Mariposa Grove – The Double Infinity Mask Technique

By YaopeyBlog
mariposa grove sequoia trees

Morning mist at Mariposa Grove

Did you ever go through your old files and find something that make you think:

“How did I miss it?”

Strangely, it happens to me quite frequently.

My theory is that as my photography style changes and post-processing skills are improving over the years, my perspective on what's good and bad changes too.

Images that I thought weren’t good enough to make it through in the past suddenly stand out like a shining star, awaiting to be discovered.

Recently, I re-discovered an image twice, which prompted me to write about it in this post.

This image (above) was taken several years ago when my wife and I took a trip to California in the autumn. It was my first time visiting America and we did what most first-timers would do -  San Francisco, Yosemite, Las Vegas, LA and back to San Francisco.

It was such an awesome trip because we drove! Apart from my camera, one of the things I like to do is driving - anywhere besides to work!

Whenever I travel, I prefer to rent a car to explore the place myself instead of taking public transport. I’ve driven in many countries but there’s definitely nothing like driving in the open roads in America.

I feel like I finally understood what people have been talking about!

.....

On a different note, I think I’m getting a bit excited now and going off topic…

The Image That I Missed Twice

So, I was saying, I recently re-discovered it again for the second time.

The first time was just a few months ago when I was going through the folders in my Lightroom looking for something else. I saw this image and I thought there’s a lot of potential in this one but funny enough I didn’t pick it previously.

I still remember the time when I took that image.

We visited Mariposa Grove to see the giant sequoia trees. We were one of the first few ones to arrive at the park early in the morning. The weather was sunny but there were frost everywhere and I was only wearing a T-shirt (it wasn't cold outside the park!).

As we returned to our car, the sun was getting brighter and higher up in the sky. I was just walking along the footpath leading to our car when I saw light shining through the trees next to the parking lot.

There was mist trapped between the trees where the light was coming through. Because the weather was getting warmer, the frost started to melt and you could see water droplets falling off the trees as if there was a mini shower going on in there.

It looked enchanting.

I stopped and took some photos.

The First Time

I totally dismissed the images I took of the trees when I went through the batch for the first time. I wasn’t sure why. Maybe I genuinely missed it.

Then, I saw it once again a few months ago.

I recalled the moment when I was shooting the scene. The light, the mist and most interestingly, the musical sound of water tapping on the leaves. It was the combination that made me push the shutter release.

The color version of the image was good but I found it distracting. I wanted to emphasize the mood and the emotions so I decided to turn it into monochrome.

The post-processing steps were simple.

I used Google Nik Silver Efex Pro to convert the color version into black and white. Then, re-imported it back to Lightroom for some fine-tuning.

I was pretty satisfied with the final version. However, I had a feeling that it could do better but I just didn’t know what it was at the time.

I shared the image and left it as it is.

The Second Time

I had an idea the other day.

Why not create a series of monochromatic images using Infinity Mask?

I’ve done it on this image before and I really like the effect.

FYI, Infinity Mask is a luminosity mask panel by Tony Kuyper. It can create an ideal luminosity mask based on a number of parameters and settings. One of the fun things to do with Infinity Mask is that you can convert a luminosity mask into a pixel layer (instead of a layer mask).

While searching for a good candidate to apply this technique again, the image of Mariposa Grove came into my mind.

Then I realized what the first version was lacking.

The highlights were too bright and it had lost some of the details in the foliage.

Here’s what I did.

infinity mask foreground
infinity mask background

I created one monochrome version targeting the foreground (left) and one targeting the highlights in the background (right). Then, I blended the second image into the first one to recover the some details in the highlights. The final touch was dodging and burning to accentuate the light on the trees and selective Orton effect for the mist.

Comparing version 1 (before) and version 2 (after)

This technique also allows me to control how strong I want the contrast between the black and the white to be, which I chose to lighten the darkest dark slightly to create a matte effect.

If you’re interested in Infinity Mask, you can visit Tony’s website here.

Less Is More

Comparing the two versions, the second one (created with Infinity Mask) is definitely simpler in terms of post-processing steps.

The first version was created with Silver Efex Pro and I made several local adjustments to highlight the areas I wanted to emphasize with a constant conscious attempt to not blowout the brightest brights. Whereas the second version took me about 10 minutes and I’m much happier with it.

I guess they’re right…

Sometimes, less is more.