It’s pouring rain again tonight. Lots of lightning and thunder too…awesome. Last night after the rain I noticed some clouds to the east so I shot about 20 handheld frames along the horizon. The above image was cropped from the resulting stitched panorama (probably about 10 frames worth). I did some basic contrast adjustments in Photoshop after the stitch then went back into Lightroom. I’d recently seen a very cool cloud/lightning image done in black and white and decided to go that route with this one. I used the channel mixer in Lightroom to adjust the image to taste. In very rough terms that meant darkening the blues and brightening the reds.
As I’ve mentioned in several posts I’ve been going through some awesome tutorials by David Nightingale (http://www.chromasia.com). David has quite a few tutorials relating to the “creative process”. He walks you through his thought process on sample images and explains the choices he makes — ranging from basics like cropping and minor cloning to advanced masking and application of adjustment layers. I can’t recommend the tutorials highly enough.
To create the image above I used many of the things I learned from David. He’d probably be horrified and have thoughts along the lines of “You’ve read/watched my tutorials and this is all you got out of them!” 🙂 Nonetheless I’ll briefly describe what I did to get this final image.
To start off, let me say that for this image I did not crop nor did I clone or do spot healing edits. There is some work which could be done in these areas but I was focused more on trying to execute a certain “look”. I’ve learned (from the tutorials and via experimentation on a half dozen images or so) that it’s rarely best to convert an image to black and white using a straight grayscale conversion or desaturation. My main objective was to practice getting a “nice” B+W (or toned monochrome image — that’s technically what my final image is) using the channel mixer in Photoshop.
Here are the layers I ended up with:
The first thing I did was duplicate the background layer and change the blend mode to “soft light” at 72% opacity (played with the opacity until I liked it). This gave this image a soft glow. It brightened the skin significantly. I did not want this effect on the eyes, hair, and scarf and you can see that I masked the background layer back into these areas.
I then used two channel mixer adjustment layers to get a monochrome image. The first layer used values R:+43, G:+39, B:+18. I decided that the background needed different look so I used the B+W with blue filter setting with R:0, G:0, B:+100. Where did I get the numbers for the channel mixer layers? I experimented until I liked it. I won’t go into how the channel mixer works(because I can’t remember it all anyway) but the settings you choose can have drastic effects on your images. As a general rule of thumb you want your RGB values to add up to around +100 for a “normal” looking image. I leave further theory/study up to the reader until I understand it better myself.
The first curves adjustment layer lightened the background to give more separation between it and my daughter. The second slightly brightened and added contrast to the eyes, lips, and teeth. The third curves adjustment brought up the midtones and was masked only into the eye sockets and a small shadow area between the chin and lower lip. This evened out the levels in the face.
Up to this point I was working with a true black and white image. I wanted to tone the image a bit and I used the “Curves 3” layer to do that. I brought up the reds a bit in the shadows and midtones and decreased the greens and blues in the midtones by adjusted the red, green, and blue channels individually. There are endless toning possibilities using curves. Of course, tools like Lightroom have many presets available that are often satisfactory but using curves gives you ultimate flexibility — you can change the colors infinitely and even narrow your adjustments to particular parts of your histogram. Here is what the toning curves looked like:
The “Curves 2” layer darkened the image and was masked in selectively to add some vignette.
Here’s the image without the toning curves layer. There’s no right or wrong answer but I’m curious what others like — toned or full B+W? Honestly I have a hard time choosing between the B+W and the toned image — I like both quite a bit. I think the toned version works well with my daughter’s brown eyes and brunette hair color.
Last summer I took my 6 year old son camping for the weekend at Padre Island National Seashore (PINS…see this post, and this post). I didn’t do a lot of photography but managed a few shots to document the weekend.
The night shot that I recently posted from Big Bend National Park brought to mind some of the pictures I took at night at PINS. The shot above had some really cool clouds and it looked to me like an angel with its wings spread across the ocean (kind of sappy I know). The surf is always pounding down there but I like how the long exposure gives the Gulf a smooth look.
I can’t explain why, but the view of the stars from the beach is every bit as clear and amazing as the view in the middle of west Texas (which has some of the darkest skies in the US). Depending where you are on the beach you may be as close as 15 miles from Corpus Christi — a decently-sized metro area of about 430,000 people according to wikipedia. There’s a lot of glow from the city but on a cloudless night the Milky Way is as clear as ever (looks like clouds in the sky). Obviously this picture was taken with a bright moon which kills much of the view of the stars so there were no Milky Way pictures that night.
