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Canon 550D ·Canon 100-400mm f/4-5.6L ·310mm ·1/1250s ·f/8 ·ISO200
Black Magic
Tutorial by Marco Petracci
This photograph was taken on a day I spent surfing with friends near my home in Cinquale, a town on the west coast of Tuscany. At the end of the day when I was tired of surfing, I noticed that the light, the weather, the air and the oncoming sunset were assembling for a special kind of photograph, so I decided to wait around and see what developed.
I focused on my friend, Federico Tenerini, a professional surfer who lives nearby. I grew up on this coast, so I knew the conditions well. It was a time of year when the sunset is at its most beautiful. In December, the sunset lasts for more than an hour, so I knew I had plenty of time. What made this evening extra special was that the swell was getting bigger as the sun set. I have surfed for many years and know the sport well, so I was able to spot this opportunity. I have also been watching Federico for many years, so I have a good, intuitive knowledge of how he surfs.

Federico knew I was photographing him, but we had not agreed on any particular moves he should make. He was responding to the waves rather than to the needs of the photographer. The session lasted approximately ninety minutes, during which time I took about 250 shots. The photograph published here was the penultimate shot.

The only special equipment I had with me was the lens: a Canon 100–400mm f/4.5-5.6 L USM. I always carry this lens when there is a chance I might be photographing action or sports. The camera was mounted on a tripod in the sand, approximately 100 feet (30 m) away from the subject. I was shooting directly into the oncoming waves rather than at an angle. The telephoto lens's focal length was set to 310 mm. No special lighting was used; aside from the effects applied in post-processing, the photograph was made with natural light.

"Due to the minimal amount of light, and in order to prevent Federico from turning into a silhouette against the background light source, I overexposed the image by approximately one third."


The sun was setting behind my subject, and was just about to disappear. Due to the minimal amount of light, and in order to prevent Federico from turning into a silhouette against the background light source, I overexposed the image by approximately one third. The fact that the subject was wearing a black wetsuit increased the risk of his being rendered as a silhouette. Overexposing the image proved an effective way of overcoming this risk.

I set the camera at an aperture of f/8 for depth of field. This gives maximum sharpness with this lens. I used a shutter speed of 1/1250 second. ISO was set at automatic, which on this camera is in the range 100 to 1600.

"In one sense it recalls the classic Californian imagery of surfers standing with their boards against the setting sun. In this photo, though, that sunset imagery is reinvested within an action shot."


This image is not a record of an extraordinary or unique surfing moment. It is instead a photograph in which the colors of the sunset have made an ordinary surfer turn into something spectacular. In one sense it recalls the classic Californian imagery of surfers standing with their boards against the setting sun. In this photo, though, that sunset imagery is reinvested within an action shot. And while these conditions might be a typical, almost daily occurrence on the U.S. west coast, the conditions in Europe do not achieve this kind of perfection very often. That makes the photograph all the more valuable to a European surfer like myself.
Post Processing
I made a few adjustments to the image in Photoshop CS5.

1) Rather than using filters, I emphasized the warm colors using the Curves tool in Lab Color mode.

2) In the HDR Toning feature, I squeezed the tone to give more three-dimensionality to the image.

3) I lightened the shadows using the Shadow/Highlight adjustment tool.

4) I set a low contrast and desaturated the cold tones.

5) To increase the detail, I used the Unsharp Mask filter. I set Amount to 500%, Radius to 1 pixel and Threshold to 0 levels. At the same time, I reduced the layer Opacity to 70% in order to achieve a softer effect.
Tips
1) Know the sport, the sportsman, the weather, light and surf conditions. I knew the surfer well enough to follow what he was doing, and I knew the conditions well enough to recognize when a unique opportunity was presenting itself, and how long I had to work with it.

2) Have the equipment suitable for the task.

3) When photographing action under these conditions, use a tripod to enable you to produce a sharp image with no blurriness from camera movement.
Biography
I’m 34 years old and live in Montignoso, Tuscany, Italy. I have been taking photographs for twelve years, and have been working as a professional for the last two years. I was a semi-finalist in the Leica Talent 2012 competition. I take photos because photography is an art and I am an artist.
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