How to Create HDR images

HDR, or High Dynamic Range, is a method that allows you to take a picture of a subject with a brightness range that your camera’s sensor normally cannot capture.  This is done by shooting identical images that have been taken at several different exposures.  These are then blended together with the use of a photo editing program.

hdr31 How to Create HDR imagesAlthough two separate exposures can be used to produce an HDR image, three exposures are generally recommended to achieve quality results. The objective is to have one exposure that captures highlight detail, another that has shadow detail and a third that covers the midtones. The easy way to take these exposures is to use the auto-bracketing feature of the camera. This will capture what the camera considers as the regular exposure, another that is underexposed to a degree and still another that is overexposed. 

Auto-bracketing can often do the work for you but there are instances when you have to take manual control of the settings. An instance is when the multi-pattern metering systems of some cameras may detect the shadows of backlit subjects and compensate by overexposing the shots.  In this case,  you can make use of the spot metering mode or check the histogram  for more information.

Most current digital cameras allow you to adjust exposure bracket intervals and exposure compensation, but usually up to +/-2 EV (exposure value).  This may sound like a lot but you may need differences of 3EV or more.

hdr21 How to Create HDR imagesIf you want a quick way to take an HDR image, auto-bracketing could be sufficient. However,  you might benefit more by using manual exposure since you have control over the adjustments. Needless to say your camera should have the manual mode option.

Spot metering is often used to precisely measure exposure. To do this, take a spot reading from the darkest shadow portion of the scene, then another from the brightest portion. You can then use these readings to measure the average of the two for the midtone exposure value. 

Today’s cameras are equipped with features that can help provide exposure readings and the simplest is the histogram. If you have a compact or DSLR camera with Live View, turn on the histogram display. If your DSLR has no Live View, use the Playback Mode after you have taken your shot. 

First, choose your lens aperture and keep it the same with all your bracketed shots.  Let us say you are using an aperture of f/8. Only change the shutter speed when bracketing. For the ‘shadows’ exposure, adjust the shutter speed setting so that the left end of the histogram meets the left edge of the scale. The speed here could be slow such as 1/30sec. For the second exposure, set the shutter speed so that the right end of the histogram just meets the right edge of the scale. This will take care of the highlights and you might use a much faster shutter speed such as 1/500s. To get the midtones in the third hdr11 How to Create HDR imagesexposure, adjust the shutter speed midway between the previous two you used. You do not have to be exactly in the middle and in this example,  a shutter speed of 1/125sec would adequately capture the midtones. 

Since we have kept the aperture size the same and changed shutter speed settings, these speed variations increase the chances of camera shake. A tripod will take care of this issue and will be most helpful in other ways as well. Good HDR images have merged exposures that are perfectly aligned and although HDR merging tools do a decent job of automatic alignment, it is preferable to get it right in-camera. With a tripod, you can change your shutter speed settings while the camera remains completely immobile. 

Aside from camera movement, another thing to worry about is subject movement. There is a possibility that something in your scene might move or be moving, however slightly, and this can cause portions of your HDR image to come out looking blurry. People walking in and out of the scene or trees and bushes swaying in the wind can be problematic but there is not much you can do except to wait for the right moment or shoot duplicates of the three exposures. You can then choose which ones would be the best matches. If you are adept in using a photo editing program such as Photoshop, you could edit the bracketed shots to make them blend better into one quality HDR image.


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Using the High Pass Filter to Boost Image Contrast

The High Pass filter is often used to sharpen or even soften image details but did you know that you can also use it to create a high contrast image? If you want your image to have a high contrast effect, there are many ways to achieve this in Photoshop and this filter is one of many effective ways to do it. In this tutorial, we will show how using the High Pass filter can enhance your image and give it more impact. 

It must be said that each image is different and the High Pass filter might show great results with some but not with others. Also, there are many other adjustment settings that you can use in connection with the filter to get various results. For this tutorial, we will be using Photoshop CS2 as the photo editing program although you can use another if it has the High Pass filter option.

