How to make something out of nothing

Birds flee from the Church of Hallgrim. In Danish Hallgrim means 'half ugly', hopefully, that's not why the bird flees. The Church is named after a poet from the 17th century, and perhaps he should be happy, that he wasn't completely ugly, but only half ugly. Photo by: Jacob Surland,

 Birds flee from the Church of Hallgrim. In Danish Hallgrim means ‘half ugly’, hopefully, that’s not why the bird flees. The Church is named after a poet from the 17th century, and perhaps he should be happy, that he wasn’t completely ugly, but only half ugly.

I have a bunch of photos in my library, from great locations around the world, but because the light wasn’t right, I have to add something, to make it into something. This image is an example from Hallgrims Church in Reykjavik in Iceland. A fantastic and beautiful modern church. I shot the photo on a gray and rainy day. The sky was gray as it gets as you can see in the original unprocessed image:

Hallgrims church

The process I went through, was first to do some basic cloning and perspective correction. Because I tilted my wide angle lens a bit upwards, the church is leaning a bit too much. This I fixed until it looked fairly natural.

Then I cloned away a couple of lampposts, some rubbish and the sign at the entrance of the church.

The making of the image

Now I was ready to make the image. The first thing I did was to enhance the pattern formed by the tiles in front of the church. I did this, by making a curves adjustment layer. To control the contrast a bit more, I put a copy of the image on the layer mask. You can edit a layer mask if you press ALT (or Command on a Mac) and click on the mask. All I did was to paste in the original image on my mask. This way the curves tool, will target primary the brighter parts.

Hallgrims church processing

When I was happy with the contrast in the tiles, I moved on to the next step, to add some birds. The image lacks supporting characters. The Church is the primary character in my story, but it lacks some interesting story, and birds can add just that.

Unfortunately, the Icelandic birds were asleep or took cover of the rain (as should I have been). Instead, I used some birds I shot in front of Stephansdom in Vienna at a different time. Hundreds of birds took flight, just as I passed by. For this image, I handpicked four that I liked and placed them exactly where I wanted them, to tell a story of fleeing birds.

The next step was to add textures. This is a sort of experimenting process. Some textures work great with one image, but not another. I added a texture and tried the different blend modes, added a mask and painted some of it out. If I didn’t like the texture, I removed it, and found another one.

In general my goal was to add less texture to the church, than to the sky. The sky really needed something, but the church should be recognizable. I kept adding textures until I was happy with the result. For each texture I tried changing the blend mode, added a layer mask and painted some of it out.

Hallgrims church textures

When I was done with the textures, I did some more additional contrast adjustment by adding three different adjustments. Textures can have a quite drastic effect on the contrast, it may need a further adjustment, when done. Two adjustment layers are curves adjustments, and the last is an exposure adjustment layer. The purpose is to keep the church and ground bright and balanced in light.

Finally I made a vignette on the image, by using yet another texture. Some textures with the right blending mode have a dark impact on the image. This time I used one of those textures to add a vignette.

Finally, I had to change the saturation slightly because a red hue had sneaked in, in the lower part of the image.

Hallgrims church hue changes

And that was what I did, to make something out of nothing.


How to remove grafitty from a wall

The Old Observatory at Brorfelde in Denmark sitting in the sunset on an early spring evening. Looks like it's going to be a night, worth watching the stars. Photo by: Jacob Surland,

I shot this the other day, while waiting for my son while he is at music training. I have 40 minutes, and this time of year, it fits with the Sunset.

Brorfelde is an old observatory, that I have wanted to see for a while. When I got there, all of the trees had just been cut down, and the ground was all tractor wheels and ruble. Not exactly a great ground for photography. But I tried to clone out the worst of the tracks, and then I darkened the ground quite a bit.

My goal with this one, was to make a fairly classic sunset photo, with the two observatory buildings leading to the sun. I captured a couple of people riding the horizon. These I left in the image, though they would be easy to clone out, because they add value to the image.

Interesting trick used

The wall on the nearest observatory building is full of grafitty. To get rid of it, I duplicated the layer, blurred the top one, just enough to make the writings disappear. Then I took a texture of a wall, used overlay blend mode and painted that gently on top of the wall, and then the wall still has it’s color from rust and the light, but also new texture.

This is the grafitty – to particularly pretty. Notice the rust on the wall.

Brorfelde grafitty

First thing I did was to duplicate the layer, and then blur using Gaussian Blur in Photoshop. I blurred just enough to make the grafitty unreadable. I then added a black layer mask to the blurred layer and painted the blurred layer on in, wherever the grafitty was.


Brorfelde grafitty gone

I then found a texture of a wall and by using the feature ‘Blend mode’ in Photoshop. I can add back some texture to the wall while I still keep the colors of the original wall. Notice the rust is still there.

