to learn that so much discussion is going on about my photograph. I'd like to pitch in of course and tell you exactly what I did with this photo.

Here, firstly, is the unprocessed photo, that you may compare with the processed one below. This should answer many questions at once:

Mt Untersberg original

Mt Untersberg processed

You get this view of Mt. Untersberg from around the middle of the Hellbrunner Strasse stretch. So yes, this is a real setting and no manipulation of the landscape etc. has been made in post-processing, except getting rid of some birds on the path with clone stamp. I hope that answers questions 3 and 4 of the OP.

However, the image still lacked detail and contrast, so I used my usual method to get a bit more action going. This involves copying it into more layers in Photoshop, tweak the levels adjustment to get the exposure of different parts right, and use brushes on masks to make those parts visible. I also use some general vibrance, photo filter adjustments etc. There's another trick I sometimes use for a glowing look depending on the photo, which I did for the field here. It is to use a blurred layer copy on top set to 'soft light' or 'overlay'.

I have written down a blog post with the exact details of how I achieve these effects.

Okay, now for the other two questions:

Q.1: You are quite right that the halo around the mountains was an artificial collateral of trying to increase the contrast of the sky.

Q.2: The 'fog' at the base was also brought out using the technique I mentioned along with some photo filters adjustment (again, I use it only on localized region on copied layers, then make it visible with soft brushes on masks). This often causes a difference between the lighting conditions of various objects (here the sky is cool, the mountains look warm) that can be picked up by careful eyes such as yours, and which my short foray into post-processing doesn't yet allow me to remedy.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Thank you very much. I was hoping you would chime in here and explain what really happened. What you say makes sense and explains everything nicely. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 15, 2013 at 23:50

I live in Colorado, and have lived in Kansas, Nebraska, and Utah, and I've seen the world look like this on numerous occasions, and it is positively beautiful. I know the photo in question has effects applied, but there is a natural condition which can lead to the scene looking like this. It's pretty simple - the sun is low in the sky, and it's shining partly under the clouds, lighting up the area under the clouds very brightly. Happens in Kansas all the time when there's fast-moving thunderstorms in the evening. People say Kansas is flat and boring, but the flat land allows for some really incredible sunsets and weather effects. Most of the time, I don't even stop to take a picture when I see this, but if it can win photography contests, maybe I should. It happens fairly often - at least a few times a year, and this is the good time of year for it too, when we get a lot of storms. If they line up against the mountains just right, you get this halo effect.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Kinda funny about ten minutes after I said this, I looked outside and it's snowing in my area, but the sun is shining under the clouds from another area, and it has a similar effect. Snowing and sunny at the same time - really looks weird. Forgot my camera today, arrrgghhh :) \$\endgroup\$
    – Jasmine
    Commented Mar 4, 2013 at 23:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ Sorry for unaccepting your answer, but only the photographer himself can provide the definative answer. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 15, 2013 at 23:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yeah for sure! I didn't even know you accepted this answer, it's not a very good one :) I was just pointing out that the weird lighting can happen naturally. Now that I see the original though, I realize that isn't what happened here. The effect I'm talking about is really beautiful, I'll capture it if I ever see it again! \$\endgroup\$
    – Jasmine
    Commented Mar 27, 2013 at 16:08

Here is the text of the contest entry:

Mountains on the Horizon

In 2011 I went backpacking in the middle of my undergrad on a shoestring budget around Europe, mostly by train and foot.

In the middle of a long and sweaty (it was warm even for an Indian) hike through the beautiful Hellbrunner Strasse in Salzburg, Austria, Mt. Untersberg appeared through the trees as an excellent allibi to stop, photograph, and catch my straining breath.

Canon EOS 500D (18-55mm). The exposure was later balanced, mixed and composited in Photoshop from a single JPEG.

Click on the image or here for larger size and full EXIF.

The entry has been deleted from the contest thread, and you don't have enough reputation yet to see deleted. (I think we in the 10K club tend to forget that we can see things other people can't.)

  • \$\begingroup\$ Ah, so it was glued together, but from parts of the same original. The transition between the trees and mountain look even less real on the larger version. This must be due to the compositing. It would be interesting to see the original picture. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 3, 2013 at 23:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ I don't think he means composited in the same sense you are understanding it. Looking at the EXIF info on Flickr it appears what he composited was a series of -, 0, + versions of the entire original scene. When viewing the 2048X1024 version at 100% many of the artifacts aren't visible, which means they are due to scaling in the smaller versions of the image. The darker trees are the tips of those on the next ridge further back from the lighter trees. If you look closely you can see they are different types of trees. Only Abhranil could say for sure if any elements were rearranged, though. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Commented Mar 4, 2013 at 4:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ I need to move the last couple weeks of winners to the hall of fame, too. Maybe we can enrich the HoF information with entry comments as well. \$\endgroup\$
    – jrista
    Commented Mar 4, 2013 at 21:52


  • Where is there? Flat terrain abruptly followed by mountains is possible but unusual.