Step 1:

Open your image and create a duplicate layer so you can leave your original image untouched. Click on Image > Adjustments > Hue/Saturation and a dialog box will appear. Another way is to make it show is to click on the half black, half white circle under the Layers palette and choosing Hue/Saturation. Drag the saturation slider to around +15 then press OK.

hpcont1stlayer Using the High Pass Filter to Boost Image Contrast

Step 2:

Create a new adjustment layer, this time using brightness/contrast, drag the contrast slider to +15 and press OK.

Step 3:

Press Shift+Ctrl+Alt+e if you are using a PC (if on a Mac it is Shift+Alt+Cmd+E) in order to merge all these document layers into one new layer on top of all the others.

Step 4:

While targeting the new layer, go to Blending mode and choose Soft Light. You can use other blending modes such as Hard Light or Overlay if you want a stronger effect. If it is too strong to the point of being unappealing, you can reduce the opacity to tone it down. For this tutorial, we will be using Soft Light to show a more subtle effect.

hpcont2layer2 Using the High Pass Filter to Boost Image ContrastStep 5:

Click on the Add Layer Mask icon found at the bottom of the Layers palette to add a layer mask to the top layer.

 

Step 6:

Select the Brush tool and set the Hardness to 0%, the Opacity to around 50%, and the Mode to Normal. Make sure the foreground color is black and set the diameter to a manageable size. Now paint over the areas where you want to retain defined detail. Your brushstrokes will reveal the layer beneath it that is still in clear focus. In the meantime, the layer mask will show black lines which represent the strokes you are making. 

Step 7:

Again, merge all the document layers into one new layer and set the Blending Mode to Soft Light. Next, go to Filter > Other > High Pass and set the radius value to around 3 pixels, depending on the image size and content. You can check the image preview and work at a suitable value based on the results shown. 

hpcont2hp Using the High Pass Filter to Boost Image Contrast

Here is a comparison between the original image and the final result after using the High Pass Filter:

hpcontcomp Using the High Pass Filter to Boost Image Contrast


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Using the High Pass Filter to Create a Soft Effect

The high pass filter is often used for sharpening images but it can also be used to have an opposite effect, which is to soften the details of an image. The softening can be applied to the whole image or just selected areas, leaving key details sharp and focused. 

A soft, diffused look is often used when you want to soften the texture of skin or if you want to create a dreamy effect. In this tutorial, we will explain how the high pass filter can be used for this purpose. Photoshop CS2 is the photo editing program used but other programs that include the high pass filter will also be sufficient in getting great results.

hporig Using the High Pass Filter to Create a Soft EffectStep 1:

Open your image and create a duplicate layer. If you have an existing image opened that has adjustments, create a new layer with a flattened version of the image. Click on the top layer to target it and then click Layer > New > Layer. Choose the new layer you created and press Ctrl + Alt + Shift + E (if on a Mac it is Command + Option + Shift + E).

Step 2:

Go to Filter > Other > High Pass and a dialog box will pop up showing an image preview and the radius settings below it. Note that the higher the radius value, the softer the image will turn out. For this tutorial we will be setting the radius value at 15.

hphighpass Using the High Pass Filter to Create a Soft Effect

Step 3:

Now time for some diffused lighting! Go to Image > Adjustments > Invert so that only the areas that were untouched by the filter will be affected. Go to the Blending Mode dropdown list at the Layers Palette and choose Soft Light to produce a soft focus look. If you are happy with the overall appearance of the image, this can be your final adjustment. But if there are areas you prefer to remain sharp then proceed to the next step.

hpsoftlight Using the High Pass Filter to Create a Soft Effect

Step 4:

For this next step, we will be creating a layer mask where we can show the parts of the underlying layer which are still defined and clear. By clicking on the Add Layer Mask icon found at the bottom of the Layers palette, a layer mask is added. This appears as an empty white rectangle beside the active layer.

Step 5:

Now go to the Brush tool and set the Hardness to 0% so that the edges are at their softest. Keep the mode at Normal, the foreground color should be black and have the Opacity at around 80%. The brush diameter should be just large enough to trace the details you want to keep sharp without affecting the irrelevant areas. With the brush, paint over the areas that you want to remain sharp. You will notice that the sections you are painting are revealing the matching areas of the layer beneath it which are sharp. These parts that you are brushing will appear black in the layer mask.

hplayer Using the High Pass Filter to Create a Soft Effect

Note that if you think you overdid the brushing and want the revealed areas to be more hidden, just set the foreground color to white and paint over the selected areas. This will bring back the details from the top layer. To lessen the strength  of the overall blurriness, you can adjust the opacity or fill to a lower degree. 

