Sky replacement can change the mood

Mountain Range and the Lake

Mountain Range and the Lake, New Zealand, 2012.

I don’t have as many landscapes as I would like in my portfolio. In some ways this is frustrating but in other ways, this gives me a lot of fun and artistic opportunities.

Recently I searched my New Zealand photos. I was there in 2012 on a family trip and for that reason true landscape photo opportunities were limited. By true landscape photography opportunities, I mean when you get up early at the right location and have all the time in the world, to wait for the weather to behave. I had a couple of those situations and I am very happy with the results.

New Zealand is packed with beautiful landscape and when I was not driving I often shot photos through the window of our mobile home. It requires a bit of practice to predict an upcoming scene and capturing it. But I managed to get a few. I noticed this photo and thought it had a bit of potential. There is a streak of

Recently, I noticed this photo and thought it had a bit of potential. There is a streak of sunlight on the mountain, which makes the whole difference. We drove past Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea on this day and the light didn’t really play ball with me. But this one is slightly different, because of the sunlight on the mountain. However, the sky was not too good and the wind kind of ruined the water.

The original unedited (except for the crop) shows how much I have changed it. I replaced the sky with a more interesting sky I shot back home. Some time ago I began to shoot interesting clouds when I see some, just in case. This allowed me to try out several different clouds for this image.

What I searched for, was sky and clouds that could add something to the photo in terms of color and light and as well as play a part in the composition. I ended up using this one with pinkish clouds on the left. This is another one of the candidates I considered. I love the cloud formation, it looks almost like a dragon I think, however it is not a perfect match with the rest of the composition.

The replacement itself required a bit of tedious work along the snow-clad in the mountains. It is difficult for selection tools to tell the difference between white snow and white clouds. The eye can see the difference and I had to mask it manually.

When I had decided for the pinkish clouds I noticed a big difference in the colors of the image. The colors of the mountains looked too much like the late afternoon it was and not as a closer to sunset image. I needed to tweak the colors of the mountains and perhaps the water. There are many different ways to do it, I settled for using the gradient adjustment layer in Photoshop.

  1. I added the Gradient Adjustment layer.
  2. Then I changed the blend mode to Color. This affects the colors of the image, but not the tonality.
  3. Then I chose to colors from the clouds for the color gradient. I fiddled a bit with them, to get the right colors. And as you can see it added a nice purple hue to the area where the sun shines. Just what I had hoped for.

From here I worked with the contrasts and the water. I did a semi-motion blur on the water, to smooth out the contrasts a bit and make it look a bit like a long exposure.

These tricks place the image in the landscape category, but it is also more than that. My tricks add something unnatural to the image, which I like and it matches the game I play as an artist. Balancing on the ridge between the valley of the reality and the valley of surrealism.

This photo was great fun to make and it made me happy 🙂



The Day to Night project

On the way home

On the way home

I always have various projects that I am working. Some can go on for years at a low intensity but then suddenly bloom. Like this Day to Night concept.

I have been working on adding computer-rendered effects to my images to a greater extent and I am having a lot of fun doing it.

Today I have been working on this Day to Night image, which is a boring daytime photo from a small village in the french alps. We were on the way to shoot photos in Queyras and had to drive across the Galibier pass. As it turned out it was closed due to snow, and we had to go all the way to Italy to get there. It cost us 3 hours.

This is a before and after of the photo.

How to create a composite image in Photoshop

X-Wing Squadron in Sweden

X-Wing Squadron in Sweden.

I had a lot of fun making this photo of three X-Wings from Starwars patrolling a Swedish night. I got the idea to make this image because I am working on a book on composition and I use a spaceship as a metaphor. I thought it would be cool to have a photo of a spaceship on those pages, but how do you get a photo of a spaceship? They don’t sit on every second corner.

My first thought was to use one my sons Lego spaceships (he has a ton of them). But before I acted I remembered this kind of cool shot of the ‘Space Mountain’ in Disneyland Paris and decided that would have to make do.

