How I Got the Shot: Mike Finn on His "She Took the Midnight Train" Composite Photo

The photo above is quite a striking one, and we recently featured it on our Facebook wall. It was shot by Mike Finn, a photo enthusiast who loves to create awesome scenes. After closely inspecting the photo, we thought it would be great to ask him how it was created.

Can you take a guess? We talked to Mike about how he created it. Here's how.

Gear Used

- Canon T2i

- EF-S18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 IS

- Opteka 800mm Mirror Lens

Mike's Vision and Technique

I've been into photography for 40 years, I've shot all over Canada, and I've always had the ability to look at a scene (for example) and automatically know if it would make a good shot or not. I usually see the final picture before I even shoot. I own seven 35mm SLRs, six digital cameras, and assorted lenses and equipment. With this particular photo, I was shooting down by some train tracks in early spring last year. I looked to the east along the tracks, and immediately said to myself, "That would be a great shot."

Train Tracks:

File Name                            IMG_5226.JPG

Camera Model                     Canon EOS REBEL T2i

Firmware                             Firmware Version 1.0.9

Shooting Date/Time             3/14/2011 2:12:56 PM

Author                                  Mike Finn Photography

Copyright Notice                  Mike Finn Photography 2011

Owner's Name                     Mike Finn

Shooting Mode                    Program AE

Tv (Shutter Speed)             1/400

Av (Aperture Value)             6.3

Metering Mode                   Spot Metering

Exposure Compensation    -1/3

ISO Speed                         100

Auto ISO Speed                 ON

Lens                                  EF-S18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 IS

Focal Length                     200mm

Image Quality                    Normal

Flash                                 Off

FE lock                              Off

White Balance Mode        Auto

AF Mode                          One-Shot AF

AF area select mode        Manual selection

I set my Canon T21 for a bracketed three-aperture exposure (ABE exposure), and using a tripod with the Image Stabilization off, I took several shots. Then I thought, "What would make this better is a night landscape with the moon rising in the background." Fortunately, I had recently completed a series of "Super Moon" shots, and decided to try combining the two. ("Super Moon" shots are best taken as the moon rises, when the moon is in Perigee, or at its closest to earth. Earth's atmosphere can on occasion act as a magnifying glass and greatly enlarge the moon's apparent size.)

Moon Shot:

File Name                                  IMG_4949.JPG

Camera Model                           Canon EOS REBEL T2i

Firmware                                   Firmware Version 1.0.9

Shooting Date/Time                   2/6/2011 6:21:55 PM

Author                                        - (c) Mike Finn Photography-

Copyright Notice                        - (c) Mike Finn Photography -

Owner's Name                           Mike Finn

Shooting Mode                          Program AE

Tv( Shutter Speed )                   1/60

Av( Aperture Value )                   0.0

Metering Mode                           Evaluative Metering

Exposure Compensation             -1

ISO Speed                                 100

Auto ISO Speed                          OFF

Lens                                           Opteka 800mm Mirror

Image Quality                             Fine

Flash                                          Off

FE lock                                       OFF

White Balance Mode                  Auto

White balance compensation     B5, G5

AF Mode                                    Manual focusing

AF area select mode                  Manual selection


To the best of my recollection, the composite was processed in HDR Fattal, with high color saturation.

The photo’s light levels were then further adjusted in Photoshop. Both photos were then processed in Photoshop 5.0 for contrast, brightness, and sharpness. The moon shot was further adjusted for size, and cropped. The foreground of the train shot was isolated in Photoshop, and overlaid on the adjusted moon shot.

Later during post-processing, I used one of the Auto Bracket Exposure frames and isolated the foreground, tracks, trees, etc., removed the sky, and then superimposed the rest over a close-up shot of the recent "Super Moon" shot.

Honestly, I wasn't terribly happy with the result, and set it aside. Several weeks later I was fooling around with the HDR program "Luminance 2.0.1" and remembered the three-exposure ABE shot of the tracks. I processed the three shots in the Luninance software, in Fattal, isolated the tracks etc., and again superimposed them onto the 'Super Moon' shot, and ran the composite shot through the HDR software one last time, again in Fattal. I have developed a love for extreme HDR processing—something you don't see much of—so this time I pushed everything to the limits.

The resultant composite photo was then light- and contrast-adjusted in Photoshop 5.0. The final result is my photo "She Took The Midnight Train".

Here's a link to some of Mike's other work.