Lava Seascape

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Waves break and flow across the jagged lava rocks at Laie Point, Oahu, Hawaii.


Less than twenty minutes after taking Volcanic Dawn, the photograph featured in the previous post, I had the camera perched on the tripod for this shot. Without moving the camera, I took 23 shots over about three minutes. Each exposure, of course, showed differences in the waves, surging foam, and cascading water. In the end, I chose six exposures to overlay and blend together to create this final composite image.


The primary focal point of this image is clearly the breaking wave, with its curl just about to touch the water in front of it. The rich color in the wave itself, backlit by the early sun, is striking and stands out against the rest of the ocean, all of which is reflecting the sky to some degree. The dark rocks in the foreground and the distant island make a line of three similar elements that guide the eye diagonally across the frame. The white foamy water cascading over and around the central rock outcropping contrasts with that rock’s jagged spikes and helps to frame it. The hint of warm light reflecting off the ocean beyond the wave and in the narrow band of sky above the horizon provides a counterpoint to the cool blue-green sea.

There is a lot to explore in this image, with so many different textures in play. And there are at least five crabs, but you will probably need to look for them on the store site that allows zooming in. (Just click on the image at the top of this post.)


Here are the 23 exposures I had to work from, including the six (#1, 4, 14, 15, 16, 20) chosen for the composite:

The final image is a composite of the six exposures shown from the full sequence of 23.

I started with what I consider the best single frame in the sequence, #20, which has the nicest wave:

This is the base image of the composite. Small portions of five other images were overlaid on top of it.

This image has not gotten quite as much love in terms of color and dodging as the final image, but it is clearly the same basic image and provides a solid foundation for the composite.

My primary goal for the other exposures was to add in the nice rivulets of foaming water pouring down and around the rocks. My second goal was to add a little spray behind the central rock so that its crowning spikes would be more visible. One could adopt other strategies for building the composite with the intent of emphasizing something else, such as the crashing waves in #3 or #10. While it would be interesting to do a second attempt in the future just to compare the results, it’s hard to imagine actually doing it given my massive backlog of photographs to process.

Overlaying images requires a layered workflow, something that is beyond Adobe Lightroom. Affinity Photo (and other programs) will import and align a stack of images, each on its own layer. From there, painting on a separate layer mask for each of them controls allows selectively showing portions of whichever image is desired. If you look at the bottom six rows, you can see that the top five images are contributing very small areas to the final image:

Affinity Photo editing layers for final Lava Seascape composite.

Once the composite image was assembled, I applied a variety of adjustments to fine-tune the image. These are evident in the screenshot of the layers panel, above; just remember to read from bottom to top as each effect is applied in turn.

After the heavy lifting was complete in Affinity Photo, I returned to Lightroom to finish up the sharpening, straighten the horizon, and make a handful of other minor adjustments.

Technical Data

Nikon Z7 with Nikkor Z 24-70mm f/4 S at 54mm, 1/15 sec, f/13, ISO 64, on Gitzo GT3451 tripod (an older version of this) with Really Right Stuff BH-55 Ball Head. Composite blend of six exposures.

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