Red Dawn – Was it Photoshopped?

I’ll bet the first thing you think when you see this image “Red Dawn” is “Oh, wow. That was Photoshopped.” You might be surprised, however to learn that very little Photoshopping was involved in the creation of this piece. Truth be told, it wasn’t my intention for this image to turn out like this, it just happened to be one of those serendipitous circumstances. 

So how did it happen? First let me set the scene.

It was winter in New Zealand and the sun was still a few hours from rising. I went down to photograph these old wooden pier posts well before sunrise with my headlamp, tripod, camera and a few accessories. The night before I had scouted the scene so I knew where I wanted to set up my shot. It was a little ways up the beach as the tide was coming in and the water rushed up the beach quite a bit. 

I had my 24-70mm lens on and stepped back to where I knew I wouldn’t get too wet but could still get some of the reflection from the pier on the wet sand. To my right was a large walkway along a breakwall in front of the town. Along this breakwall every 50-100 feet or so were huge street lights. These lights wrapped around in an arc for probably about a half mile or so. 

Serendipity at play

Once I setup my gear I took a test shot. I was blown away and wondering what the heck happened. The image was red. Like RED red. At first I was confused. How could this be? It was the middle of the night, essentially. I took a long exposure shot and it came out like this? It should be dark with maybe some blues in it, right?

Well, yes, but… The night before I had changed my white balance settings. This morning I must’ve forgotten to readjust them. That, coupled with the fact that the lights around the breakwall were sending out such warm settings (subtle as they were on the water) and the rainy, misty conditions in front of me proved to be a perfect storm to producing an image like this.

So, Was Red Dawn Photoshopped?

Yes. Slightly. Below are the original image on the left and the color corrected version on the right. I basically just adjusted the color of the water and the color of the posts so they were more natural. Otherwise, it’s pretty much how it was shot. Could I recreate this image again? I’m not sure. I did try to take a few more shots in the same vein as Red Dawn, but I haven’t edited those yet. They’re similar, but it was a little lighter out when those images were taken so the color is a little less red. 

Anyway, I like how it came out. What do you think? Do you like it?

On the left is the original image. There was no editing or “Photoshopping” done to this picture at all. On the left is the same image, just color corrected in Adobe Lightroom.  And of course up top is the final Red Dawn piece. You can see the minor color corrections that I applied to just a portion of the image.

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