Space Mountain

But I then shuffled a bit around in the photos from that area, and I noticed a photo of the X-Wing and an idea came to me. An X-Wing is a proper spaceship, just what I needed. I would put that on a shot of the Milky Way that has no foreground object or main subject, other than a bit of wood and the Milky Way itself.

I had two shots of the X-Wings from the same angle, just shot on two different days, using two different cameras. Had I known what I would need photos of the X-Wing at a later time, I would have shot a series from different angles, but I didn’t.

Xwing photos

The original photo of the Milky Way looked like this:

The Milky Way in Karlskrona

This is the first shot I shot of the Milky Way. It requires an area low on light polution. This is place in Sweden is not too bad. You can see a bit of light polution just above the trees. However, the photo is not interesting in itself. There is a lack of interesting foreground.

The process of creating a believable composite

I wanted to make the illusion of three X-Wing fighters patrolling Sweden and to make that work and I could see some problems that I needed to be solved.

Problem #1: One photo is shot in the daylight, the second at night

I had to make the X-Wing fighters fall in, and I had two ideas, either a painterly cartoon-like approach or I could take a path on a more realistic look. I decided to try the painterly cartoon style first.

The photo is only a jpg, but I created two virtual copies in Lightroom and made an artificial -2 and +2 for an HDR processing workflow.

3 shot xwing

These three I put into my HDR software and got out a tone mapped HDR version. If the image, like this one, is shot in a low dynamic range situation like here, you can get fine results, when you tone map an image like this. It is only a pseudo HDR, but you still get the look from a real HDR.

At this time, I did not notice; but have a look at the darker image. That fits just perfectly into a night image. I figured that out later, but I only noticed this, because I had made this darker -2 version of the image. And that is the one in the final image.

Problem #2: Masking out the background from the X-Wing

The X-Wing is a pretty regular shape, and it is not too hard to cut out using the Pen tool. The Pen tool can create a Path, which can be converted to a very sharp mask, but it takes a little practice to use.

But for an object like this X-Wing, it was the only real option. I tried some of the magic tools in Photoshop at first, but it just didn’t work well enough in this situation.

XWing Mask

The Pen tool you will find here:

Use the Pen

The Pen Tool allows you to set a series of dots. Photoshop will play “connect the dots”, and if you end up closing the line, you will have a shape. That shape you can convert to a Selection.

Create a selection

You get some options before you get your selection.

Feather selection

Starting from the bottom, you want to create a ‘New Selection’, and you also want to have it on ‘Anti-aliased’, because it makes a smoother transition between the neighboring pixels on the edge.

And the first option is ‘Feather Radius’. If you set this to zero, you will get a very hard edge, and it will not blend very well with a background. Typically I use values between 0.5 and 2, depending a bit on the size of the object, the resolution and what it is. For the X-Wing I used 1-pixel feather radius, and that looks great.

How to use the Pen Tool in Photoshop?

This takes a little practice before you get the hang of it. Start by setting the first dot at a location good for closing the path to a shape. A corner is always a good place.

1 Making a path

When you place the second dot DO NOT let go of the mouse button. Keep it pressed and move the mouse, notice how the path begins to bend, depending on how you move your mouse. Use this to make the path follow the shape, you want to have a mask for.

2 understanding the path

You also get two additional lines (handles). The handles tell Photoshop how to bend the path. Each dot has two handles, one for bending the path before the dot, and one for bending the path after the dot.

The path between two dots is controlled by two handles, one from each dot.

Moving handles: A handle can be moved if you carefully position the mouse exactly over the handle and press ALT. Then you can drag it around and change the path. It is necessary to use this in corners and whenever there is a need for a sudden change in the direction of the path.

And when you miss the handle, just press Undo. You will miss it 100 times because it is small.

Moving a dot: You can move a dot if you press CMD on a Mac or CTRL on PC. Again, be careful to place the mouse exactly on top of the dot, and as with the handles use Undo, whenever you miss. And you will miss.

It takes a little practice, but as soon as you get going, you can make a perfect mask for the X-Wing in less than 30 minutes.