Using the High Pass Filter to soften images is just one of many ways to achieve similar results in Photoshop. Also, some images could benefit more with other soft focus techniques compared to the High Pass option so if you don’t like how your image turns out with this method, try experimenting with other options.

hpcomp Using the High Pass Filter to Create a Soft Effect


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How to Use the High Pass Filter to Sharpen Images

Photo editing programs offer various methods for you to sharpen your photos and the High Pass filter is one of the easiest yet most effective tools for the job. It selects the edges found in the image and sharpens them without affecting the areas that have no edges.

People have personal preferences over which sharpening tool works best for them and the High Pass filter is arguably the most popular for good reasons. One is that it locates the edges for you and you don’t have to manually select areas as you would with the Sharpen filter or Unsharp Mask (insert link to unsharp mask article). Another reason is that adjusting the filter is very simple since there are less settings to tweak compared to the others; in fact there is only one (unlike the Unsharp Mask which has three settings and the Smart Sharpen which has even more.) 

Here is a short tutorial on how to use the High Pass filter. Adobe Photoshop CS2 is used for this purpose and you might be using another photo editing program, but the concept works the same. If it is your first time ever to use this technique, you would be surprised by how quickly you will get the hang of it and make it a part of your post processing routine. 

Step 1: 

Open a copy of your original image (one can’t be too careful with keeping the original image safe!) and create a duplicate layer. The keyboard shortcut is Ctrl + J for Windows and Command + J for Mac. 

Step 2:

Change the duplicate layer’s blend mode from ‘Normal’ to ‘Overlay.’ You can find the blend mode options in the Layers Styles dialog box at the bottom right of the screen. The High Pass Filter works by turning to neutral gray all the areas of the image that do not have edges and the Overlay blend mode keeps all neutral gray areas from being adjusted. Therefore, the neutral gray areas will not be included in the sharpening. 

When you click on the Overlay blend mode, your image will suddenly appear to have more contrast like this:

highpassoverlay How to Use the High Pass Filter to Sharpen ImagesThis saturated effect will disappear once we click on the High Pass filter. 

Step 3:

While still highlighting the duplicate layer, click on the Filter menu (found on the toolbar on top of the screen) and choose ‘Other’ from the dropdown list, and then click on ‘High Pass.’ The High Pass dialog box will appear showing the preview of an area of the image in gray (edges are darker gray), the preview option and the one and only setting we mentioned earlier, the Radius setting. 

The Radius slider controls the amount of sharpening to be applied around the edges. Dragging the slider to the right will increase the radius value (in pixels) and affect a bigger area, while sliding it to the left reduces the intensity of the effect. By keeping the preview checkbox ticked, you can see how the image in the main screen is affected when you move the radius left or right. 

How much radius value to use depends on the pixel dimension of your image. Generally, the larger the image size, the higher the radius value you’ll need to use. A sign that you’re going overboard with the radius value is when halo effects begin to show up around the edges of details. This image size is rather small so a radius value of 1 pixel is enough to sharpen the edges without causing ill effects from oversharpening. 

highpass How to Use the High Pass Filter to Sharpen Images

Once you have chosen the radius value, just press ‘OK’ and you’re all done!

The photos below show the difference between the unedited image (photo on left) and the result of using a High Pass filter (photo on right):

hpf How to Use the High Pass Filter to Sharpen Images

Notice that the areas with edges, especially the hair, eyes, lips and the yellow curls, have become more defined while the areas with no edges, namely the cheeks, have remained smooth. 


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Quick Skin Retouching, Part 2: Skin Smoothing Using Gaussian Blur

If you want to smoothen skin in a jiffy in Photoshop, the Gaussian Blur tool is one way to do it. With this method, we will be blurring out the face and masking the sections that are not skin. It might come out a little unrealistic, however, since the result might be a porcelain effect. This is great if used for quick retouching of faces that do not take up a large part of the image. Or if you are deliberately going for the porcelain look!