Brorfelde grafitty new texture


I did it by changing the blend mode on the layer with the texture. I added a layer mask to that layer too and painted in the texture where ever I had painted in the blurred layer. The blurred wall, now receives texture but keeping its colors. There are a number of different Blend modes, i just tried all of them, and picked the one, I found best for the purpose. In this case, it was Pin Light.

Brorfelde grafitty new texture how

Thoughts on finding your own style

The Japanese Tower in the Tivoli Gardens is the home of a Sushi restaurant. As a lover of Sushi, I frequent this place, whenever budget and time allows it. It has a very special place in my heart, as it has been used for several celebrations. Photo by: Jacob Surland,

As an Apprentice of The Arcanum we get presented all sorts of tasks and exercises, on our journey to become better artists. At my current level, I have to focus more on what is “me” and “my” art in what I do.

Even before I got the assignment from my Master Robin Griggs Woods, I had started down the road of ‘who am I’? It’s not as easy as you might think, realizing who you are, and what you do, which is uniquely you.

Truth is, that I find myself most creative, when I am sitting in front of Lightroom and Photoshop, not when I am out shooting photos. I get ideas on processing techniques, combining techniques in new ways, trying out all sorts of things. Some photos are fairly straightforward, while others are much more time-consuming, and require that I used my creativity.

Some of my photos, I spend weeks, months, even years before I get the final idea. The images may pop in my head, and then I think of ways to process them for a while. Forget about them, and then come to think about them again. Try some stuff, it might not work, and I shelve the photo again for a while. And then suddenly one day, I have the idea. This photo stars above London is a great example of this process. It took me months and many failed attempts before I finally made something I was happy with.

London City Hall with the London Tower Bridge just after midnight. Only a few people hovers around the area. The stars are peaking out from the skies. Photo by: Jacob Surland,

What I have come to realize is, that I see a difference in ‘just’ processing a photo, into something nice. The other day I processed two nice photos from London, but I didn’t get the kick out of, that I wanted. I thought about it. Why was it, that two perfectly great photos, full of city lights didn’t turn me on? It should be my favorite sort of photos. After thinking about it for a while, I came to the conclusion, that making the photos, only required Craft and Skills, not creativity.

The way I had shot the photos, and the light I had shot them in, didn’t leave much room for processing creatively. And because it was a standard processing technique, I could do in my sleep, it didn’t turn me on.

This fact has changed the way I see myself as a Fine Art photographer. I need room for creativity, in what I do. I get bored by doing the same routine stuff every day.

I have known for quite some time, that I do like to play with the viewers mind. I add elements, enhance elements beyond what is realistic. I may over enhance shadows, add light sources or change colors. This way I can play tricks on the viewers mind. His sub consciousness will detect, that something is not right and some even see what it is. What happens, when I do that, is the image will get an artificial look to it, maybe like a painting or at least border lining to surrealism.

In the photo in the top, of the Japanese Twoer in Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, Denmark, I have enhanced the shadows cast by the group of people. The shadows are far stronger than the original photo showed. Another thing I have done is to remove almost all color, in the lower part of the image. There is quite a lot of colored light, and it shows on the ground.

I find these elements very much me, other people may do it too or do similar things, but it is something that I like to do, and that I have found out on my own and integrates into many of my images.

On the London image, I added light beams on top of the London Tower Bridge, even though there are no light beams.

While these small techniques do not dictate a style, they are a part of me and my art. I use them in many different kinds of photos, but they are a part of my images, in general. I have some other techniques, which I also use, to make my own style of photos. It does not necessarily mean that my photos, end up looking the same, because they don’t, but you will find elements in each, that come from the same core.

What I am beginning to realize, is the elements in what I do, that make my photos into ‘my art’, as an expression of me. I like to tease and be surreal, I always loved surreal artists and texts, and, therefore it is a part of the photos that I make.

Mont Saint Michel lonely street at night

During the day Mont Saint Michel is crowded with people. All most too much. But as the begins to set, people disappear, and when darkness comes to Mont Saint Michel, and the small street lamps are turned on, you can wander around in empty alleys. Photo by: Jacob Surland,

During the day, Mont Saint Michel is crowded with people. All most too much. But as the begins to set, people disappear, and when darkness comes to Mont Saint Michel, and the small street lamps are turned on, you can wander around in empty alleys. This street wasn’t quite empty. I triggered the five exposures manually, I can control, when to shoot, and make sure I didn’t shoot with people in the same location, and that way remove them in the post processing. The longest exposure was 8 seconds, which also allows moving people to disappear in the long exposure.

Thoughts on Inspiration

Zurich Central Station has a huge pretty empty hallway. The trains leave from out side the building and nothing takes up the wast amount of space. Except for a man with a tablet. Photo by: Jacob Surland,

This photo is from Zürich train station. For some reason I do not know, this enormous hall is empty, except for a couple of cafes and supermarket along the edges. Inspiration came during the post-processing, the roof I enhanced to have a kind of a steampunk feel.