Problem #3 making a seamless composite

As mentioned in Problem #1 I ended up using the darker exposure, and when I added the mask (just press the ‘add mask’ when your selection from the path is active), the X-Wing appeared on top of my Milky Way. As you can see in this 270% crop, the transition between the X-Wing and the background is seamless. This is because of the ‘Feather Radius’ of 1 pixel, as mentioned in Problem #2.

250 percent crop

I made three duplicates of the X-Wing layer, and resized and rotated them a bit, to make them look like three individual X-Wings. I also distored the shape slightly, but not too much. Too much would be obvious, because the perspective would be distorted.

The second part is to make the light match both in intensity and colors. The original X-Wing is shot in daytime, and the colors match a daytime.

X-Wing colors

To make it fit better I change the colors, using a curves layer. I have organized my three X-Wings in a Layout Group. I can target any adjustment layer to only the the layer just below, and if that is a Group of layers, they will all be targettet. But my background will not be targetted.

Colors on xwings

I also have a curves adjustment layer to make the ships slightly darker.

Adjustment layers

The X-Wings now have a good and transparent blend with the background.

Problem #4 placement of the X-Wings

I decided to go with the idea of three visible X-Wings on a patrol. It should look like they are flying at a low altitude, and just flying over the woods as I shot the photo.

The third X-Wing would have to be half hidden by the trees to make this work. To make this work I needed a mask for the trees only, to hide the part of the X-Wing that should look covered by trees.

In the latest version of Photoshop CC 15.5 there is a new Masking tool, and using that, I pretty quickly got a usable mask for the trees.

Tree Mask

The new masking tool is accessed by using:

Photoshop new Select and Mask tool'

And putting this mask on top of the X-Wing Group allows me to half hide the third X-Wing behind the trees and the illusion is complete.

Thanks for reading

If you enjoyed reading this article, you might also enjoy my latest book “10 Essential Tips for Fine Art Photographers“. What you get from the book, that you don’t get from the blog is the mindset and organized rock solid tips on how to become a Fine Art Photographer producing professional images.



Fascination of Panorama Photos

Roskilde Cathedral Square. A 169 megapixel image stitched from 28 downscaled images.

There is something about panorama photos or stitched photos that fascinate me. It’s a bit like a fisheye lens, that shows the world in a way you can’t see with the naked eye.

A panorama photo serves multiple purposes seen from my perspective. The obvious reason is to include more of a scene in one photo, in a panoramic way.

Another reason is to compensate, for a missing lens. If you haven’t got that really wide angle lens in the bag, shoot two less wide angled images, and stitch them when you get home.

Continue reading “Fascination of Panorama Photos”

Artistic interpretation of Venice

Night view from Accademia Bridge

Night view from Accademia Bridge in Venice.

I just loved that three armed street lamp in that corner. I have a very soft spot for old-fashioned street lamps, and if you have a look at my portfolio, you will find many. If I see one, I have to shoot it.

It has been a while since the last post. I have been very busy on the art side of my activity. Me and my wife exhibited at Art Nordic 2016 last weekend, and the response was overwhelming. Our booth was full all the time. Thank you to everybody who attended and visited us.

The game I play with reality fascinated people. The way I control the light, and create my own reality, they clearly considered to be art.

Many people asked ‘is it photographs?’, and such a question I consider a big compliment to my work.

A photo like this of Venice is in many ways pretty far from what it looked in real life.

It still has the details of a photograph, but the light is something else. Something different. And that is what I work with.

–Jacob Surland
Easy to read and understand tutorials on

Art sale as limited prints. Photo by Jacob Surland, Licensed Creative Commons non-commercial v4.0. No Derivative Work. Protected by

The weekend post – AuroraHDR is very fast to work with

The old Maritime building

Karlskrona in Sweden processed using AuroraHDR.

A few weeks ago I posted my test drive of AuroraHDR. In the meantime, I have got my new MacBook Pro and have been using AuroraHDR a lot more.

One of the risks of taking a new tool into use is that you change your style because you adapt your style to that of the tool.

