Last weekend, after spending the day touring Boston, I walked across the pedestrian bridge (near the left side of the above image) next to Seaport Blvd which connects downtown to the old seaport district. The bridge is part of the South Bay Harbor Trail. I stopped for dinner and waited for the sun to set behind the city. As I neared this photo spot I found that four photographers were already sitting there — tripods and cameras already set up. I walked toward them and without a word stopped 10′ in front of them and pretended to set up my tripod. Silence. After a few seconds I turned and said I was just kidding and relieved laughter set in. I asked if it was OK to set up just behind them and they were nice enough to extend an offer to make room in the middle of them if I wanted (I just set up behind and above them).
My intent was to bracket a bunch of exposures as it got darker using f/22 to get a starburst effect. I switched to f/8 because (1) I really wasn’t getting much of that effect, (2) f/8 is good and sharp, and (3) my exposures were getting longer than 30 seconds and I was too lazy to start timing the exposures manually even though I was using a remote White balance was set to daylight. That’s somewhat arbitrary since I always shoot in RAW but it helps keep things consistent when viewed in the LCD. I included a couple of straight-out-of-the-camera exposures below so you can see a sample of what I was working with.
On my flight home I plugged six exposures into Nik HDR Efex Pro. My personal default is to use the realistic-subtle preset as a starting point 99% of the time and I tweak a bit in Nik. Tweaking and saving complete, I took the Nik output into Photoshop along with a couple of the darker exposures and masked in a few spots which were still over-exposed after the HDR junk. I toned down the colors in the water and burned the sidewalk darker a bit (more on the dodging and burning below). Relative to colors, I did want an “HDR look” to this image but I sometimes find the reflections and colors on the water to be a bit overdone for my taste in these skyline shots. I also dropped the overall saturation by 20 points to bring it back to realistic colors as tools like Nik HDR Efex Pro and Photomatix tend to saturate everything a lot.
Finally, since the perspective wasn’t too bad I decided to fix it by stretching out the top corners a bit and aligning the buildings with rulers to make them more upright on the edges (the SOOC images above do not have that correction). If you do too big of an edit like this it can degrade the image but it’s fine for this one. The final image turned out crisp and sharp at high resolution.
This screenshot shows my dodging and burning layer. A trick I learned watching a Joe Brady video (something about Photoshop for landscapes sponsored by Xrite) is to create a new layer, fill it with 50% gray, then dodge and burn on that with black/white. There’s no real need for that but the layer gives you a visual to show where you’re doing your adjustments.
I recently posted our Thanksgiving Day family portrait and today wanted to show how I modified it. The only direction I gave to the family for the picture was “wear something solid-ish on top, and something denim on the bottom”. As you see in the picture at this link, we all ended up in rather muted colors except my youngest son who had a bright yellow shirt on. I was busy thinking about how to add fill to the shot, position us reasonably without taking all day to do it, etc. (I should have spent a bit more time on the positioning). So, when the bright yellow shirt was pointed out to me I thought to myself, “Whatever…it won’t matter”. Of course, when editing the photos it bugged me to death and I wished I had changed it.
The solution? Photoshop’s “Replace Color” adjustment. I used the tutorial linked below as a starting point to learn about it and experimented from there. Other than choosing the new color, the key setting for me was the “fuzziness”. This determines how aggressive the automatic selection is. What I found is that because of the variation in saturation throughout the shirt I had to slide the fuzziness way up which causes other parts of the image to also be selected (trying to automatically select the shirt’s colors reveals how much variation is really there). I thought the checkbox for ‘Localized Color Clusters” (not shown in the tutorial but exists in CS5 at least) would help minimize the selection but I didn’t see a lot of difference once the the fuzziness was increased much. I also used the +/- eye droppers to add/subtract from the selection. Finally I needed a bit of manual masking to only change the shirt and not other areas of the image. Something which is more solid in color would far easier to use this tool with. The resulting photo is above — a 5-minute edit. I will probably do another version and use a color picked from someone else’s shirt so that it matches even better with the rest of us. When I look at the new image I kind of think it doesn’t look right because *I* know that I made the edit but in my brief survey of people who didn’t know about it, not a single person noticed anything.
Here’s the link to the tutorial I started with.
While setting up camp last weekend in Port Aransas, TX we saw the most amazing colors in the sky. I’m usually in mission mode when setting up camp and wouldn’t normally stop for pics, but this was too cool. Given that we were in an RV park there weren’t a lot of great foreground elements to choose from but I think the palm tree silhouette does the trick in a pinch.
This was shot with daylight white balance and post-processing consisted of noise reduction and bringing the luminance of the blues and oranges down a notch to get the colors looking like the actual sky. I also dropped the exposure of the lower part of the frame (the campground) about a stop. This image could use a border to keep it from blending into the background of the page…maybe I’ll update it later.
Sometimes simple tweaks result in amazing improvements to an image. The photo above was the result of putting an original exposure through a simple ‘S’ curves adjustment, adding a very small cyan, blue, and yellow saturation boost, sharpening theedges of the wispy clouds, and a spin through noise reduction in Noiseware. That’s it. The curves adjustment by itself brought out a ton of color, especially the touch of red on the bottom of the darkest clouds. This edit was all of 5 minutes and 4 minutes of that was just experimentation.
I was going to try tonemapping a single exposure as well as tonemapping three bracketed exposures but there was no need (atleast not for what I was after). The clouds were moving so fast that a 3-exposure HDR would have required the whole sky to be masked from one exposure anyway. I would have been left with a tonemapped mountainside. Instead, I opted for the mountain to be a silhouette in order to put the focus on the sky.
Compositionally the image is not all that great. However, I was at my widest setting (18mm at the time) and didn’t want to chop off any more blue sky. I have other exposures in which I placed the sunrise in a more ideal spot but I’m not sure I like the overall image any better. Maybe I’ll post one at a later time.
This photo was taken last year in Davis Mountains State Park in Fort Davis, TX. During our week there we saw some of the most amazing cloud formations in the bluest of skies. The night skies are void of light pollution, providing beautiful views of the stars above. This of course is why the McDonald Observatory (part of the University of Texas) is located near Fort Davis. The weather is also very nice due to the high elevation (the town is about 5000′ and much of the park is higher). We were there in August and it got a touch warm in the hottest part of the day but it was very pleasant otherwise.
The original exposure is shown below for comparison.
I’ve got Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water” playing through my head these days. I haven’t heard the song since, oh, 1985 but I thought of it when I viewed the sunset above. When I saw those clouds (I didn’t even manage to catch them at the peak of brightness and color), the first thing that popped into my head was the phrase “fire in the sky”. The clouds looked like flames. My 3 year old asked me if the sky was on fire — even he thought it looked like fire. Frankly, the image doesn’t stand on its own but I thought the uniqueness of these clouds made them worth sharing.
An hour before this sunset the sky looked like this:
I figured we’d have a great sunset after seeing those clouds but I was busy throwing the football around with the kids so I missed the best part of it. I would have loved to zip over to a nice vista to take this shot but I settled for the back-porch version.
Smoke on the water…fire in the sky. Someone please make the music in my head stop