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I loaded all five raw files into lightroom. Moved the black/white points, highlight/shadow and exposure on each to get a similar density on each.
Loaded in to photoshop, merged the layers, flattened the image and converted to LAB mode. Made copies of the A and B channels, equalised them, then pasted them back on top of the original as layers. This created a couple of layers which included vivid reds, greens, yellows and blues. Masked the two layers and selectively painted in the splashes of vivid colour with a low flow soft brush. Flattened the image, converted back to RGB and finished off in the camera raw filter.
All of you did nice work with the various elements that I appreciated. A judging criteria that I decided ahead of time would have high priority was including emphasis or at least not 'too much' diminishment of the central foreground subject.
This focus brough a few versions to the top for me, then it was just a matter of refining my choice. The winner became clear, but it was very close after that.
Third place: tie between Rob Rider and Hendrik #1
Second place: rpatodia #2
Winner: betamax #2
I knew when I first saw this version that it was going to be hard to beat, because it was a clever way to bring that foreground into emphasis. I'm not normally one for borders but it worked well for me here. Overall so nice that it was easy to ignore the bit of merge garble on that central background peak.
Thanks Todd! That was a beautiful sunset, and it was a pleasure to work with with lots of tones and textures. You captured it well. Lots of great entries too, and ideas to try out from looking at the entries which is why this comp is a favourite of mine here.
I wanted to give that awesome sky a bigger show in that one, so I culled some of the foreground to take the horizon down and give the sky more room. Then it didn't look quiet right so I tried square and a frame. Processing wise, I played with the HSL and tone sliders to give me a colour and tone I wanted (and this is where the HDR version was more pliable). Then I put it through Topaz AI (Clear AI) for the final noise sweep and tweak.
I shall look to see what I have in my bag and put something up later today.