I was unable to identify the exact location - nowhere that I could see on the Hellbrunner Strasse seemed to provide a perfect match for the scene, but somewhere around the areas shown below seems likely. The red line shows the general line of the road and the oval is the massif formed from several mountains, one of which is Untersberg - which may lie slightly more in Germany than Austria.

Hellbrunner Strasse runs (as far as I can tell), with occasional changes to other names and then back again. from about the southern point shown, north into Strasburg proper. Other more northerly locations seem less likely due to an increase in buildings and general reduction on open landscape.

Gargoyle maps provides

enter image description here


Note: I liked the picture when I first saw it and I like it now, and it sounds like there was not a vast amount of manipulation involved. My comments below do not relate negatively to what has been done to create this image:

The questions are all legitimate, but, adding to my recent reflections on submitted photos, makes me wonder why it matters. This forum, like many others, seems to be open to unspecified and unlimited amounts of manipulation. As long as a camera was involved in generating the base source material in some manner, or perhaps most or some of it, almost anything goes. Apparently.

Some major competitions which are open to the general public very specifically place no limitations at all on what can be done "artistically" to a 'photo' entry, and judges often choose entries which, thankfully enough, no camera could ever have created in this version of reality. Art in any form is fine enough in its rightful place (which in some cases is far far far away :-) ) but it seems a shame (to me) that the art form has in many cases come to require more graphic arts than light-through-a-piece-of-glass skills.

Where do you draw the line ?

Apart from, 'Nowhere at all. If it feels, good do it.'?

3 examples done for my own purposes.
No great editing skills claimed or displayed.
Editing aim is to remove or alter content which was not relevant to or distracted from main theme.
Not aimed at competitions or display etc (except for friends).

No, I didn't ADD the rail. Swap A & B :-). Old man in Hong Kong. Posed only to the extent that I saw the photo coming and wited while he slowly shuffled into position. I have a few before and after, but this was the one I anted. The rail was portable but not movable by me in circumstances. It had to go. No?

Qingdao chess. At some other time the car and clothes would not have been there. The yellow pipe and valve would still have been :-(. Still a piece of clothes line left behind :-).

Yogyakarta labourer. Iron abs. Bare feet & steel pedal shafts! Axe, sickle, helmet, ... Wow. The motorcycle and red machinery in background were a sad distraction. Olin?

enter image description here

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    \$\begingroup\$ I agree that we seem to have lost sight of what "photography" is. I have no problem with people making artificial images like painters have been doing for 1000s of years, but "photography" should be substantially what was actually captured. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 4, 2013 at 14:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ I really hope you're not pining for the "good old days"—they never were. Even the strictest photojournalism falls under the category of "lens-based art" unless it's being done casually and without thought. Manipulation of the subject, light and image have always been part of the game; it's not simply a matter of applied optics. \$\endgroup\$
    – user2719
    Commented Mar 4, 2013 at 15:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ @StanRogers I'm perfectly happy for people to hack a photo around until it bears about no resemblance to the original. It's what happens after that that seemeth a bit beyond the pale. | eg there's a "photo" competition run internationally by a major camera manufacturer. ... \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 4, 2013 at 15:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ @StanRogers ... Our region for entries is Australia and New Zealand. Prizes are a top DSLR per section and Same plus a toppish lens for overall winner. While I would have about no chance of winning if it was a photo competition, I have none whatsoever of winning in reality as all winning entries are always creations of artistic fancy by master craftsmen, with some of the raw material having been produced by a camera, probably. As "about no chance" and "none whatsoever" are essentially identical it doesn't really affect me, but it still feels sad. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 4, 2013 at 15:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ @OlinLathrop - neither am I. Just about everything I ever did in the studio was a "lie", whether it was to flatter the subject or to achieve my own vision. If you imagine that photography as an art form has ever historically been other than selective, abstract manipulation, then you're deluding yourself."Straight" photography is a trend that comes and goes; variations on pictorialism are the norm. \$\endgroup\$
    – user2719
    Commented Mar 4, 2013 at 20:30

You can see that a lot of dodge/burn was used on the image. Also probably a lot of clone/stamp to move around unwanted objects, as the author explained in the text postead earlier.


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