It's so bright and the colors and detail stand out so much. I have a NikonD5200 and access to Photoshop.

Source: http://angelicablick.se/blog/2014/06/13/call-magic/ (first image)

  • \$\begingroup\$ From the light on the model in the 3rd foto I would also expect the use of some flash gun from the left \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 2, 2015 at 6:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ Assuming that this is not a composite created from several different pictures (there seem to be no clear indications of that in this picture) there has been a quite some work that was put into that image. This is definitely not just a quick snapshot but a well planned and edited professional shot. 1st a strong light source from "behind" (otherwise part of the models and inside of the boat would be in shadow) and 2nd quite some post-processing (skin, clothes) \$\endgroup\$
    – kruemi
    Commented Jan 18, 2021 at 11:30

6 Answers 6


This looks very much like a the photographer duplicated the image as a new layer, used a large radius Gaussian blur, and then set the blending mode to "overlay". It's the same effect I used in this photo:

You get a soft focus effect but with crisp details, and a boost to the saturation. They have also reduced the contrast by bringing the black point up a bit, and possibly put some blue in the shadows (seperate R G and B curves is a good way to achieve this).

You need a decent-ish image to start with, shooting with the sun that low in the sky certainly helps. But there's nothing there you couldn't do with your D5200, provided you have a boat and some willing models!


There's a definite "HDR feel" to the photos, but I'm not sure if any actual HDR / exposure blending tricks have actually been used — it might just be strong curves and saturation adjustment, combined with odd lighting.

  • The photo has been taken against the light, but with the sun low in the sky and behind a layer of clouds, which will tend to diffuse the light and somewhat reduce the contrast difference between the foreground and the sky. I suspect that's really the most important "trick" here.

  • The photographer may have used a polarizing filter to darken the sky and the reflected sunlight off the water. There may also have been a fill flash involved.

  • It's pretty likely that the luminance curve has been adjusted to add contrast to the shadows (possibly using something like the Photoshop "Shadow / Highlight" tool, rather than by directly editing the curve), and the color saturation has obviously been increased.

    It's possible that some of the adjustment may have been masked to affect only the foreground, but it's hard to tell for sure. The images could also be exposure fused composites, with the sky and the foreground taken from separate bracketed images (or the same RAW image with different exposure corrections), but I actually suspect that, in this case, they're not (see below).

  • Looking at the sky, especially in the second picture, you can tell that the highlights are pretty badly clipped, and it appears to be a sharp "digital clip" rather than a smooth "film clip".

    I would consider this a flaw (even if it does add somewhat to the "dramatic" contrast), but it also suggests to me that the photos have probably not been processed too much (beyond the obvious contrast and saturation boosts) — or, alternatively, that whoever post-processed them wasn't skilled enough to handle the highlights properly.

Anyway, here's a quick example of how to post-process such images to bring out the foreground. The original image is a quick snapshot I took from a boat against the sunlight, with no fill flash, using a Nikon D70s at ISO 200, f/6.0, 1/8000 s. It lacks the dramatic sunset colors, but does illustrate the general issues with shooting against the light over water:

Step 1: Original image with no exposure correction Step 2: Exposure boosted by +2.6 in ufraw Step 3: Color saturation boosted to 170% Step 4: Luminance curve adjusted to balance foreground and background
Top down, left to right: (1) original image with no exposure correction, (2) exposure boosted by +2.6 in ufraw, (3) color saturation boosted to 170%, (4) luminance curve adjusted to balance foreground and background.

Note how, without exposure correction, the foreground is severely underexposed. That's actually deliberate; it's a lot easier to boost exposure in post than to fix blown highlights.

All of this was done with global adjustments only; of course, with careful masking, much more would be possible. The tricky part here was getting the curve adjustment to look good. Here's a screenshot of the curve I ended up using:

Screenshot of color curves in ufraw

You can see that there's a strong contrast boost at the bottom end (corresponding to the subject in the foreground), with a compensating flat range in the "midtones" (which, here, basically means the constrast gap between the foreground and background) and a slight S-curve in the upper range corresponding to the highlights on the water (to give them a bit more contrast).

As for dramatic lighting, I'd say it comes mostly down to picking the right time and location. Here's the kind of background you can get with a polarizing filter and the sun low behind clouds:

Sun behind clouds, taken with a cellphone camera through sunglasses

This is, in fact, a completely unedited photo taken with an old 0.3 Mpx cellphone camera, filtered through polarizing sunglasses. You can just imagine how awesome it would've looked if I'd had a proper camera with me. :-)


This is a combination of a number of factors:

  • Lighting: to balance the light from the sun, off camera flash or a large reflector will have been used.

  • A professional-level camera and lens: the sharpness and overall quality of the image suggests pro-level equipment. But that's not a given.

  • Post-processing: saturation, contrast and sharpness (amongst other things) have all been enhanced considerably.

You could take a shot like this with your D5200 and a decent lens - all you need is two gorgeous women and a yacht.

  • \$\begingroup\$ How on earth can you tell the sharpness of this image from a 1024 x 682 sample? I've had completely out of focus images that look just fine when downsampled to this resolution and sharpened. I can't see anything to suggest any particularly capable gear was used, just some very evident post processing. \$\endgroup\$
    – Matt Grum
    Commented Jun 17, 2014 at 8:16
  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ Just a feeling - I did say suggests and point out that it was by no means a given. Also, the guy's on a yacht with two models: I doubt he's using a Casio P&S \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 17, 2014 at 8:17

This mostly just looks slightly over saturated. Might be some additional curves work on it or a slight artificial exposure gradient added on the right hand side possibly.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Looks low contrast to me, there are no pure blacks or whites in the image that I can see. \$\endgroup\$
    – Matt Grum
    Commented Jun 17, 2014 at 8:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ @mattgrum hmm looking again I agree now. When I first looked I was looking primarily at the sky. Perhaps just a saturation boost then. \$\endgroup\$
    – AJ Henderson
    Commented Jun 17, 2014 at 12:34

If I was planning this shot I would have used two things:

  1. a reverse graduated Neutral Density Filter - they are made very specifically for this type of shot, and
  2. Gyro stabilizer(s) - to keep the camera relatively stable for a blur free shot

In pics 1 & 3 exposed for the background so it isn't clipped and then pushed the foreground in PP? Maybe the similar in pic 2 but background is clipped. Maybe some fill flash or reflector but i can't see the source reflected in the sunglasses.


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