How this photo was made : The Z

I was honoured an surprised when I learned that this photo has earned me the title of “photographer of the month” on the photofocus mirrorless show podcast (link here) Actually, I have already been photographer of the day on the website twice but I always have learned this indirectly as no-one from photofocus sent me a warning and I don’t look at their website every day! (link here).

I have decided to show you how I made this picture which is not that original really considering I saw a similar one on 500px a  long while back and it has stuck in my head.  I only knew it had been made in the area of La Défense in Paris. So, when I was  preparing for a couple of days in Paris last June, I decided I would like to re-create the shot. In my bag I packed my fuji x-t1 with the 10-24mm f/4 wide-angle zoom, the lee seven5 filter holder with a 72mm adapter ring and the three neutral density filters I own : a 3 stop , the small stopper 6 stops) and the big stopper (10 stops).

I arrived early afternoon in La Défense, which is spread out (160 hectares) and boasts about 70 stkyscapers set out in 4 main quarters with the famous arch at one end. Needless to say, I had no idea where the building I was looking for was located so I spent most of the afternoon walking around with my head to the sky! At last I found the place, there is a small road between the buildings and there is only one place to set things up : in the middle of the road. Luckily, there are very few cars around, just taxis and delivery vans I think and not that many around after 6pm.

I usually travel light, without a full sized tripod and as I wanted to point the camera straight up at the sky, I brought the second best thing : some rice in a freezee bag.


This bag goes into a black felt fuji lens bag to make a soft rest for the screen and back of the camera. The bag goes on the floor and the camera on top, filters attached.


In this case a tilting screen is useless and framing randomly is out of the question, especially for a long exposure as the one I wanted to make. Then the remote camera app comes into play and with a live view (through the nd filters), framing becomes easy!


Once the camera is in place, all that is needed is to ger the exposure setting right on the camera… and to do that I need to look through the viewfinder! Ok, pick up the camera, take off the filters, set the aperture to f/8 and iso to 200. Read the shutter speed and work out (with an app) the slow shutter speed with a big stopper (Here the shutter speed is 30 seconds). Then put the filter back on, put the camera down and re-position the camera. Insert a remote trigger in the side of the camera (I have a cheap one from e-bay) and take the shot. The camera has a timer on the screen in bulb mode but here I can’t see the screen so a timer on the phone is useful.

Here is the raw file with basic ajustments done in Lightroom.


As you can see, there is no cropping from the raw to the final jpg, the iphone camera app does a very good job. To get the final black and white I go through photoshop.
I go through Nik Software (Google) Silver Efex Pro 2 twice : once for the sky and once for the buildings. The mask to blend both parts of the picture is easy to make with the polygon tool because the lines are so straight.

the Z (1)

The rest is down to dodging and burning. I have two methods here : the first uses a 50% gray layer with a soft light blending mode. I then use a soft brush at 3% flow in black or white to darken of lighten parts of the picture. For the part of the buildings that reflect the passageway I sent the whole picture through the Nik (Google) software Color Efex Pro 4. I mainly use Detail and Pro Contrast to get the result I want, then back in photoshop, I use a mask to apply the effect to the parts of the picture I want.

And voilà !

Please follow me on Flickr or 500px  !


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