Serenity is a photography series that I started in 2012. It predominantly features long-exposure shots. The concept took root one day when I observed an enchanting cloudscape right from the window of my apartment.
In some ways, this series is ideally suited for someone who prefers staying indoors, as roughly 95% of the shots were captured from within the confines of my apartment. Despite the home-bound nature of the project, the process was time-consuming. Each image required hours of preparation, including setting up the camera on a tripod, fine-tuning the composition, and patiently awaiting the golden hour. Once these steps were complete, I would activate the timer release control, position myself near the window, and wait for the long exposure to culminate.
Recently, I started posting personal artworks under an anonymous identity. This strategy allows me the freedom to create without the preconceived notions tied to my name. The focus remains solely on the merit of the art. Interestingly, this anonymous account, following about 500 artists, has garnered over 10,000 followers in just four months. The unexpected yet delightful surprises include commission requests from strangers, which caught me off guard.
This journey has significantly improved my understanding of Instagram, and I aim to bring both past and future artworks to my public profile @seeminglee moving forward.
The individual descriptions accompanying the photos were written when I initially captured them. I tend to write down my thoughts and contexts for every post, together with the metadata. They are unedited.
When I first posted a time-lapse video about a sunset cloudscape, a few people commented that they really liked the sequence about the sunset, but they wish that it was longer. Recently, I read about doing long exposure via stack sequences, so I tried to see if I can utilise this new knowledge to render a long-exposure shot this way since I have already a long series of captures done.
For this photo, I have used 36 captures spaced at 10-sec each to create the final image. The time spacing is probably a bit too wide to render the smoothest clouds, because it was originally intended as a time-lapse sequence and not an LE stack. I used Photoshop’s Stack Median functionality to blend the transition, then I lowered the clarity in Lightroom to smooth out some uneven edges on the clouds and water. And voila. It works pretty well, so I will definitely work on more in the future.
Photographed with the Canon EOS 6D + Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM mounted on tripod in Hong Kong. Processed in Lightroom 5 + Photoshop CC 2014.
Long exposure photography used to take a lot of time. I would travel to a remote location and stayed for hours, then circled back to the studio and worked on it for yet more hours. It still takes a lot of time but removing travel in the equation is far more efficient in the equation.
When I used to live in New York, I would sit in front of the Manhattan Bridge for hours with my tripods to do long exposure HDRs. But after 9-11, police would come and hurry me away, thinking that I am plotting an attack. Seriously WTF? Yes, I bet that a terrorist would spend 3 hours sitting under the bridge with a tripod just so you can see that he is analysing the structural engineering for attacks. NYPD has always been a hassle to me and is very annoying. So more Hong Kong awesomeness for me now is that I can just mount my camera on the tripod at home and do landscape photography before I go to bed at night. This is a 30-second exposure and everything gets mixed to a beautiful blur. I love it so much that I have decided to try my hand at some Chinese poetry which rhymes.
Photographed with the Canon EOS M + EF 17-40 f/4L mounted on a tripod. Noise reduction in Lightroom 4. Processed in Photoshop CS6.
Purple and gold are the school colors for The Chinese University of Hong Kong (香港中文大學 CUHK), and so I feel that it would be fitting to process this night-time long exposure as such.
In ancient times, purple was the color worn by Roman Emperors and magistrates, and later by Roman Catholic bishops. Since that time, it has been commonly associated with royalty and piety. The color gold is likely to represent the phoenix in the university’s emblem.
This is a 60-second long exposure using the 6D + 24-70 f/2.8L mounted on Manfrotto tripod, remote release with the Canon TC-80N3.
As promised, here is the panorama shot at the same time earlier. The clouds are the focus here so it is exposed for it instead of the buildings on the mountain (which is part of the Chinese University of Hong Kong).