My current assignment in The Arcanum is to think about inspiration and to be ‘inspired’ by others. I have put a lot of thought into this topic over the last couple of weeks. What inspires me? What influences what I do? I have made a number of sub conclusions, but I have also realized, that I may use inspiration, in a different way than many others do.

I have a strong antipathy of copying other people’s work. This antipathy goes all the way back to my school days and early days as a programmer. I didn’t want to copy my friend’s school assignments, even if I had trouble making my own. I didn’t want to copy other coder’s code; I wanted to understand what’s going on, and make my version of a feature.

This antipathy is still strong and goes into photography as well. What I have come to terms with, is that there exists “my version of a classic view”. But, I will try do make it “my version”, and not just a copy.

Anyway inspiration is a good thing. It works as fuel for your brain and your creativity. The question is how to get inspired, and how to use that and what you want to obtain.

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Clean up the ground – it does make a difference!

I never thought that I should see Piccadilly Circus abandoned for people, but at 5:43 in the morning it is possible. A single early bus passed while I shot the photo. Photo by: Jacob Surland,
I have a few shots from Piccadilly Circus, and for some reason, all of the chewing gum in the world is spat out here. Have a look at the before photo, and see how much chewing gum there is on the ground. I have spent hours and hours cleaning up the ground using healing and cloning tools in Photoshop.

It’s a drag to clean up that much chewing gum, but it is worth the hard work. The result looks so much better, and it does make the difference.

This is the before photo, or rather one of the 9 photos – actually 18, because I shot two series of 9. The first series were completely empty and the second included the bus.

Chewing gum on Piccadilly Circus

How to detect sensor spots in Photoshop and Lightroom

This photo was the last photo after about an hour of photography in Milford Sound in New Zealand. This boat is the first boat, one of many that will sail tourist around in the magnificent Milford Sound. Photo by: Jacob Surland,

This photo was the last photo after about an hour of photography in Milford Sound in New Zealand. This boat is the first boat early in the morning, one of many that will sail tourists around in the magnificent Milford Sound.

Unfortunately, one of the major drawbacks of cameras with interchangeable lenses, is that they collect dust, when you change from one lens to another. You can take a lot of precautions, like holding the camera downwards, when unscrewing the lens and make a quick switch. No doubt precaution works, but there is still no way around it, you end up with dust inside your camera, and some of that dust places itself on the sensor.

I have my Rocket Air Blaster in my camera bag, and uses it frequently. By far the best “get the dust out of my camera” blower I have used so far. But still I get dust spots on my photos.

Spots also get more visible the smaller the aperture (larger number!) is. If you are on f/2.8, only large spots will be visible, while if on f/22 you will see every little dust spot.

On top of that, I own the Nikon D600, which is known for it’s sensor spots. The problem is more or less gone now. And my D800 was pretty bad too. Both seems to do better now. Nikon have had both in for cleaning more than once, and apparently they have done something to improve the problem.

Anyway, I get dust spots on my images, and how do I remove them?

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How to make textures to save a gray photo

Strasbourg city of administration and city of beauty. Known for it's EU administration. But Strasbourg is much more than administration, the old center of Strasbourg has a long and very interesting history. One of the pearls is the Pont Saint-Martin. There's lock between the lower and the higher canals. You can sail the canals, and walk the narrow old streets. Photo by: Jacob Surland, Once in a while, you just don’t have either the time of day or the weather with you, when you shoot photos. Take this example from Strasbourg. I had researched Strasbourg from home, and had a pretty good idea, what I wanted to shoot. But two things turned out to be a problem. 1) I could not stay in the city until sunset, due to time schedules, but I could stay until an hour before sunset, which could have been good enough. 2) It was grey, and there was drizzle. I shot my shots using an umbrella, and left Strasbourg not quite satisfied with the result. It’s a long exposure, to at least try to make the water interesting enough. I love this place Pont Saint-Martin in Strasbourg. I think it is also probably the most photographed place in Strasbourg, nevertheless I love the place, and I did not want to let my photo go. I looked into alternative processing methods. I did not have any success on the light, so I had to add something else, make it stand out. And as it turned out, it was in using textures I found the answer. This is the before photo: Pont Saint Martin before And this is what I did: Continue reading

How to cross process photos in Lightroom

I always find that churches are interesting and I love to photograph them. Each country has it's own style, and yet you can almost always recognize a church. This particular church is from Hishult in Sweden. A typical Swedish village church. Photo by: Jacob Surland,

Location location and location. Three of the most important things for photographers, at least for cityscape and landscape photographers like myself. The three next important things are light light and light. But what if you only have one them, the Location? Will you then have nothing?

