My daughter and I were on a walk in downtown Austin today and ran across this shattered glass in a door. I snapped a shot of my reflected portrait. I had a mind to see what I could bring out of it using Photoshop’s curves layers. I knew from past experience that curves could do some cool stuff to images like this.
The images at the bottom of the post were taken inside the decommissioned Seaholm Power Plant in Austin (posts about that here and here and here). The blown-out spots in the original image are from bright daylight coming in through windows on the opposite side of the building. Inspired by David Nightingale’s tutorials on creating dramatic images, I experimented with all sorts of wacky curves and masks. With some of those wacky curves adjustments the blown-out spots really created problems so in the end I just cropped them out. The final image is rather abstract — the hand is obvious but the camera, tripod, and my body are there but not completely obvious. There are a few issues (knuckles on the hand for example) but it’s fun nonetheless.
Back to the images at the top of the post. You may already know that curves adjustments can cause a color shift depending on the blend mode of the layer. I took advantage of this to bring out a bunch of color in this image. It would have been nice if I’d been wearing something other than a black jacket but I didn’t exactly plan this in advance. The adjustments on this image were just a strong s-curve and a combination of curves which lightened/darkened the midtones — all in normal blend mode and masked a bit here and there. Some selective sharpening, noise reduction, and a small bit of overall saturation were added.
Remember Google Buzz? A few years ago a guy named Leo Teles shared some bracketed shots for folks to process into an HDR. I don’t have a link to the original images despite trying an image search on google but I linked to his photoblog above.
On my flight to San Francisco Monday I processed Leo’s brackets just for grins while taking a break from reading The Red Badge of Courage on my little iPhone screen…didn’t spend a ton of time on it. I did go for the ominous look — dark sky, deep shadows in the little nooks and crannies of the building.
Processing was started in Photomatix, then I did a series of curves adjustments in Photoshop to tweak “this and that”. Noise reduction was done on the sky and I selectively sharpened many areas. With more time (maybe on my flight back to Austin later this week???) I would spend time getting the whole sky to a more homogenous blue hue (making the whole sky dark). I would also balance out the exposure of the building — Photomatix makes the building itself rather “blotchy” for lack of a better word.
Most people who like to do HDRs are suckers for reflections. I’m no exception and when my children and I walked into San Antonio’s Alamodome for the NCAA volleyball championship I saw these shiny floors and decided to fire off some brackets. I set up the camera to fire 3 brackets (the max on Canon) with the auto timer and set the camera on the floor. It would’ve been nearly impossible to change the settings without moving the camera so I didn’t even try. I took another set of brackets with more crowds in the picture but the motion was too great to process reasonably.
I ran this through Photomatix and then brought the tonemapped image into Photoshop along with the brightest exposure. I used a few adjustment layers on the bright exposure to semi-match it to what I wanted to fix — the people in the hallway and a few other areas where ghosting had caused some weirdness in the tonemapped image. After blending those areas in, I went to work on the result with a half-dozen other adjustment layers (mostly curves). There are some missing people-parts but I don’t really mind as it gives a sense of motion and the work to clone in new pieces wouldn’t be worth it.
My wife and I just enjoyed a four-day weekend in Montana’s Stillwater County with four other couples (I’ll post a picture of this fantastically good-looking group soon). While out wandering among the ranches early one morning I spotted this rusty old tractor just off the highway. Dramatic skies + rusty tractor + twisted barbed wire + broken fence posts = great HDR scene.
I shot seven exposures to capture the entire dynamic range. Since I generally like to leave some deep shadows in my HDRs I probably could have done without the brightest exposure. Likewise with the darkest exposure…not *sure* that I needed it but I shot it anyway.