The photo above is an old one from Sweden and it has been one of my ‘test-cases’. I already had processed it using Photomatix and my standard processing flow. I had got a different, yet similar result. I did not try to get a 1:1 version.What I particularly like to have in this image, is a strong texture on the building and the reflection in the water, so this was what I chased in AuroraHDR.

What I particularly like to have in this image, is a strong texture on the building and the reflection in the water, so this was what I chased in AuroraHDR.

What I have done, is to research what is possible to get out of AuroraHDR, and when I have found something that I like, I have created a preset. I have been trying to create presets that support my style, rather than adapt AuroraHDR presets into my style. You might feel different about that, which is perfectly ok, I just like to be myself with my own style.

Continue reading “The weekend post – AuroraHDR is very fast to work with”

The Weekend Post – How to prepare for a huge print

Rubjergknude lighthouse

Rubjergknude Light house stands in the middle of a moving sand dune. The surrounding houses lies as debris around the light house. It is predicted, that it will fall into the sea in 10-15 years.

This Weekend Post is about, how I prepared this image for a huge print.

When you have to prepare a large print, you must be more careful, than with a smaller print. Even small irregularities and dust spots will be easy to see and can potentially ruin the whole print. And a larger print is more expensive.

So time spent preparing your photo, is time well spent.

Recently I had to prepare a 130cm / 52 inches wide print for an exhibition at Photographers Lab in Copenhagen, and some problems showed themselves.

Continue reading “The Weekend Post – How to prepare for a huge print”

The Weekend Post – The Wizard at Work in his digital Laboratory

The Wizard is working late in his tower
The Wizard can feel the warmth as he enters his Tower of Wizardry, thanks to his is ever burning fireplace. Even though he has been on the road for a few days, the ever burning fireplace, keeps his tower nice and warm.

He has been out collecting components for his spells, and he is physically tired and cold to his very bones. He looks around, but everything is where he left it, nobody would be stupid enough to try to steal from a wizard.

He can’t wait to study his harvest. He closes the front door and goes straight to his laboratory. There are many strange smells and odors, but he likes it that way, some sweet and some more acid.

His workbench is an old table made of oak wood and full of magic silver rune inscriptions. The magic orb sits on its stand. He uses the orb to figure out, where he can find his components; it’s magical. He can look for specific components, but he can also search geographic areas, and the orb will show him, what he can find there. This way, he finds new components he which existence didn’t even know.

As he bends to puts down his Bag of Holding, containing the harvest from his trip, he notices mud on his robe, but he doesn’t care. The Wizard can’t wait to play with his new components, and see what magic he can produce. He found a few rare components, and he has been pondering on what to use them for all the way back to his tower of  Wizardry.

He opens his bag and takes out the components, one by one, and he scrutinizes them and smells to them, before placing them on his work bench. When done, he studies them, roots out a few, that doesn’t have the quality he needs to work his magic. And then he picks up his Wacom wand and starts working.

I truly believe that post-processing is a kind of magic. The post-processing puts magic into a photo, and photos wouldn’t be the same if you didn’t do it. I have been thinking a lot about this for the last couple of years.

To begin with, it was the post-processing that triggered my interest for photography. Once I read someone who said ‘if you diguise a turd, it’s still a turd’ referring to that you can’t save a bad photo in post-processing.

Of course, to some degree, that is true, but I still like to disagree, because I believe, that you can do magic in the post-processing. And as a digital wizard, I have to feel that way. I am obligated to do that!

I started out three and a half years ago, and it started the very day, that I figured out the importance of post-processing. Going into details on what I have done and learned, would probably result in a spellbook.

The Dungeon

In broad terms I have been exploring and working digital magic in Lightroom, Photoshop, Photomatix, various tools, and last but not least the new AuroraHDR.

I have found tons of tips and ways to do things, and I keep exploring, because I believe in being curious, and I love the digital magic. A famous Danish author once said: ‘I do not want to die curious’, and that’s my tagline.

