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How I shot "The Face" of the Hopewell Rocks

Updated: Apr 24, 2021

This is an image that I shot at the Hopewell Rocks Provincial Park of New Brunswick in December of 2018 while testing out some of Sigma's ART lenses. The photo got a lot of attention on social media, and I did get a lot of people asking me how I shot it. Below, I talk about the techniques I used to create the image.

This latest version of the image. It has gotten a few tweaks since I've originally posted it on social media.

Planning the shoot

Shooting at the Hopewell Rocks requires a bit of planning. The Bay of Fundy is home to the highest tides in the world. Twice a day, the tide comes in and goes out. At low tide, you can walk on the ocean floor. But you only have a few hours until the water goes back up.

That morning, I knew that low tide would coincide with the sunrise, so I thought it would be worth getting up early, knowing that I could probably get a shot of the sun through the rocks. I got to the location when it was still dark, so my headlamp came in handy when I went out exploring the sea floor.

How I shot the image

I shoot my landscape images on manual mode. In this case, I wanted a "sunburst" effect, so I used the smallest possible aperture on my lens.

Because of the high contrast in the scene, I decided to shoot this as an HDR ("high dynamic range"). For those of you unfamiliar with this technique, you basically take several images of the same thing at various luminosity levels (by changing the shutter speed a bit between each shot). Then, using computer software, you can blend the images together to create one image that contains information coming from all of your bracketed shots.

Here you can see the 7 individual bracketed shots that I shot which were used to create the HDR image. (you can use the arrows to navigate from left to right)

Here's a look at behind-the-scenes. The photo was shot with a Canon 5D Mark IV, with the Sigma 14-24 ART f/2.8. I'm using my Manfrotto tripod and head.

It is only once I got home and blended my 7 images as an HDR image in Adobe Lightroom that I noticed the glowing face in the center of the frame. In fact, it startled me when I saw it!

When shooting HDR, I always bracket my shots manually. I just roll that dial a bit, take a shot, roll it some more, take another shot, etc. When bracketing these shots, I was focused on the light meter and the histogram, and didn't pay any attention at the LCD screen on the back of my camera. And even if I had looked at the screen, I'm not sure I would have detected a face. I find the effect is much more obvious on the final HDR image – not so much on the original RAWs.

I know I wouldn't be able to replicate this image if I wanted to. Quite a few people commented something along the lines of "that's clearly photoshopped". Newsflash: Most photos that you'll EVER see have been processed or edited one way or another! So yes, of course, it has been manipulated! But, I did not deliberately add a face in the image. That was just a happy accident!

Social Media

I posted the image on my social media accounts, and it went relatively viral (I say "relatively" because it wasn't shared millions of times like other "viral" photos, but it did get way more exposure than anything I've ever posted before). On Facebook, the post has reached over 300,000 people, and has been shared over 3,000 times. Compare that to my average 250 views per post... Not too shabby!

The photo also appeared on the French language newspaper L'Acadie Nouvelle and has been shared on various platforms by Tourism New Brunswick among others.

One of the very first people to see the image was Canon Explorer of Light and award-winning photographer / author / educator Rick Sammon (also known in the industry as the "Grandfather of Photography"). He too noticed that angelic figure in the rocks, and decided to have some fun with it by sharing a cropped version of the center of the image, asking his followers if they could see something.

Update: The image is discussed with Rick Sammon on the Picturing Success Podcast — episode 117


There's nothing like looking at a physical photograph. Photography is meant to be displayed on walls, not on phones!

This image is currently available for purchase as a beautiful, vibrant 16x20 metal print. These metal prints are really well made and come ready to hang, so there's really not much work involved for putting them on your wall! Other custom sizes and print surfaces can also be made available.

Please visit my Prints page for more information.


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