Technically speaking it should be possible for me to do an HDR to expose for both, which I will try in the future. The last time I try to do HDR with panorama though it was insanely complicated, as I ended up having 100+ images to stitch then HDR with and I feel like that it was not really worth the trouble after working on them for a while. But if I have a day’s time I will probably try to do it again. And definitely for this series I would because some images are worth the trouble, and the scenery like this most definitely is.
Stitched using eight 7D full-resolution RAW captures.
After some satisfying results with long exposures recently, I tried my hands on some truly long exposure — 15 minutes (or 903 seconds to be exact).
I have previously shot this floating anchor (buoy) before, with the 7D + 70-200 f/4 + 1.4x at 15 seconds 1. This one though is shot with the 6D + 100-400 at 15 minutes, and it is interesting to compare the difference.
At 15 minutes, the water surface is completely smoothed and it truly looks like liquid gold. If you look at the 15-second shot, on the other hand, you will observe that the water is still somewhat “rough” by comparison. There is also a nice “dimple” near the anchor which is very sweet. Also unexpected is the refracted shine to the right of the buoy—which makes the light even more precious.
When I first started the 寧 Serenity, I expected that it could not last too long because how much could someone photograph the view outside one’s window?
But I was wrong. In every single capture, I observe how the same become different, and how I am getting better at photographing something as mundane as the view outside my window—simply because my standards also go up as a result of doing it over and over again.
Some artists I see will try to paint / photograph something different every time they utilise their medium. I think that trying new things is great, but so is doing the same thing repeatedly. Like nature, life never really does repeats itself. And so when you do things repeatedly it also tend to be different each time. When you add all these minute differences over time you will see a dramatic difference to your art over time.
I believe in that. So this series will continue. It would, I think, be interesting 10 years from now to look back and see just how crappy these photos are…
This was shot handheld with the 7D + 100-400 during sunset last week. The color information is rather tricky in this shot, so I processed it mainly inside Photoshop Lab mode. If processed in black and white then the drama is somewhat gone, but leaving them intact looks odd also. I might circle back and work on it more later.
Stitched with 4 captures.
Recently during sunset, a line of disparate and lingering clouds caught my attention. They hung in mid-air, against a vast mountain with very delicate power lines running on its top. In the shadow area, you can briefly make out that it was captured near urban areas—it is that of the Tai Po district in Hong Kong. But it is not the focus here. The silhouette forms is what interest me, so I left them hidden in the shadow. Could I have pumped them up with some Photoshopping? Yes, I guess I could but then you would miss the delicate lines. Minimalism is the aim. When we remove the details, we can see the tiny details more succinctly, I believe.
13 Canon EOS 7D + 100-400 captures. Stitched with Autopano Giga 3. Processed in Lightroom 4.
This photo has been stuck in processing for a while. Mostly I thought that it has a lot of potential, but I do not feel that I have quite finished it, though I do not really know what is bothering me concretely—except that it is not at its best form yet.
It is a panorama stitched together using 5 captures, though I have decided to crop to a square as I am mostly interested in the “extension” of the cloud immediately next to the mountains, and the additional area to the right of where the frame is cropped is somewhat unnecessary.
Keeping only what is necessary to complete an image is what I generally aim for. When I made the shot it seems useful, but it feels more successful when cropped as a square.
Many of the photographs shot for the serenity series suffer from one problem: the buildings on the horizon lack details as they are technically facing against the sun.
There is a need for HDR in these instances, mostly so you can get the necessary details of the clouds (the star for this capture) as well as the necessary details of the buildings (the shadow area). By compressing the luminance information spanning -3 to +3, you get something like this.
In processing HDR images, I am not interested in creating “effects,” I am only interested in getting the details which are otherwise lost in a straight 14-bit range afforded by the camera RAW.
I used to use Photomatix but increasingly I am finding its quality to be favoring the artificial looks rather than pure tone compression, so for this I used Photoshop HDR Pro, which lately has been giving fairly promising results.
P.S. Per request I will post some unprocessed RAW capture info to see the before and after so you can clearly see that there is a need for HDR processing to get the results which I want.