Thursday, December 10, 2015

How I Shot It: After the Rain

How I Shot It: After the Rain

This photo got a 1st Place in November’s Enchanted Lens Camera Club competition Group A Assigned Digital category, which was Motion Blur/Out of Focus, judged by Dana Foy.

Camera Info
GoPro Hero 3+ Black Edition
Lens: 15mm
Exposure mode: Hacked, explained below
Exposure: ISO 100, f 2.8, 2.7 seconds
White balance: Auto

Ambient fluorescent, sodium, LED, halogen, incandescent

Other Gear
GoPro Suction Cup Mount
GoPro Waterproof Case
My car


To show motion, I wanted to do some night car photography, but not the typical taillights-on-a-highway scene. I figured that a a lot of entries would be that type of shot, so I wanted to kind of reverse the concept by having the car be the static object and the scenery in motion. Turns out, this one was the only car light trails shot entered, I think.


I initially wanted the camera mounted on the hood, aimed at me with the lights and reflections all kind of pointing toward the center of the frame. 

I thought I could mount my tripod to the grill of the car with some cargo straps. I did some experiments with my tripod with the car was in the garage, and couldn’t come up with a way to secure it well enough to be confident that it would hold the camera securely.

I had a GoPro and a suction cup mount, but the GoPro has very limited exposure settings. I needed some long exposure times, and the GoPro is not designed to do that type of thing. So I hit the internet and found some stuff where people had hacked a GoPro to do long-exposure stuff. I wrote about it in my last post.

With the above hack installed on the memory card, I mounted the GoPro on the hood with the Suction Cup Mount. I set the camera to start taking pictures, and drove down to SR 550 in Bernalillo.

I returned home and pulled the pics off the GoPro. Turned out that they were boring.

The next night, I put the camera on the driver’s door of the car, way down low. This made me a little nervous, because if the camera fell off, there was a good chance I would run over it with the rear wheel, or it would bounce into oncoming traffic. It held on fine until I was making the turn into the driveway, where I heard it fall off onto the concrete. The waterproof case got scuffed up, but at least the lens window was undamaged. Whew!


During the run, the GoPro took about 250 pictures. I loaded them into Lightroom and picked the best ones. I settled on 3 that had the most interesting lights. I toyed around with the Basic sliders to recover blown highlights, lighten the shadows, and boost the vibrance and saturation to give some bright colors to liven up the images. Then I copied the settings from one picture to another.

Opening the 3 photos as layers in Photoshop, I ran the Auto Align Layers function. I tried a bunch of different transparency settings and opacity amounts to see what gave the most interesting arrangement. While doing this, I also tried arranging the layers in different ways. 

When I was happy with the general arrangement, I added layer masks to the top 2 layers, and masked out places with a soft brush. Most of the problems were areas where the brightest areas coincided, such as the headlights of oncoming cars. These highlights were very bright, so those got the most attention.

I then flattened and saved the file, returning to Lightroom. The only adjustment that made it into the final edit was taking the Blacks to +100. I tried sharpening the image, but it actually detracted from the image. I remembered that the assignment was to produce blur.


It was a fun picture to make. And I learned that a GoPro can be hacked! 

I find it interesting what you can see in long exposures that you don’t see with the naked eye. LED signs produce very intense light, and they pulse rapidly. Fluorescent lights also pulse with the 60 Hertz cycle of the US electrical grid. You can see this effect in the top left quadrant of the photo if you look for the McDonald’s sign.  

You probably don’t think about it much when driving, but even on the smoothest pavement, a car’s suspension is constantly working. If you look closely, the wheel of my car is moving up and down a little bit.

What I like about the picture is that there is so little that is familiar and in sharp focus, but once you see the fender of the car and figure out what is going on, it all seems to fall in place and the rest makes sense. 

Technically, despite my work in Photoshop, there is still lost detail in the highlights. Pixel-peepers may howl at that, but in a photo like this, blown highlights might actually add to the impact of the photo as I think it imparts an energetic feeling. Besides, with the goal of “blur” in the assignment, detail must be inherently lost, anyway.

If you try this type of shot, make very sure that your camera is mounted securely. I drove at about 40 MPH while making this photo. 40 MPH doesn’t seem like it’s very fast when you’re driving a car, but imagine your camera on a tripod in a 40 MPH wind. And then factor for the additional bumping, vibration, and G-forces that your car endures while driving. If I were to do it again, I would add a safety string to the GoPro to keep it from hitting the ground if it were to fall off.

I would love to hear comments and/or questions!


  1. Thank you for sharing the process!

  2. Fantastic job on the whole process from concept to followthrough. Very deserving of the first place at ELCC.