Monorail Blue Skies (Sky Worship V)

Another summer day, another beautiful round of blue skies in Japan. There’s a few pictures and a quick blurb about photography tricks in this post, but if you want some other content, I just posted another article talking about an upcoming road trip this autumn. Go check it out by click here, or else checking below.

blue skies and monorails

Click here for a full size version

blue skies and monorails

blue skies and monorails

A couple of behind-the-scenes shots after the Keep Reading link…

blue skies and monorails

The Magic of Photoshop

Of course in a perfect world, all shots we take would be properly exposed, beautiful and completely usable straight from the camera. And perhaps if you’re a professional photographer, with lots of time, an in-depth knowledge of photography and plenty of lighting and assistants, that’s the way it still can be.

But for the rest of us mere mortals, we may not always have the time or ability to get a “perfect” shot straight from the camera. It’s at times like this that a little bit of post-processing can work wonders (or else compensate for equipment or filters we are lacking).

I was pretty happy with the very first shot in this post – I liked the blue skies, the slight distortion due to the lens width, the contrast of the scenery. But that’s not how it looked when I shot it. The original shot looked like this:

blue skies and monorails

Ouch. Not quite so nice, huh? There’s a lot wrong with this picture, starting with the white balance and overall under-exposure. Fortunately, I shot in RAW, so I was able to tweak the white balance and the camera “image mode” to get whiter whites and punchier blues out of it.

Next, I opened the image up in Photoshop, where I tweaked the curves a little bit, and adjusted the shadows/highlights to bring out the details in the areas at the bottom of the image (I should have used a graduated density filter when shooting the scene, but I didn’t have one). Next, I added a photographic cooling filter with a little bit of masking to make the skies a little prettier without altering the colour of the buildings too much, leading to the final image below:

blue skies and monorails

I don’t always shoot in RAW (these images, for example, were shot directly to JPG), but I always do whenever I toss my camera in my bag for random unplanned shots. What it costs in time spent post-processing is made up for by letting me save shots that would otherwise be unusable.

The Magic of Circular Polarizers

If you take a lot of outdoor photographs, the one piece of equipment you absolutely need to have in your bag is a Circular Polarizer. While there’s plenty on the net about what they are and what they do, suffice it to say that it makes your skies a rich, beautiful blue, your greens greener and radically reduces the amount of glare and reflection you get off of surfaces like glass windows or pools of water (if you know how to use it).

The downsides of circular polarizers is that you need to get a high quality one (because it’s another layer in front of your lens and even the most expensive lens in the world is going to shoot like crap if you stick a cheap piece of crap filter in front of it), and like most things in this world, high quality circular polarizers are not cheap. For example, the one I use on my wide angle lens cost somewhere around $140.


I remember being indecisive for weeks when trying to figure out whether to put down that kind of money on what is essentially a round transparent disc. I poured over countless “before and after” shots on the web, trying to decide if the effects really were that dramatic, and whether it was really “worth it” or not. In the end, I did, and I am glad to say it was probably one of the best photographic purchases I’ve ever made. In case you’re in the same boat as I was, here’s a “before and after” to help you make up your mind.

Here is a scene taken without a circular polarizer:

blue skies and monorails

And here is the same scene, only this time with a circular polarizer (set to max effect):

blue skies and monorails

One look at those skies should settle any doubt in your mind.

A couple more from the archives. These are not exact shot-for-shot, time-for-time comparisons, but you should still get the basic idea.

Without the circular polarizer:

without circular polarizer!

With the circular polarizer:

with circular polarizer!

And now you know!


Okay, that’s it for now. If you’re interested, you can find more Sky Worship here (sans circular polarizers):

  1. Tokyo Blue Skies II (Sky Worship IV)
  2. Blue Skies over Tokyo (Sky Worship III)
  3. Delphinium Days (Sky Worship II)
  4. Sky Worship I
  5. Bart’s Sky Worship
  6. Monorail Worship?

Now listening to: Supramental – Kolesa (Radio Edit)

10 Reactions

  1. momolo

    i’ve wanted a polarizing filter for a really long time! however, i just bought like a lot of clothes so i will wait until i get a job…

  2. Kittos

    Nice post! Polarizing filters are expensive as hell, but it looks like it’s worth the penny. I got myself a Canon 450D and I’m hooked on shooting photos with it! It is so much fun! I’m thinking about the 10-22 too as I’m fascinated by the ultra-wide angles.

  3. felix

    Road trip!!!
    Yes, I love my circular polarizing filter, which I used throughout my South America trip.
    However, the camera that went with said filter is broken, so now I have resorted to using Jasmine’s new point-and-shoot. For which I bought an underwater housing.
    Camera toys are so much fun!

  4. jessica

    so i just got back from a roadtrip. and you are on one. yee haw. we came home early though. is that so unroadtrip of us? what if it is just awesome to realize you dont need the restaurant or the old architecture, you just need to cook in your own kitchen and watch a goddamn dvd??
    anyhoo. jon has one of these filters and he is teaching me how to use them and i took a few shots that are currently transfering to my harddrive right now so i will see what happened with them soon. i could not see ANY difference inside the lens when i was taking them, except that it was “darker” so this post is really good timing. thanks buddy! i hope some of mine turned out well.

  5. andrew

    Wow you take your photography pretty seriously, and it shows.
    Hope you are well.

  6. kori

    hot diggity. and here I was beating myself over my head that my skies lacked blue because my exposure was wrong even though I was unable to figure out how to fix it with five zillion different manual combinations.
    money. money on toys is the answer.
    a new computer that can handle photoshop might be the answer too.
    and here I thought it was about talent…

  7. Nancy

    Is there a circ ]polaring lens fo point and shoot camera??
    The cp lens helps to define animal eyes with a glint or two, and water droplets on flora and fauna

  8. michaelpanda

    I have never heard of a circular polarizer for a point and shoot… but i suppose you could just hold a regular circular polarizer up to your point-and-shoot camera lens and hold it in place as you take the picture! :P hee hee. … other than that, I’m not sure what else to suggest.
    @pitter morgan:
    thanks for the compliment! I’m glad you liked the photos :)