After tonemapping in Photomatix I fired up Photoshop with the intent of doing the usual blending with the original exposures and adjusting with curves. The image had a bit too much color saturation for my taste and as I tried different methods to tone that down I got the idea to turn this into an antique-ish photo. So, I used a channel mixer adjustment layer and tweaked to take almost all the color out, my new goal being to make it look like a photo that had been sitting under the glass on someone’s desk for fifty years. Five curves layers/masks were used and noise was reduced in the sky. All it needs IMO is a leather-skinned farmer leaning on the wheel with a blade of grass stuck in his mouth.
xxxxx My post the other day mentioned that I’m excited to go to Montana soon but I’m also looking forward to visiting Rockport, a small town on the Texas coast. Friends of ours have a place on the water in Rockport and are gracious enough to invite us for a weekend every year. Our annual trip is coming up so I was inspired to look through some old pictures from previous visits. Temptation struck and I pulled a couple into Photoshop and started working on them. The photo shown on the left of a shrimp boat in the marina was processed by using 4 curves adjustment layers and some masks. A bit of sharpening and noise reduction was applied and voila! The original is on the right and you’ll note that it’s rather flat compared to the processed version — the difference in the reflections in the before/after versions is a good example of that. Someday I’m going to learn how to do one of those cool sliders where you can slide a bar across the image to hide/reveal the original and new versions…
This is another post in response to the questions I got on flickr regarding these images of graffiti in the Seaholm Power Plant. What I’m about to describe is certainly not the way I process all images — especially portraiture and the like — but it is typically the way I start with images like this one. The image I’ll use as an example here is another one I never intended to post but again, it works well as a quick example of part of my processing. There are lots of things which make this a lousy image but hopefully you can get past those for this illustration.
Here’s the original image with no edits:
I began by adding a slight s-curve in a curves adjustment layer (result is shown after the layers/curves snapshots). Note that I masked out the red sign so that this curve didn’t affect it. The blend mode is “normal” which results in additional saturation in the image. The result is shown below the curve diagram.
Next I added a curve to adjust what the red sign (and a bit of the dark corners) looked like. This curve was in “luminosity” blend mode to avoid changing the saturation. Note the odd curve — since I was masking out most of the image I used a curve which only effects the part of the histogram related to the sign. That curve would really wack out the image without the masking of course. The end result is that the lettering stands out much more than in the previous image.
My final curves adjustment layer is what really gives the image a bit of pop. The sign is masked out and I partially masked the dark corner to reduce the effect there. The blend mode is “hard light”. How did I pick that? Trial and error — tried modes and curve shapes until I got an effect that I liked. The final image is shown at the top of the post. It was processed only with three curves layers — no sharpening, no saturation or vibrance adjustments, no Topaz Adjust, etc. I call this kind of processing “a la Chromasia” (go check out his work and his tutorials — great stuff).
That’s a typical start for me when I process an image like this. Curves adjustments constitute 80%+ of my processing in general. I certainly do play with saturation, vibrance, levels, sharpening, etc. but not until I’ve gotten most of the way to the final result using curves and masks.
If you subscribe to David Nightingale’s (chromasia) tutorials you’ll be able to go through some great teaching on how to approach the creative process. He works his way through images and describes what he sees, how/why he wants to alter parts of the frame, etc. My simple example in this post touches on maybe the first 0.5% of that…check out the tutorials.
I shot this shadowy basement scene on a recent HDR Mafia photo trip to the Seaholm Power Plant in Austin, TX. The graffiti was inviting so I joined my friend Van, who was already capturing this general scene with his camera.
I created this image by tonemapping 6 exposures in Photomatix then using several masked curves layers in Photoshop. My intent was to highlight the graffiti itself and simply tried to keep the rest of the scene rather neutral.
The image below was processed in a similar manner. Again, my intent was to amp things up and no attempt was made to match the colors to the image above. In this image I kept most of the curves in “normal” blend mode and allowed the colors to become more saturated throughout the whole frame.
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.