My goal was to make this image rather dramatic given the cloud formation and the processing steps to get there were rather simple. In Lightroom I removed a couple of stars within the angel shape with the spot removal tool. They detracted from the aesthetics of the overall image because they were too bright. [My opinion is that one is free to do this kind of thing as long as they don’t dishonestly portray the final result as 100% accurate]. Then in Photoshop I used the channel mixer to tone the image to a blue-ish monochrome — I didn’t want a straight black and white image. [David Nightingale’s tutorials have inspired a lot of experimentation with things like the channel mixer and with “dramatic” images in general]. I used a vibrance adjustment to back off on the blue a bit (couldn’t quite figure out the channel mixer settings to get the color just how I wanted it). I added one general s-curve and then another curve masked in to provide a touch of vignette. Some noise reduction and sharpening for the stars topped that off the Photoshop work. Once I was back in Lightroom I tweaked the color a tiny bit more because I wasn’t quite satisfied upon a second look.
You know HDR is a verb, right? I didn’t realize until WordPress renamed my link that I’d used that title before (see that post here). Which do you like most? The non-HDR version (above) or the HDR version (below)? There’s no right answer of course but my favorite is the non-HDR image. I’d post them side-by-side but WordPress is giving me formatting fits…will update the post if I ever figure it out.
While in the Seattle area for a wedding last month my son and I went on a short photowalk in the little town of Snohomish. Snohomish is one of those cutesy towns with shops for tourists and all that. That morning it was just wet, dreary, and cold — somewhere in the high 30s with a stiff breeze to go along with it. The wet and dreary thing makes for decent HDR conditions typically but the cold I could have done without, especially having had temps in the low 80s when we left Austin the afternoon before.
On our walk I grabbed some brackets of these stairs for a semi-abstract image. It’s sort of urbex but maybe I’d call it “garden urbex” with all the moss growing (the stairs were surrounded by plants and flowers too). The dynamic range frankly wasn’t very high but as I’ve posted before one can get cool images just going through the tonemapping process. Last night I decided to process this scene but as I inspected the brackets I determined that using a single exposure would give me the image I wanted. Part of that decision was driven by the fact that I’ve gone through a few of David Nightingale’s (chromasia) tutorials and was itching to try my hand at some things. On a whim I took 5 exposures and did an HDR for comparison. It’s not an entirely fair comparison though as I only spent a quick 5 minutes tweaking the Photomatix output. However, I wasn’t really interested in trying to match the single exposure I processed. Rather, I purposely processed it without even looking at the single image so that I would rethink everything as I went through the process again (albeit very quickly).
Some details on the processing of the single-exposure image (shown at the top of the post): I began with the intent of going black and white but as I played with the channel mixer I ran across some color settings I liked. I ended up using -26 red, +129 green, and -7 blue. I used various curves layers to tweak parts of the image to taste (see the screenshot showing the masks below). All curves were simply adjusted on the RGB channel. This image was ripe for some individual color adjustments but I only have so much time for all this photo stuff.
A quick rundown on the curves layers: the darken and s-curve layers were blended in normal mode and the s-curve went a little stronger on the highlights side. The lighten and “curves 1” (forgot to rename it) were in luminosity mode and as you see from the masks, targeted very specific parts of the image. Curves 1 was a very strong s-curve to bring out the contrast in the beam along the steps. “Lighten” brought out a bit of detail in the wet shadows in the nooks and crannies. I topped things off with a vibrance adjustment of +14 (the HDR image had a +25 adjustment b/c the curves layers I used didn’t bring nearly as much color as in the other image).
Notice that the original (below) has a piece of peeled paint on the bottom step. I cloned that out since it interrupted the edge of the frame. It fit with the image but was just in the wrong place. That’s the only cloning I did.
Cropping was difficult. Not quite happy with it but I was less happy with the 17 other ways I tried.
My daughter watched someone’s children at our house tonight and while we were all playing around with them I decided to get the camera out and see if I could capture a few cute pictures for this girl’s mother. This little girl was entertaining me with the jack-in-the-box while I laid on my belly in front of her snapping pictures. This was a really cute shot but I ran into one problem. I was shooting with 50mm lens and an on-camera flash with a 1/4 CTO gel bounced up and slightly behind me. That setup was producing great images until I ended up in a spot on the floor near our (very) red recliners. The back of the recliner sloped back such that when I rolled up against it the flash pointed directly up into the red cloth. Well, that made for a VERY pink child — no recovering from that without a lot of work in post and I doubt that I could have actually pulled it off.
So, I decided to go B+W with the image and ended up finding a great Lightroom preset called “WOW Glow 10” which produced a grayscale image that was very pleasing. It was certainly better than I was coming up with doing my own B+W conversion with the channel mixer in Photoshop. I added some sharpening around the eyes, boosted contrast in the eyes with an s-curve, added a heavy vignette, a slight crop, and that was it. I have some ideas for improvement (I’ve been going through David Nightingale’s tutorials and have all sorts of ideas now) but IMO this is a great result for a 5-minute photo shoot and 5-minute edit. I’ll probably play around with some toning via curves when I get the chance but otherwise might just call this one done.