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 🙂

 

Jacob

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.

–Jacob

 

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”

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:

Mont-Saint-Michel-Light-up-Invert-Mask-Radial-Filter-settings

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

Mont-Saint-Michel-Light-up-Locally

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:

Mont-Saint-Michel-Light-up-Radial-Light-Locations

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.

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–Jacob Surland

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.

Trailing

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

The Weekend Post: How to create two images from one image

The Dungeon

“The Dungeon” created from the cloister at Chester Cathedral.

This post is the first in my new series of posts, which is called ‘The Weekend Post’. It is a post, that contains something good about post-processing or photography in general. It is more, than just “Hey, this is my latest photo”. If you don’t want to miss this series of posts, sign up on the website, and get it directly to your mailbox. If you have any particular topic, you want to cover, do not hesitate to ask me.

I am no good at painting and drawing, but I always liked to do it. For years, I haven’t painted or drawn anything, but my photography, or rather my post-processing, stimulates the same part of my brain (and heart for that matter). I always strive to get something out of my images, something that wasn’t there, when I shot it. Something that I create during the post-process. I see my RAW files as my oil and canvas, and I work from there.

Some photos have a lot of potentials, others don’t. The photos I get a kick out of processing, are the ones, that come out quite different, than what they looked like, and still look good. You can knock yourself over on the wrong side of the road if you just go crazy. I try not go crazy, but I do experiment a lot. My aim is to add some etherealness, something otherworldly, something surreal and perhaps even painterly to my photos in my photos. That is what gives me a kick.

Not two photos are alike, and they deserve individual post-processing. I am not in the ‘click on a button’ processing business because it is the post-processing that I love most. It is the post-processing that sparkles my creativity, it is the post-processing that resembles painting the most. And I did love to paint.

I have a chest full of tricks, tools, ideas and methods that I apply to my photos. I use the problem-solving part of my brain for creating images. I see all photos as problems, that needs to be solved, because, I am pretty good at solving problems.

Let’s walk through the photo from this post. What I started out with, was this photo:
The Dungeon Unprocessed

The unprocessed 0-exposure. Not a very interesting light, and yet it had potential.

The shot is a 3-shot HDR photo shot with my Sony A6000 in Chester Cathedral. The Cathedral is HUGE and in connection to the Cathedral itself, there is built a cloister like you find in monasteries, around a garth. However, that cloister had Christmas trees, and other objects, that I didn’t want in my photo. However, there wasn’t any way I could exclude them from my photo. I shot it anyway, even if I felt lacked something for the scene. But, better safe than sorry.

A few months later, I came past the photo in Lightroom and thought I would give it try in the post-processing. I often to do that, with photos that I am not sure if they will work out. Sometimes, I get an idea and get something great out of it, and when if I succeed, these are often the photos I love the most.

Some photos are bound to be successful, because the light is gorgeous or the composition so striking, and and light good enough. But a photo like this one from Chester Cathedral, was not a given success.

What I did, was that I started out on my HDR processing workflow. I mostly use Photomatix Pro for creating my more artistic HDR photos. The new HDR feature in Lightroom I also use, but only for less artistic HDR photos.

I liked the mood that Photomatix generated, even if for some of the disturbing objects:

The Dungeon Photomatix

This is what I like about Photomatix. It manages to extract a lot of mood and warmth. You can’t use it straight out of Photomatix Pro, but there is a good start.

At this time, the problem-solving part of my brain kicks in, solving the problem ‘How to create harmony?’ And it didn’t take long, before it came up with the idea to mirror the image. It was the straight line in the roof, that brought the idea into play, combined with one other fact. The Chester Cathedral is only almost symmetrical in every way. NOTHING in Chester Cathedral is symmetric, even when you expect it would be. So my mind had been thinking about symmetry, in connection to the photos I shot there.

My initial intuition, was to remove the window part and the Christmas trees, and that gave me The Dungeon. I instantly fell in love with that, and wanted to finish that. But I got the idea to, try out the opposite and to my surprise that worked out as well. And in the end, I ended up having two different photos, made from one photo.

The mirrored cloister in Chester Cathedral

The mirrored cloister in Chester Cathedral.

This post is a first post in the series “The Weekly Post”. It will be published every Friday. If you want to be sure not to miss it, follow my website, and you will get the post on a mail every time it is posted.

Have a nice weekend.

–Jacob Surland

About composition – Sometimes centering works

Rubjergknude light house

Rubjerg Knude Fyr in Denmark.