I believe one of the most powerful tools a digital wizard has, is dodging and burning. Traditionally dodging and burning is the art of changing the exposure of your photo locally. It’s a term that stems from the old film days and dodging, and burning was a technique you used in the dark room; in the post-processing.

When the negative was exposed through the enlarger to the photographic paper, you blocked the light, shortly in various places. This way you gave some parts less exposure by moving a lollypop looking cardboard stick around. The photo would be lighter in these areas, and this is ‘Dodging.’

‘Burning’ is the opposite process. After having given a normal exposure, you give extra exposure to some parts of your image. By using a piece of cardboard shaped to fit your needs, you would more let light pass and darken these areas.

Remember that the photographic paper was sensitive to light and therefore less light, was lighter (dodging) and more light darker (burning). Ansel Adams was a pioneer in burning and dodging.

Tower Bridge and City Hall under the Stars

Modern digital dodging and burning is much more powerful. If classic dodge and burn was a wand of light, modern dodge and burn is a wand of fireballs. And as with all magic, use it with care.

Adobe Lightroom is the leading digital darkroom, and it has very powerful dodging and burning capabilities. Aperture for Mac is also a digital darkroom. However, it has been discontinued. Other options exist too, but Lightroom is by far the best digital darkroom on the planet.

Digital dodging and burning is a much wider thing, than the old film days dodging and burning. Not only can you change the exposure, you can change the white balance, sharpening, saturation, clarity etc., this is powerful stuff.

In Photoshop, there are classic dodging and burning tools. I have used these tools to lighten up dark leaves backlit on a bright sky, but they are destructive tools in their nature. But there are other and better ways of dodging and burning in Photoshop.

However, I do a lot my dodge and burn in Lightroom. Lightroom is a cool and strong tool, and in many ways much easier to use, it does a fantastic job and more important it is nondestructive work.

Let’s do some magic!

Let’s add and remove light magically

Street in Mont Saint Michel

My goal with this photo from Mont Saint Michel in France was to create a rich warm, inviting and magic night shot of a medieval street and make you wish to be there. But to get there, I had to work some magic.

Mont Saint Michel before and after

0-exposure                                    Final photo

First I did my usual post-processing (my classic HDR Workflow Photomatix and blending layers). When I was done with that, I still felt, that I did not have quite the feeling of warmth that I wanted.

I had chosen to make the sky a bit darker than it actually was. It did some of what I wanted to achieve, but the houses and street lacked the warm feeling, that I wanted.

How to do magic dodge and burn in Lightroom

Let’s walk through the final steps I took, to complete my magic. First I reimported a 16-bit TIFF file into Lightroom. In Lightroom, I used the Adjustment Brush for dodging and burning. When using the adjustment brush you have these options:

Lightroom Adjustment Brush options

As you can see, there are many options. More than just changing the exposure as Ansel Adams could do in his darkroom.

Let’s see how I did some artificial lights in the old medieval village of Mont Saint Michel just off the shore of Normandy:

Mont Saint Michel Light up 4

As you can see, I removed a streak of light on the wall in the middle of the image. It’s a streak of light coming from a spotlight just outside the image on the left. It doesn’t do anything good to the image.

I also added some artificial light below the lamp on the right-hand side. The eye believes the light to come from a light source, and it adds tothe mood of the image. Just what I wanted, but not everything I wanted.

To make the magic work, I have to simulate the already existing light sources. Brighter light in a different color typically characterizes a light source. Both light intensity and the color of the light have to match pretty good, to make the magic work.

In this case, the light is quite warm, and I increased the temperature by +71 and the tint by +57. I also increased the saturation by +36 and then I set the exposure to +0.67 (2/3 of a stop).

Mont Saint Michel Light up 5

The exact values I have to try out for each image, because different color of light exists in almost any photo. The light in this particular image is rather warm, and by adding even more warm light, gives me more of what I wanted to achieve in my goal.

I added an artificial light source by painting (dodging) where I wanted it in order to make it warmer and lighter, giving exactly the same result as if real light source shun on the area. You could say that I painted with light. It is important that the light sources you add, fall in naturally. You don’t necessarily have to see the light source making it, but it has to be likely that a lamp could be making the light.

