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Layers at Starbucks

October 5, 2011


” You don’t take a photograph, you make it.” – Ansel Adams


   I discovered an inspirational post about the  architectural photography technique of one Michael Kelley on David Hobby’s Strobist blog a couple of days ago and thought I would “give it a go” (Brit-speak for try it). I will post a link to Michael’s site at the end of this post, this kid is good. Basically the technique involves putting your camera on a tripod and walking around the scene with an off camera flash lighting portions of the scene one frame at a time. Then you layer the images upon each other in Photoshop masking out all but the lit portion to build up an image that would have taken many expensive high-powered studio strobes and an elaborate set-up to get in a single frame (if it could be captured in a single frame).

   No wonder people want this guy to shoot houses they’re selling, this technique really makes architecture pop. Once I get familiar with it, I plan to try it elsewhere.


   So now I need some architecture to shoot. I’ll need to leave my camera unattended on a tripod maybe 100 ft away, probably best to avoid sketchy neighborhoods and high traffic areas.  It’s October in Seattle so it would be nice to have a hot cuppa nearby. Maybe in a strip mall ( lots of room and nice pavement for a  stable tripod ). And if I could just think of a place where I knew cops hang out so I wouldn’t have to worry about gear theft……….


Here is how it looked with just the ambient light.


Here is the result of layering 16 images.

   Now I’ve an idea what I need to do to get a better effect. I need to mount my flash on a pole to get it up higher so the lights would look more realistic. I want a little darker base image (so I’ll start an hour or so later in the day). I will set the white balance to daylight to blue the metal facade. Finally, I will take my last frame after dark to get the interior to show nicely…..or so I thought.


Here is the ambient light shot from day 2.

   I started later as planned,  bonus… the Starbucks Coffee signs are lit, but notice there is no other exterior lighting. My white balance setting has the facade the metallic blue I want. The sky is total crap (Seattle in October, I’ll replace it in Photoshop), but at least it’s not raining. I set up, get my flash on a stick, and set to shooting.


Second attempt, my refined technique, 46 layers.

   30 min. longer, the sun would have set and I could have taken my final frame showing the interior……..but this is Seattle in October and here came the rain.


    Here is the link to Michael Kelley’s site, as you can see he’s not as good as me, but after all I have done it twice……




From → Technique

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