Before you begin smoothing skin, remove any blemishes first. This is part 2 of Quick Skin Retouching and you can learn how to do blemish removal in Part 1. For the purposes of this tutorial, we will be using the same image sample after the discolorations have been removed. 

Step 1:

Open your image and create a new layer just so we don’t touch the opened image. 

Step 2:

Make a copy of the face by drawing a selection with the Lasso Tool. Keep the Shift key pressed to add to the selected area or hold down the Alt key to subtract from the selection.

Step 3:

Next, we will soften the edges of the selection we made, as well as smooth the transition between the selected and non-selected area. This is called Feathering, and it will help blend the selected face copy and the layer beneath it. Go to Select > Feather and input 20px from the popup window that will appear.

gausfeather Quick Skin Retouching, Part 2: Skin Smoothing Using Gaussian Blur

Step 4:

Go to Edit > Copy Merged (keyboard shortcut is Shift+Ctrl+C) and this will make a copy of the image, not just a layer. Go back to Edit and select Paste (Shift+Ctrl+V) and a new layer will automatically be created and placed on top of the one you have been using. This is the copy layer that we will be blurring.

Step 5:

Select Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur and choose a radius that will blur out the face to the point where the features are just recognizable. For this I used a radius of 15px.

gausblur Quick Skin Retouching, Part 2: Skin Smoothing Using Gaussian Blur

Step 6:

Now you will have what looks like a very blurry face. We will need to make certain details reappear such as the eyebrows, eyes, nose and mouth. Click on the Add Layer Mask button at the bottom of the Layers Palette and then click on the Brush tool. Make the Opacity 100% and the Flow 20% so you can be more precise when you paint. Keep the foreground color black in order to hide the layer (white as foreground would show the underlying layer). With the brush, paint back the features. Use a wider brush diameter with a low opacity over areas that also have detail, such as the curve of the chin or the section above the upper lip, in order to show more facial contours. Remember to paint over the edges of the face as well to make the masking more seamless. 

gausmask Quick Skin Retouching, Part 2: Skin Smoothing Using Gaussian Blur

Step 7:

After masking to reveal the key features, you can reduce the strength of the blur by decreasing Opacity or Fill of the layer. For this I decreased the Fill to 35%. Here is a comparison after fading the Gaussian Blur effect:

The result is smooth looking skin. 

gauscomp Quick Skin Retouching, Part 2: Skin Smoothing Using Gaussian Blur

If the skin appears too artificial, you can add some texture by using the Add Noise filter. Since we don’t want to apply noise to the entire image, we will limit it only to the selected face area. A simple way to do this is to first use the Lock Transparency option in the Layers Palette. What happens is the transparent portions in the blurry face layer will remain unaffected after applying the Noise filter. Select Filter > Noise > Add Noise, and choose a small amount such as 2%. Tick the Monochromatic checkbox to make black and white noise (which gives a better textured effect) and select the Uniform option to make it more even.


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Correcting Unwanted Color Casts in Post Processing

Have you ever seen your images awash in a hue of yellow, green or blue which didn’t seem to be there when you took the shot? Light sources give off various cool or warm color hues and if your camera’s white balance feature makes an incorrect adjustment to neutralize these colors, then they can be very visible in your shots. This tutorial will show you how to correct unwanted color casts in the post processing stage.

Keep in mind that this method is not the only way to fix images with color casts, and as with all photo editing techniques, it will be effective for some images but be less successful with others depending on the nature of the color cast.

The photo we will be using is that of Mary, the Chihuahua. Now Mary is warming herself in the morning sunlight and there is an obvious yellow cast to this shot, most evident in the areas of her fur that should be white.

This is the original shot and by the end of this tutorial, you can see a side by side comparison after we get rid of the yellow color cast. . The photo editing program used is Photoshop CS2. 

colorcastbefore Correcting Unwanted Color Casts in Post Processing

Step 1: 

Open your image in Photoshop and create a duplicate layer. Next, go to Image > Adjustments > Threshold and a dialog box will appear showing the threshold level. Move the slider all the way to the left until a little patch of black is left. This patch signifies that it is the blackest section in the image. Since this photo has a lot of black areas, there are big black patches even though the slider has been moved all the way to the left of the graph. 