[Update: The photo above is a single photo were I masked in the original on the left side then drew lines as boundaries]
Padre Island National Seashore (PINS) is a favorite place for me and my sons. There are over 60 miles worth of beach on which to camp, fish, and explore. At the south end — 63 miles from the nearest paved road — the beach dead ends at the jetty protecting the Port Mansfield channel. On the other side of the channel is South Padre Island. The fact that 90% of this beach is only accessible by 4-wheel drive vehicles keeps it relatively unpopulated and generally one can set up a camp site which is out of view of any campers to the north and the south. You get a couple miles of empty beach to play on. One sad note is that there tends to be a lot of trash due to this being sort of a focal point for the Gulf currents. On the bright side, some of the huge items which wash up would make for cool HDR. Can’t wait to go back soon.
One of my younger son’s favorite stretches of beach consists of more shells than sand (pictured above). There are sections of beach referred to as “Little Shell” and “Big Shell” because of this fact. A shell hunter’s dream. That son spends hours picking up shells and deciding which to add to his collection.
On the photo front I’ve been experimenting with curves more and I decided to play with some old shots taken along PINS. The picture of the shells was processed in Photoshop with a single s-shaped curves layer in normal mode — no other adjustments. Amazing how significant the change is. It’s not that I didn’t already know what an s-curve would do in general but I didn’t expect that much improvement from such a simple thing. I would probably tweak the final image a bit further to expose it and saturate colors slightly more but I show it as-is here to illustrate the effect of that one simple curves adjustment. Sometimes a simple, unheralded type of edit works as well or better as our expensive Topaz/Nik/Whatever software packages.
Experiment for yourself. Check out David Nightingale’s work and free basic curves tutorial too — he does amazing things with curves.
Posting a couple HDRs from the recent HDR Mafia photo shoot at Seaholm Power Plant. This door was at the top of a stairwell where I had hoped to gain access to the crane in the main turbine room. The crane door was locked as was this door which would have provided roof access. Fortunately we had access to the roof via other means but we never did get access to the crane.
Both images were tonemapped in Photomatix (6-7 exposures…don’t remember) then processed mostly via curves in Photoshop. I probably could have used only two exposures and gotten all the image information but I didn’t bother playing with that. The black and white version was simply a matter of adding a B+W adjustment layer to the image and tweaking the red and yellow adjustment. The color image used a series of masked curves, some of which were only applied to the red and/or blue channels. The lighting was actually relatively flat in the original exposures and I used curves to bring out the shadows more. The starburst in the keyhole was obtained by using an aperture of f/22.
I’m not sure whether I like the color or B+W version better.
On a whim last weekend, my wife and I went to stay at a nearby resort called the Hyatt Lost Pines. It’s a great place set on 405 acres along the Colorado River near Bastrop, TX. Our goal was purely to get some relaxation time and we accomplished that in spades. The rough schedule was eat, read, nap, snack, walk, read…then repeat it all again. We had a thoroughly enjoyable time.
On a side note, many people who haven’t ever been to Texas think only of plains and tumbleweed (that pretty much sums up my picture of Texas when I lived in Illinois). However, the geography of Texas is quite varied and the eastern portion — starting around the location of this resort just east of Austin — is full of tall pine trees. Bastrop has dense areas of pines and this continues through much of the eastern part of the state. I’ll leave it to the reader to research where the “Lost” reference in the resort’s name originates but now you know why the “Pines” reference is applicable.
I managed a few pictures early Sunday morning. Normally on a trip like this I make it a point not to “do photography”. However, since the goal was to do whatever we found relaxing, I did spend about 45 minutes taking pictures early Sunday morning. There were many interesting things to photograph in the halls and main lobby but there were a surprising number of people milling about at 6am so I was limited somewhat.
