Chicago the day after Sct Patricks day

I arrived at Chicago at Sct Patricks day without knowing it. I knew about the basics, it's an Irish tradition, and that the river is colored green and there is a great party in the city of Chicago. I realized it when I saw people walking around with green hair and funny hats and everybody was so happy. I shot of the Millers Pub in Chicago with their Sct Patricks Days sign on. Photo by: Jacob Surland, www.caughtinpixels.com

By chance I arrived in Chicago on the eve of Sct Patricks day and everybody wore green hats or hair and the city was partying. I of course have heard of this legendary day and I was also looking forward to see if they actually did color the river green. On my way up to the river I walked under the elevated railway and came by Millers pub and took a few photos. Later I got to the river and they sure had colored it green or rather super green.

About the processing of this photo

This one came out as a surprise to me and though it is a bit extreme, I like it. It’s much more like a painting Sometimes Photomatix does wonders for you. I processed this photo quite different than I usually do. I experiment with the things I learn and mix them together. This one is a cross-over of making HDR-like photos in Lightroom and then doing a real tone mapped HDR in Photomatix.

Initially I had 7 shots from -3 to +3. This is the -1 unprocessed:

Millers pub - unprocessed original

As you can see it is quite flat and the mood is far from the mood in the final photo. I had to shoot 7 shots, because it’s really dark underneath that elevated train and the sky is extremely bright in comparison, even though there were heavy clouds over Chicago that day.

I started by trying to do an HDR-like photo in Lightroom (you can read about how you do that in this article), but because of the huge dynamic range (very dark and very bright), I couldn’t to that. Either there was too little information in shadows or the sky blew out. So after having worked with it for a while and not really getting anything that I liked I decided make a true tone mapped HDR. At this time, this was what I had in Lightroom:

2013-03-17-Chicago-114

I had added a little artificial light on the sidewalk and on the buildings. This makes the photo a little more interesting for the eyes to wander around in (you might want to read about how I add artificial light in this article).

What I usually would do is to press reset and then export the 7 photos into Photomatix and do my usual process. But what I did in this case, was to synchronize my settings from the one photo to the six other photos too. Lightroom has a simple and very fast way of doing that:

Chicago - Syncronize settings in lightroom

What you have to do is to select all of the photos you want to synchronize the settings to and include the one you have the settings on – seven photos all together in this case. Then click on the one that you have processed (the one with the settings) and then click on “Sync Settings” (or if you are in the Development module click “Sync…” – it’s the same feature, just named two different things, depending on if you are in the Library module or in the Development module – really a stupid thing to name the same feature two different things). This gives you this dialog:

Chicago - Syncronize settings in lightroom dialog

To synchronize everything click on “Check all” and press Synchronize. If I just want to synchronize some of my settings, like some color balancing or maybe a crop or some other settings I have made, I always press “Check none” first and then select the settings I want to synchronize. This way I don’t happen to miss deselecting some setting I don’t want synchronized.

So now I had 7 exposures all post-processed in Lightroom using the HDR-Like post-process flow, and with some dodge and burn and a few other adjustments. I exported them into Photomatix and this is the tone mapped image I got from Photomatix:

Chicago - Tonemapped image

Now, that was funky – I instantly recognized this as a Double Tone mapped image, even though it is only a single tone mapped image (if you want to know more about double tone mapped images, you might want to read this article). This got me thinking. The HDR-like processing I did in Lightroom evens out the differences between highlights and shadows (that is the purpose of HDR photography). So in a way this shouldn’t have been a surprise, I just made the first HDR image in Lightroom and the second in Photomatix. Normally I do both HDR’s in Photomatix Pro.

Another interesting thing about the tone mapping is that even the fairly subtle dodge an burns I did in Lightroom got accentuated in the tone mapping process. It’s part of what the double tone mapping does. Even small differences in lights and shadows gets emphasized and this can in some photos look fantastic, but you have to control it, because it easily gets out of hand in the double tone mapped image.

The raw output from Photomatix Pro is a bit too extreme, so I have to dial it backwards a bit. A problem with the double tone mapped images is that strong light sources often gets over the top: Chicago - Tonemapped image bugs

Have a look at the side walk. The light souces are almost blown out and it does not look good. This have to be fixed.

What I do to fix this, is to mix in one of the original 7 shots. I paint on a layered mask, to blend the tone mapped image with one of the original shots like this:

Chicago - Fixing double tone mapped in Photoshop

And by painting over the problematic areas I slowly fix the problem. Each time I click I add another 25% opacity of my brush to the area. By doing it gradually, instead of painting with 75% or 100% opacity, it makes it easier to control and to hide the strokes that I make. You don’t want to be able to see strokes. You might want to read my articles on blending layers in Photoshop or blending layers in GIMP.

The rest of the photo I dial slowly backwards in local areas. I wanted to keep the mood, but I also wanted to get rid some of the extreme HDR look. I did that by keep blending the various images into the tone mapped image. Finally I did some sharpening. For some reason HDR often looks a little to unsharp to my taste, even though they are sharp. I there fore apply some sharpness using the Unsharp mask.

So that was the making of this HDR. Remember that if you want to make similar photos, you need Photomatix and you can get 15% off Photomatix Pro if you use my discount code “caughtinpixels”. You can buy Photomatix right here.

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