I have approximately 20 different compositions from this day. It was a bright summer day just after midday. The light was pretty hard, but just a little bit of summer haze defused the light a tiny bit. But not enough to make great light. Of the 20 compositions, this one, is the one that works best, and it works really well, even if I broke the rule “do not center your primary object”. I did that, and it yet it still works, but why is that?

I have been thinking about the ‘why’. Let me start by showing you the original unprocessed shot:

Rubjerg knude hard light original

Unprocessed shot of Rubjerg Knude Fyr.

The unprocessed photo is flat, and the light is pretty hard. The sky is uninteresting, and yet you can see the potential. There some leading lines and a couple of other important details.

The tower is shot at close to an exact 45-degree angle. Dead on angles usually work well. as for the dead center. This is no different than shooting a building straight from the front, like this shot:

Pantheon in Rome at night

The Pantheon in Rome shot dead on from the front. A strong composition.

Symmetry is pleasing to the eye, a square building, like the lighthouse, gives symmetry when shot at a 45-degree angle. This is the first important factor. When you work with symmetry, it often works well, to have the object the center, in particular if you can support it with leading lines.

The leading lines in the shot from Pantheon are easy to spot. Man made lines, and they all (if extended) point to the door. This draws the eyes of the viewer to the center of the image, to the door, and the door itself is also a focus point because it is so bright.

But how about the leading lines in the lighthouse photo? There are plenty! Let’s have a look:

Rubjerg knude hard light leading lines

Leading lines. Some are more subtle than others.

As you can see, there are many leading lines. Some are more subtle than others. The one going from the left-hand lower corner is very subtle, but there are lines going through the sand dune. And the curved orange line going through the sand is very powerful, and probably the most important one. And then you have the sand dune horizon that also work as leading lines from left and right.

During the post-processing, I also enhanced some lines, and I created some new ones. The sky I had, in the original photo, didn’t work well. I replaced that, with another sky, shot just before sunset. A sky that had the soft light, that we like so much. I made a mask, and dumped the new sky. The sky was shot at higher resolution, and it allowed me to move the sky around until I found the strongest position for it.

The new sky also adds some leading lines. There is the brighter cloud wiggling like an s-curve from the right to the center of the image, and you also have it coming down from the top. And from the left, you have clear blue sky moving in. Everything pointing to the lighthouse.

There is one more thing the new sky added, and that is a repeated shape. The cloud where it says #1 repeats the shape (more or less) of the lighthouse, this is also a well working a compositional trick.

The dark and bright lines coming in, from the right-hand corner I enhanced by using some simple dodge and burn (making things brighter and darker in local areas). This enhanced existing lines.

A centered composition can be a strong composition

So, what at a first glance looks like a simple composition, turns out to be quite complex. All of these lines makes it a very powerful composition, and if you compare it to the photo of Pantheon, it is a very similar composition. All lines point to the center of the image, where you find the brightest part (the bright door and the bright lighthouse).

The straight on composition used on the Pantheon photo, is a strong composition, even if it seems simple. The interesting composition, are the ones, that order things in a pleasing way, no matter how complex that may be. And usually in a way, that you don’t normally see with your human eye.

The head-on shot of some building or whatever, is unusual for the human eye. How often to you stand at the exact center and watch a building or similar? Hardly ever! And that is why it is unusual to the human eye and is a strong composition, and it is pleasing because it is symmetric.

The hard part is to know when to use the centered composition, and especially when NOT to use it. One of the important factors is, can you get a perfect symmetry? Then it’s probably ok. If it is supported by leading lines, then go ahead for sure!

The processing details

As for the rest of the processing. The photo still had a bit of hard light to it, and I began to add some textures. I find that textures can be used to add that missing element, that softness in the colors, take off the edge of the hard light.

When I was done, I could see, that the texture was too much, and I had second thoughts on the textures. I made a new copy of the image, without the texture part. That’s one of the great things about working with layers in Photoshop. You can just hide some. Now I had these two images:

Now I had these two images:

Rubjerg knude hard light mixing

 Too strong textures and no texture version.

I found that neither worked to my satisfaction. One had too strong textures, but the other one missed something.

In the end, I decided to do a compromise. I loaded both images as layers into Photoshop and changed the global opacity for the top layer, which happened to be the one without textures. And moved the slider back and forth, until I had the right amount of textures, to my taste, and that was at 45% opacity.

