A few weeks ago, I was at Sutro Baths in San Francisco for the sunset. I headed there from my work place along with two other photographers after the California-based weather forecasting service Escaype estimated a good cloud burn along the coast. Our initial target was to reach Rodeo Beach, but we were caught in the heavy evening traffic and realized we wouldn’t be able to get there before sunset. So we drove to Sutro Baths instead, reaching the spot well before the sunset.

Sutro Baths were a privately owned public swimming pool complex in the Lands End area of San Francisco. It once stood as the world’s largest indoor swimming pool, but was burned down in the 60s and is now in ruins. The ruins are part of the Golden Gate National Recreation AreaWalking along the ruins, we reached the rocky beach, joining another photographer, all looking for a good composition of the sea stacks

Before/After Post Processing


Sutro Baths San Franisco BeachSutro Baths San Francisco Monochrome



Field Frame

There was still some 20 minutes for the sunset. Before shooting the well-known Sutro Baths sea stacks, I tried to fit in another composition. It was my first time here and I walked around a while exploring the place. There were plenty of small rocks positioned before a large stack that were washed by the waves. The sun was setting behind this stack and the golden rays illuminated few of the rocks. The incoming waves submerged most of these small rocks except a few. I positioned my tripod before one such rock having it as my foreground with the large stack forming the background and waited for the right wave to encircle it.

Number Ninja

  • No. of Exposures : 1
  • Focal Length : 16mm
  • Camera : Canon 6D
  • ISO : 100
  • Shutter Speed : 1sec
  • Aperture : f/14
  • Filters : Circular Polarizer
  • Post Processing : Perspective adjustment, sunstar addition, blending a small portion of the sky in Photoshop CC, along with localized adjustments to highlights, shadows and mid-tones using Luminosity Masks. Sharpening and addition of a tint was also done in Photoshop. I used Lightroom CC brushes adjusting clarity and contrast to specific portions of the water flow.
  • Processing Time :  ~1 hour

Monochrome processing remains the most challenging task for me. I have mostly struggled to hit the right balance with the black and white tonal contrast, ending up with either a flat image or a highly contrasty one. I worked quite a bit on this one, restarting the post-processing at least twice after not feeling content with the tonal balance. Most of the processing was done in Photoshop, starting with adjusting the sea-stack’s alignment with respect to the horizon using the Free Transform tool. A small portion of the sky (near the sun), which was overblown with highlights due to my exposure time was blended using a duplicate layer of the same image. A portion of the foreground rock was covered with water, and was blended back from another image shot moments before.

Using luminosity masks, adjustments to specific portions of the sky and water were made for the right contrast and brightness with the help of Curves and Levels layers. A slight tint of blue was added thereby not making this one an absolute black and white image. Portions of the image were sharpened using the High Pass filter. Also, a slight glow was brought in with the help of Gaussian blur. I blended the sunstar from my overlay library that I created a while back using this tutorial. Finally, further localized modifications to clarity and contrast to portions of the water flow were made in Lightroom CC.

What Could I Have Done Better

Overall, am pleased with what I was able to bring out of the original RAW image. The one thing that remains a question in my mind is the sunstar I used. Does it work or not? It’s something I am not totally sure right now and hope with more experience, learning and work can eventually figure out.

Image’s Influence 



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