I removed the light streak on the wall, by doing just the opposite. I burned it (made it darker), but I also changed the temperature. By decreasing the exposure and adding Blue and Green instead of Yellow and Magenta I could paint on top of the streak, and it vanished. That’s burning.

Burning can be used for many different things. One of the things I like to use it for is to burn shadows to make them even darker and more prominent. This can have dramatic effect on images.

Adding more light sources the easy way

Adobe Lightroom 5 introduced Radial Filters and by using them you can quite easily simulate light sources. The light of a lamp is reflected as a round or elliptic shape on a surface. The Radial Filter is round or elliptical too, which makes it very easy to use for this purpose. The Radial Filter you can apply the same values to, as you can to the Adjustment Brush.

By default, the Radial Filter will target everything outside the radial area. This is great for making advanced vignettes, but luckily you can use ‘Invert Mask’ to target the inside of the Radial Filter, and that is exactly what we want:


I used the Radial Filter in several places in this photo:


Notice how I have lit up the passage up the stairs and the platform at the far end of the passage, in order to make the viewer curious, and think  ‘what’s up there?

I also added some lights to the street, supposedly to come from the street lamps hanging above the street. Each Radial filter has its own size and slightly different values. I placed radial filters here:


I started by adding one Radial Filter, with similar settings as I used for my Adjustment Brush. Then I duplicated and resized it to fit new areas.

You can duplicate a Radial Filter by pressing CTRL + ALT (and CMD + Option key on Mac) and then drag it to a new location. That will make a copy of  the same size and with same settings.

Resize the new Radial Filter to fit the new location. You might also want to change the exact exposure adjustment and white balance settings because the light is different in the new spot.

By dodging and burning in this way, I achieved my goal of making a warm, inviting and magical image of a street the in the medieval village of Mont Saint Michel.

And when I am done doing an image like this, I feel like a Wizard.

The Weekend Post by Jacob Surland

If you find my articles interesting and consider getting AuroraHDR, please use the link on my webpage and support me that way. I only recommend software and tools that I use.

I am not ‘bought’ to say nice things with sugar on top. I say what I think and feel about products. I get nothing for writing these articles, but I do get a kickback if you use my link to buy AuroraHDR, as well as if you use my 15% discount coupon code “caughtinpixels” for buying Buy Photomatix Pro. Thanks.

If you like my work, why not follow me on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+. I post photos daily.

–Jacob Surland

The Weekend Post – AuroraHDR test drive

Little Cottage on the Harbor

The ‘Skerpi’ is a house made of sticks, and put on wheels. The gourmet restaurant ‘Koks’ from the Faroe Islands has this as a pop-restaurant in Copenhagen these days.

For the past week, I have been playing around with AuroraHDR by Trey Ratcliff and Macphun. It’s one of the latest products for creating HDR photos, and I have been pretty excited about getting to know it.

This article covers my first initial impression of AuroraHDR. My overall impression is positive. There are lot’s of good stuff, but there are also a couple of bad bits.

Let’s start with one of the bad bits. It’s Mac… Only… However, Macphun is working on a Windows version, but there is no official date for this yet. Maybe they will brand it under ‘Winphun’? Probably not!

Anyway, I am or was a Windows user, but I do have a MacBook Air 13″ from mid-2011, equipped with an i7 1.8 GHz and 4Gb ram. It was the most powerful MacBook air back then. And this Mac has been my test drive computer.

I think that has been a good exercise and I can give a couple of additional input because I used this older computer.

First run of AuroraHDR

I picked a series of bracketed photos from my latest photoshoot. I exported seven exposures from Lightroom as DNG (Adobe’s device independent RAW format) files, as I always do, and dragged them into AuroraHDR.

Continue reading “The Weekend Post – AuroraHDR test drive”

The Weekend Post – How to use Select Color Range

Trailing Again

This photo ‘Trailing Again’ is shot in London.

This post is The Weekend Post – sign up on the website, and get it on email. Last week’s post was my hThree most important tips for photographers. If you missed it, you can read it here.

