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.