The photo at the top of the post shows a table which was made from the trunk of one of six large pines which were removed from the property. It was a nice centerpiece for the main lobby and had a finish with the potential to provide some great reflected images. It wasn’t meant to be though as I didn’t find any pleasing compositions at the correct angles to make use of the mirror-like properties of the table. I tonemapped six exposures in photomatix then masked in pieces from the original exposures. One tricky thing about this image was controlling the white balance because the room was heavily tungsten-lit. I kept a lot of that warmth but found that each exposure had a bit of a different color cast and had to be individually adjusted in order to match the tonemapped layer for masking. I ran a copy of the nearly-finished image through Topaz Adjust and included that at about 60% opacity. Finally I used two curves adjustment layers to tweak parts of the image and selectively used Noiseware for noise reduction in parts of the frame.
This picture below of the main lobby was processed in much the same way as the above image. Note the light fixture hanging from the ceiling. It was also made from one of the pines on the property.
The final image is a panorama stitched from 10 frames. Due to the way I shot the frames I was left with a piece of sky which had no pixels and thus I either needed to crop the image accordingly or clone in some sky. I chose the cloning route and it turned out reasonably…I’m not overly skilled with the cloning tool. I increased the exposure of the buildings with an adjustment layer and mask. Then I increased the tonal range of the sky with a curves adjustment layer and mask. “Increased the tonal range of the sky” makes me sound really smart but I have to admit that I got that from David Nightingale’s tutorial on curves (see here: http://www.chromasia.com/tutorials/online/curves/). This really helped to sky out a lot. I added some noise reduction here and there and voila…a panorama of the main lobby area of the resort. It’s nothing too exciting but it was good shooting and post-processing practice. It really has to be viewed large to appreciate it (click on the image to view on flickr).
Thought I’d post another image from the photog excursion to the Holly Street Power Plant. We had a great time and processing the images helps to re-live the experience somewhat. I also want to get through some of these images and pass them on to the folks at Austin Energy in a timely manner. Today we — a group of Austin photogs who somehow ended up being called the HDR Mafia — had a group lunch at Chuy’s. Every month or two we get together and talk photo stuff. It’s great to hear about what others are experimenting with, what they’re doing business-wise, etc. Not everyone uses HDR extensively but we all dabble in it at least.
The image at the top is a 6-exposure HDR which was taken in the generator room. Processing consisted of tonemapping in Photomatix, masking in pieces of various original exposures, masking parts of two layers processed with different settings in Topaz Adjust, then playing with a couple of curves layers and masking them in appropriately. I didn’t notice the blue glow until I got the exposures home…not sure where that came from. It adds a bit of mystery.
The image below is a 4-exposure HDR of a random beam with huge cables attached. This was also in the generator room. Countless items like this were available to shoot. I processed this image in a more straightforward-ish manner. I tonemapped in Photomatix, added curves adjustment layers to portions of the frame, and blended in a layer processed in Topaz Adjust (but I used a much more subtle preset than I did with the top image). I’m really not stuck on one way to process or one final outcome with these HDR images. It’s not like a wedding shoot where one needs to pay great attention to color matching sets of images and such. I consider each of these HDRs to be its own thing and play each by ear as I process. The outcome is greatly influenced by what I’m in the mood for at the moment.
I decided to process something different today. This shot of the “bean” — more properly known as the Cloud Gate in Chicago’s Millenium Park — is unique to me because of the way it interrupts the sky. It almost appears as if some weird time/space warp is going on. I also liked the gradients in the sky and the sky’s reflection in the bean. The original exposures were taken during our family’s annual trip to downtown Chicago last fall.
This image is a 2-exposure handheld HDR which was tonemapped in Photomatix then brought into Photoshop for masking and curves. Lots of masking and curves…and a little sharpening thrown in as well. The people were moving which presented some challenges…lots of masking. I did not add any saturation or other color mods other than what curves does.
I mentioned the gradients in the sky and it may appear that those are an artifact of the tonemapping step. Us HDR fanatics have all seen (and processed) images with various kinds of halos around objects. However, the original exposures contained these gradients/halos as well (one of the original exposures is shown below).
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.