Rubjerg knude texture mixing

And my final step, was to do a clean up in the photo. Removing irregularities, stones, rubble etc. that did no good thing to the image.

–Jacob Surland

The Door to the central Fruit Market in Yeravan

The entrance to the Pak Shuka Fruit Market in Yerevan in Armenia is a piece of art in itself. It's one the most majestic entrances I have ever seen. And the fruit market is full of delicious ripe fruits. The Armenians are incredible friendly everywhere, and this fruit market was no exception. I got to taste this and that as I walked around and watched the delicacies. Across lies the Blue Mosque, not the one from Istanbul, but the one in Yerevan. The Armenians are Christians for the most part; they are the first Christian nation. Photo by: Jacob Surland, www.caughtinpixels.com Licensed creative commons non-commercial v4.0. No derivative Work. Protected by Pixsy.com.

The entrance to the Pak Shuka Fruit Market in Yerevan in Armenia is a piece of art in itself.

The entrance to the Pak Shuka Fruit Market in Yerevan in Armenia is a piece of art in itself. It’s one the most majestic entrances I have ever seen. And the fruit market is full of delicious ripe fruits. The Armenians are incredible friendly everywhere, and this fruit market was no exception. I got to taste this and that as I walked around and watched the delicacies. Across lies the Blue Mosque, not the one from Istanbul, but the one in Yerevan. The Armenians are Christians for the most part; they are in fact the first Christian nation.

About the processing

This photo is an old one, from before I began seriously on photography. I shot it with my old DSLR Canon 400D and the kit lens. Unfortunately, I didn’t take the photo in a very interesting light, but nevertheless I liked it very much, and what can you do then? One of the tricks to introduce the missing element or component is to introduce textures. Textures not only adds grittiness to the photo, but can also add colors. In this case I got a lot of copper colors, which fits perfectly with the huge copper front of the Pak Shuka. But how to add these textures?

Using textures

 

Textures are added as layers in Photoshop or GIMP. The magic trick is to change the blend mode of the texture, this way, in some mathematical way, the texture is blended with the image below. To control the amount of effect and where the effect is applied, you add a layer mask and paint in or out (depending on if you use a black or a white mask). Remember you can always invert a layer mask by pressing CTRL+I or on a Mac CMD+I.

As you can see in the example, there are many textured layers. Many textures usually add a more complex structures, as well as coloring to the image.

Not all images get better by applying textures to them, but sometimes, it can be that little magic component, that just makes the photo.

Using textures orginal

This is the original unprocessed jpeg photo.

Artistic freedom

Don't worry, River Thames was just as muddy as ever. One of the reasons I love post-processing so much is because I can do whatever I like. I am not married to reality, like a documentarist. I am an artist. I process my photos until I get something I like. I don't particularly like a muddy river, and the blue one looks much better. Photo by: Jacob Surland, www.caughtinpixels.com

A long exposure photo of the London Tower Bridge just around sunset.

Don’t worry, River Thames was just as muddy as ever. One of the reasons I love post-processing so much is because I can do whatever I like. I am not married to reality, like a documentarist. I am an artist. I process my photos until I get something I like. I don’t particularly like a muddy river, and the blue one looks much better.

But how did I make the water blue?

I made a virtual copy of the image in Lightroom. I now had two identical photos. On one, I started to play with the HSL panel to make the water blue. This made the rest of the image look terrible, but that’s OK, that is why I made a virtual copy.

When I was happy with the water, I selected both images, and exported them to Photoshop as Layers, and then I blended the water into the normal photo, and the result is this image.

Are you an artist or photographer?

Armenia is one the Worlds small hidden gems if you ask me. The country is very small but has a grand history. Not only can they credit themselves for being the first nation in the world, to be Christian, and having invented Red Wine, but they also invented the Color television. Not bad for a small Country. This is the Monastery of Haghpat. Photo by: Jacob Surland, www.caughtinpixels.com

The Monastery of Haghpat is a UNESCO World Heritage site in Armenia worth a visit.

Over the past six months, I have thought a lot about, what it is that I do with my photography. What is it I like to do? And what I don’t like to do? My available time for photography is limited, and I want to spend my time on the right things.

I have to admit, that I love the post-processing much more than the actual shooting of the photos. And when I shoot, I am looking forward to the post-processing. This has become more and more clear to me. A logical consequence of that is that I put time into learning new and interesting post-processing techniques, and combining them in new ways.

Continue reading “Are you an artist or photographer?”