Step 2:

Hover your cursor over a black patch, which has now turned into an eyedropper tool, press and hold the Shift key and select a black patch with the eyedropper. A marker will appear with the number 1. It would look like this:

colorcastblkthres Correcting Unwanted Color Casts in Post Processing

Step 3:

Next, move the threshold slider tool all the way to the right and the image preview will now show you the areas that are the lightest or whitest in color. Pick a white patch that is around 7 pixels wide, and again press and hold the Shift key then mark the white spot with the eyedropper. The new marker will be numbered ‘2’. 

Press Cancel, not OK, when you’re done placing these two markers.

colorcastwhitethres Correcting Unwanted Color Casts in Post Processing

Step 4:

We’re going to open a different dialog box now. Go to Image > Adjustments > Curves to tweak some of the Curves settings. It’s ideal to set the white point first. Double click the white eyedropper tool on the right and the color picker box will pop up. Change the RGB values to 240 to avoid over whitening. 

colorcastrgb Correcting Unwanted Color Casts in Post Processing

Next, click (just once) on the black eyedropper tool on the left and select the first marker you placed when you were setting the threshold. Then click the white eyedropper tool and select the second marker. The middle eyedropper tool sets the gray point. Choose this last and select a medium gray color in the image. If you’re not sure of your choice, double click on the eyedropper to pull up the color picker box. While keeping the left mouse button pressed, move the eyedropper tool around the image while watching the RGB values. The goal is to look for values that are equal to or as near to each other as possible since the same RGB values equal gray. When you’ve made your selection, press OK. 

colorcastgray Correcting Unwanted Color Casts in Post Processing

Step 5: 

Here’s a screenshot of the eyedropper tools and the corresponding markers selected. For the gray point, the area chosen was the gray spot above Mary’s eye. When you’re all finished, press OK. 

colorcastcurvesmarkers Correcting Unwanted Color Casts in Post Processing

This is a comparison between the original photo and after the yellow color cast disappeared. That’s a pretty big change in less than 4 minutes’ work, right? Now the areas of Mary's fur that should be white have been restored. After practicing these steps a few times, you can remove unwanted color casts in no time. 

colorcastcomp Correcting Unwanted Color Casts in Post Processing


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How to Give Your Image a Vignette in Post Processing

Have you encountered photos that appear to have darkened corners or edges? That effect is called ‘vignetting’ and is usually unintentional. It is often the result of lens inadequacies or incorrect camera settings. However, this effect can also be deliberately included to act as a border, and is useful if you want to draw the viewers’ eyes to the center area of the frame, which would then be the brightest area in the image. 

There are many ways to add a vignette in post processing, and this mini-tutorial would be a simple yet very effective way to achieve this result.

Step 1:

Open the image and create a duplicate layer so that you can work with that while leaving the original opened image untouched. A keyboard shortcut for Windows is Ctrl +J and for Mac users it is Command + J. You can also do a right-click with the mouse and select duplicate layer from the pop up window.

Step 2:

Select the rectangular marquee tool and make a square near the edge of the frame, approximately the width of the vignette you want to create. 

Step 3:

vigfeather How to Give Your Image a Vignette in Post Processing

With the marquee selection still showing (also known as ‘marching ants’), go to Select > Feather and a dialog box will appear where you can adjust the radius of the feathering in pixels. The higher the radius, the more gradual the vignette. 

Step 4:

If we make any adjustments at this point, only whatever is in the marquee square selection will be affected. Since we want the opposite of that, we go back to Select and choose Inverse. The new selected area will be the edges and not the area in the middle of the frame. 

Step 5: 

It’s time now to darken the edges to create a vignette. Go to Image > Adjustments > Curves and the Curves dialog box will appear. There are many things you can do with Curves to enhance an image (more on Curves in another article). Some are simple and some are a bit more complex but for this effect, it will be a very simple adjustment. Place your cursor on the bottom part of the diagonal line, click and drag down to make the line curve downward as seen in this screenshot:

vignettecurves How to Give Your Image a Vignette in Post Processing

It is up to you how dark you want the vignette to be. The more you drag down the lower part of the line closer to the bottom of the graph, the darker the vignette. Now that was quick and easy, wasn’t it?