Usually my mantra is ‘Light is everything’, but as recent events has turned out for me, I have ended up with a whole bunch of daytime photos. And instead of discarding them, I have started working on them, to see if I can get something interesting from them. Something more artistic.

This is the original of the photo above:

A swedish church - before photo

As you can see quite different, and not really interesting. There is one good thing, to say about the light; it’s slightly defused, due to the slight overcast. And this does give me more flexibility. Lucky me!

This photo needs a kick. A kick to send it somewhere more interesting. The first thing you have to realize, and accept, is that you have to leave reality behind you, and enter the world of art.

The making of this is photo

Since I ended up with all of these daytime photos, I have been playing with toning and cross-processing photos Lightroom. There are number of ways of doing this, to get something really interesting out of it. Cross processing was invented in the film days, and you did it by developing in the wrong chemicals. This of course was a very unpredictable process. Today you can do it digitally, and you have full control.

These are some tricks, that I use when I cross process my photos in Lightroom.

Split toning: There is a panel in Lightroom called split toning. This I use more often than not, on my photos, daytime or not. Sometimes only to nudge a photo ever so gentle in a direction. This photo is split toned like this:

Swedish church split toning 2

I often end up with some kind of yellow in the highlights and some kind of blue in the shadows, this case is no different. But when you try it, do try to move the cursor around, slowly to digest the changing colors and see what you can get, that you like. Remember that not two photos are alike.

Hue / Saturation / Luminance (HSL): This panel in Lightroom is really powerful, when it comes to Cross Processing the colors.

Swedish church HSL panel

But how do I end up with these values? Exactly these values? I do it, by using this button for each of the panels. This example is for the Luminance, but you can do the same for the Hue and the Saturation panel.

Swedish church HSL panel 2

This way, you typically adjust two or three sliders, at the same time, but not at the same rate, because the pixel you clicked on will not have all colors represented to the same extend.

Colored Gradients: The last thing I used to tone this image, is toned gradients, like this:

Swedish church Gradients

As you can see this image has three gradients. Each touches the image in an individual way. Two has got toning, a blue color and a yellow color. The last one, makes sure that the upper right corner has a similar brightness as the left hand corner has. The before photo has a bright and less bright corner, but I like a more symmetric look in the sky, and therefore darken the right hand corner a little bit.

Final steps in Photoshop

After having “toned” and “cross processed” my photo in Lightroom I brought it into Photoshop. What I still didn’t like, was too much contrast and I wanted the gate to be a little more prominent.

First I added some Orton Effect (you might want to learn about that here – it’s digital magic). I used the “Overlay” blend mode, this way, I could stick to my normal exposure. The Orton Effect I added using A mask. I rarely use global changes in Photoshop. The reason why I bring things into Photoshop is to tune specific parts of an image, and by applying global changes, I shortcut my purpose.

Swedish church Photoshop in changes

After having applied the Orton Effect to the extend that I liked, I merged all layers into a new layer (not flattening!), by pressing SHIFT + CTRL + ALT + E (or on Mac SHIFT + CMD + ALT + E). This is probably the feature that I use the most in Photoshop.

This new layer I changed the Shadows and Highlights in, using this feature:

Swedish church Photoshop Shadows and HighlightsThis tool I used to increase the shadows, making the photo less contrasty, which I think improved the photo in general. However, I still took what I needed, using a layer mask.

The final step was to change the perspective. I know, that there is a Perspective Crop in Photoshop, but I really prefer to use a different tool, that is much more visual. But to use that, I once more merge all layers into a new layer (still not flattening) using my favorite feature in Photoshop SHIFT + CTRL + ALT + E (or on Mac SHIFT + CMD + ALT + E).

Correcting perspective

The feature I use for correcting perspective, is transform->Distort. The advantage of this feature, is that it is visual, you can actually see what you are correcting. The disadvantage is that it only targets one layer, and for that reason I created the new merged layer.

If I used the perspective crop, I would correct perspective in ALL layers. However, if I do that, I would not be able to bring in a new version of the photo or a different exposure from Lightroom to blend in. Because I shoot normally HDR, I often go back into Lightroom to export another version/exposure of my image, to use along with the ones I have in Photoshop already. But if I corrected perspective using crop, this path would be closed to me.

By using the Transform->Distort, all I have to do is to remove that layer, and then import the extra photo into Photoshop. Do what ever I want to do, and then do a new Transform->Distort on a new merged layer.

Let’s see how this is done:

Swedish church Photoshop Correct perspective


And then you get a frame, that you can move around, and you see the result instantly. This I like, because I can really fine tune what I want.

Swedish church Photoshop Correct perspective step 2

And this is basically what I did to bring this ordinary daytime photo, into an artistic photo.

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