This Weekend post is a ‘The Making of…’ post. Something that I will regularly be doing in my Weekend Posts. I show how I made the image ‘Trailing again’, on a request from Steve Evans, who wanted to know how I made it.

This photo (and the title indicates it) is actually version 2 of a photo.

Normally, I don’t go back and make changes to an already published photo, but sometimes I do, and the reason usually is, that there is something nagging me, about the image.

In this case, there was, but I didn’t find the solution until I got some feedback from my mentor Robin Griggs Woods, and she was spot on my pain. She showed me an easy way to solve the problem, using the Select Color Range and Colorize. I will get back to that later.

While I was at it and had the patient cut open, I enhanced the futuristic look of this photo further.


The originally posted ‘Trailing’.

This particular evening in London gave very smog orange looking photos, and I did not like that. This is the original shot:

Trailing Original

The photo is 5 shot HDR series ranging from -2 to +2, which I processed as I typically would treat an HDR.

I put the five original photos into Photomatix Pro, and create first one tone mapped image, and then a second tone mapped image (see this article How to make double tone mapped images the details).

I know that Photomatix has a lot of bad publicity among photographers, but I believe that it is one of the strongest High Dynamic Range tools on the market, but it is a bit like a Ferrari, you have to learn how to drive it. How do you get the good stuff? And how you avoid the bad stuff? If you learn to control Photomatix, you can get awesome results using it.

Trailing - the making of step 1

I blend the layers to a coherent image, with a mood, look and feel that I like.

What I like about Photomatix, is that it is very flexible, and I can often create the mood that I like. I don’t always use Photomatix, but I almost always give it a try.

The double tone mapped image has a very strong effect, and applying it globally on the picture, would look terrible, but using it locally on the stairs and the tiled pathway works well. This choice turns out to be an important factor in creating this futuristic style.

I don’t know what a photo should look like before I start, at least not when it’s an extreme one like this one. I feel little bit like Alice tumbling down the Rabbit hole when I make a photo. I see what I get from Photomatix, get an idea and move from there to the next idea. Other tools will give me more ideas along the way, and this way, a photo develops.

Problems that arise, I solve as they show themselves.

Typically I try various effects and presets to get ideas, but what is important in my workflow, is that ‘I never use a full press-a-button-effect‘. I always apply effects locally, and often only in much less than a 100%. This takes a little longer, but it is worth the while.

Sometimes I end up with using less than 10-20% of the tone mapped image from Photomatix. Typically I use probably somewhere between 40-60% of the tone mapped image.

You could ask, why I include it in the first place if I don’t use more than that? My answer would be that it is an important part of the magic, and you can tell, if it is not there. It does make a difference.

The first step was to blend the seven photos to get an overall working photo (two from Photomatix and five original shots). The second phase was to optimize the sky and the railing.

The railing I made more gray, but the sky proved to be a real problem. I tried to find a proper color balance for, that would match the rest of the image.

After trying for a long time, I ended up with this version, and I was not 100% happy with the sky. It nagged me.

Trailing - the making of step 2

This is how I ended up, with the first version of the image. The sky had an magenta sort of hue to it.

The problem with this image is that the sky doesn’t play too well with the colors in the rest of the picture. I tried many things, including making it go completely gray, but that didn’t work either.

How to change color in the sky using Select Color Range

Later I learned, during a critique that was given to me by my mentor Robin Griggs Woods, what the solution to the sky was. There’s a lot bluish and cyan colors in vast areas of the image. If the sky contained some blue or cyan instead of magenta, it would play along in a much better way. And she showed an easier way to change the colors of the sky than I had been using earlier.

I took the first version into a new Photoshop file and worked from there.

Step 1 – Create a Hue/Saturation Adjustment layer

The first step is to create the layer, which will modify the colors in the sky. I use a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer for that.

Trailing - the making of step 3 - Color adjustment layer

Step 2 – Use the Select Color Range tool

I only want to apply the color changes to the sky, and there are many ways to select the sky, but one of the faster and easier ways for this case is to use Select Color Range tool in Photoshop. This tool will let allow you to select areas having a particular color range, applied with some fuzzy algorithm. It does a fantastic job of it.