This is a comparison of the original image and the final result after adding a vignette:

vigcomparison How to Give Your Image a Vignette in Post Processing

What if you want the vignette to be on the lighter side instead? Easy! Just do the opposite of how you adjusted the Curves graph. Place your cursor on the upper portion of the diagonal line and drag it upwards to curve like this:

whitevigcurves How to Give Your Image a Vignette in Post Processing

This is a comparison between the original image and the end result after tweaking the Curves adjustment tool:

whitevigcomp How to Give Your Image a Vignette in Post Processing


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How to Photograph Bubbles

Photographing bubbles can be quite frustrating because they are one subject that disappears on you in the space of a few seconds. They seem to pop right when you press the shutter button. Plus they are extremely fragile, they can float away from you, are very hard to hold, hard to focus on and are transparent so you’ll really need to watch your background.

bubbles How to Photograph BubblesHowever, the effort is worth it because they are very pretty to look at, can be iridescent like a rainbow caught in a tiny orb, they provide a sense of whimsy, and they make interesting shapes since they can attach to each other to form a cluster.

To shoot bubbles, you must first have a bubble solution. You can buy it from toy stores and hobby shops but you can also create your own with a few key ingredients. 

Homemade bubble solution:

Mix around 1/3 cup of liquid detergent (preferably Joy Ultra) in a cup of water. Add a teaspoon of glycerin or sugar. This will help stabilize the bubble shape to make it last longer before it bursts. Leave the mixture alone for at least a few hours. Your bubble wand can just a length of wire that has been looped to form a circle with a handle.

Lighting bubbles can be tricky. Sunlight does a great job of it since it can evenly light the bubbles. Take note that they can reflect whatever is near them such as trees, bushes, your house, even yourself. If you are indoors and want to take a close-up shot, a bright lamp will do but you’ll have to strategically place it in such a way that it doesn’t get reflected in the bubble. You can use a large white sheet to bounce off the light. This will show the bubble’s iridescence without the lamp also appearing in the image. Another light source can be a flash. Place a black backdrop, focus on the area where your bubbles will be, then use the flash when the bubbles are in position. Try using the burst mode if your camera has that feature.

The camera settings really depend on your setup. If you are outdoors in the sunlight, then a fast shutter speed will freeze those bubbles in mid-air. If you are indoors and are taking macro shots, a slow shutter speed such as ¼ of a second might work better. Since bubbles explode, they usually leave a soapy residue so be careful of sticking your camera lens too close to the bubble. 

Rainbow Swirls How to Photograph BubblesThere are all kinds of bubbles, from the blow bubbles children play with to those you get when you shake the shampoo bottle. There are giant bubbles and there are tiny ones. There’s even bubble film, which is the flat ‘sheet’ of bubble on the bubble wand before you swipe it in the air or blow on it to form a bubble globe.

There are so many ways of photographing bubbles, some use an elaborate setup while others just use whatever is at hand. Experiment with other people’s tactics or be inventive and create your own setup. Also experiment with composition by thinking out of the box. Bubbles are already naturally visually appealing but are quite common subjects.  It’s up to you to make your bubble image pop (yes, pun is intended) and stand out from the rest.


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Shooting Water: Frozen Water Shots

Since it does not have a definite shape, water can appear in different forms, literally and figuratively. In this article, we will discuss how we can freeze water action in an image using camera settings. We will also talk about freezing water literally to come up with creative images.

To freeze water in mid-motion, adjust your shutter speed to a very high setting, the highest you can make it. Since the shutter speed is very fast, you will need to compensate for the exposure by adjusting your aperture to a relatively small f-stop, which would mean a larger lens opening to allow more light to pass through.

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Shooting Water Drops

Water has so many properties which make it such a versatile subject to shoot. They can become solid and turn to ice or they can become gas. They can give off reflections or appear transparent. Objects can sink or float in water. By playing around with the camera settings and being creative with your composition, you can capture water and portray it in various ways.

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