Trailing - the making of step 4 - Find the Select Color range

The tool itself shows a mask, and when I click in the sky, I can see that some of the masks will turn white. What is white, is what my Hue/Saturation adjustment layer, will target.

The task is to use this tool, to select to all of the sky, and by pressing SHIFT and keep pressing SHIFT, I can click more places and the selection increases. I collect samples this way.

The two sliders ‘Fuzziness’ and ‘Range’ I can slide from left to right, and if I do that, Photoshop changes how it calculates what to select, based on the samples I have made.

Trailing - the making of step 5 - Select Color range

There is no precise way of doing this, and it’s a triangle of the sampled areas, fuzziness, and range. Try moving them around, and find the best selection you can. In the case of this sky, it was fairly simple. When you are happy, click OK, and the mask will be put on the Adjustment Layer.

Step 3 – Changing the color of the sky

The next step is to change the color of the sky.

The mistake I had made when I made the first version was that I tried to change the individual colors in the Hue/Saturation panel, and it quickly got complicated to get something that looked nice.

Double click the small “Hue/Saturation” icon on the layer and I open the panel.

I then click the checkbox “Colorize”, which will make the layer monochrome, but with with a color overlay. And because we made the mask for the sky, only that area will be affected.

Just by clicking it, the default color is switched on, and I get a purple sky.

Trailing - the making of step 6 - Change the color

There are three sliders:

Hue: Changes the hue and by dragging it back and forth you can see the colors change. I want to search for something in the bluish section.

Saturation: This changes the saturation. I don’t wish to have a highly saturated sky so that I will look at the lower end of the scale.

Lightness: This controls the how bright or dark the layer should be. Again, it is late at night, and I will be searching in the dark area.

Trailing - the making of step 7 - My color of choice

After searching for a short while, I found the right balance of blue, saturation and lightness. I made smaller changes to the mask along edges, primarily around the lambs, to make the new color work seamlessly with the photo. I used the brush for that.

At this point, I now had a photo, similar to my version 1, but with a sky that worked together with the rest of the image, but I still wanted to try one more thing.

Step 4 – Adding the Orton Effect

The Orton Effect can add a dreamy blurry and yet still sharp effect to the photo (you might want to read my tutorial on the Orton Effect). The Orton Effect can sometimes add a magic touch, and in this case, it did in the same areas as I used the double tone mapped image (the tiled pathway and the stairs). You can see the change here:

Trailing - the making of step 8 - Orton effect

To create the Orton Effect I need two extra duplicated layers.

The first layer must be a merged version of all the layers. I don’t want to delete the layers, and there is a secret key combination for doing this. I haven’t found it in the menus, but it is one of the features I use the most in Photoshop.

I make sure that I am on the top layer, and then I use the secret key combination SHIFT + CTRL + ALT + E (on Mac SHIFT + CMD + ALT + E).

I get a merged layer, but without deleting the original layers.

The second copy I get just by pressing CTRL + J (on Mac CMD + J).

Trailing - the making of step 8 - Orton effect creating it

I then change the Blend mode to Overlay on the new top layer, and I use Gaussian Blur to blur the layer just below the top layer. The amount of blur I choose changes what the Orton Effect looks like, and I search for something that looks good.

I then place the two layers in a group, and add a black layer (CTRL + I / CMD + I will invert a white mask to a black mask) mask to that group, and then I paint in the Orton Effect where I want it, to the extent I want it.

If you look at the layer called “Orton Effect” you can see, the black areas and they will get no Orton Effect. That is the rail that doesn’t get any while the tiles and stairs get almost a full dose of Orton.

And that is the story of how I tumbled down the rabbit hole to the final result.

I needed some feedback to get the final idea.

It is always good to find someone you can ask for feedback. That could be a community or someone you know. I often ask my wife or my son for feedback, and they often give valuable feedback, that I can use.

–Jacob Surland