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.

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–Jacob Surland

The Ever Searching Eiffel Tower

The Ever Searching Eiffel Tower

The Ever Searching Eiffel Tower.

It’s been a while since my last post. I have been doing a lot exciting other stuff, that I will tell you about in some posts. I have been exhibiting in France, USA and UK, and I am preparing a solo exhibition too. It does take some time. I have learned quite a lot recently, on printing photos and getting a good result, and I will tell you all about it soon.

I have also learned some new fancy techniques, one I have used in this photo. I will tell you about this too.

I already had left the roof of the Arc of the Triumph in Paris, when I decided to go back up. I am glad I did because I got this shot. I did one with a similar angle with my iPhone, earlier, and when I saw it on the phone, I went straight back to the roof, to do a version with a proper camera.

–Jacob Surland

Paris seen from the rooftop of the Arch of Triumph

A grand view of Paris seen from the top of the Arch of Triumph. The weather was not very good for photography, but it was the only chance I had to get up there, so I stayed stubbornly and covered my camera from the rain. And I am happy that I did, I got many good shots from up there. This one is one of my favorites.--Jacob Surlandwww.caughtinpixels.comArt sale as limited prints. Photo by Jacob Surland, Licensed Creative Commons non-commercial v4.0. No Derivative Work. Protected by

Paris seen from the top of the Arch of Triumph in bad weather.

I was in Paris last week to exhibit at Art Shopping at Carrousel du Louvre 2015. A pretty exciting thing. As a photographer, I, of course, could not go to Paris, and not shoot photos, and I carefully planned what to photograph, and when, while not exhibiting.

I did a very careful planning of what I want to shoot mornings and evenings, and what to shoot while driving down there, and back again. It’s the first time I have been the so prepared – and yet you can still meet obstacles.

I will only have one blue hour evening, and where did I want to go? In the end, I decided for the rooftop of the Arch of Triumph. There is a magnificent view of Paris from up there. I got there in good time and waited in the line. After waiting 30 minutes in the line, I got so close to the ticket office and saw a sign which said ‘no bags larger than 40cm’ mine is 53cm and my hope sank. What a stupid mistake to make. I knew that I could not use tripods up there, but no big bags? I took a deep breath, and went took a shot at it, anyway, and I slipped through. The security guard just received a large group to pay his attention to and did not pay attention to the size of my bag. Lucky me.

I thought I was home free from there, but noo… There was a more specific security check, before going up to the top of the roof. The security lady started saying something about the size of the bag, but I just opened it and showed her my camera equipment. She said ‘no tripods’, but I knew that and had prepared for that, and she let me through.

I got to the roof, after climing a small narrow winding staircase. It really was taller than I expected, and when I got up there, the view was magnificent. I had taken no chances and was there almost two hours ahead of the sunset. So I had to wait.

Instead of a tripod, I had brought my Manfrotto Super Clamp which I bought at Amazons. This really is one of the best pieces of photo equipment I have, and especially if you compare it to the price. All photo equipment is insanely expensive, except for this one. It allows me to screw a ball head on, and then I can screw the Super Clamp onto my tripod, and have two cameras or as I had planned for the rooftop. It looks like this:

The Super Clamp is really made for filming equipment, but it works with cameras too.

Because I knew tripods wasn’t allowed, I had researched the nature of the roof and had seen from photos, that there was a spiked fence, which the Super Clamp would be super easy to attach to. And that was my plan. But I had not considered that the fence might be wobbly, and it certainly was. It turned out, that people leaned against it, while taking selfies, and children yanked in it. My camera would fly back and forth on long exposures.

While I waited, I searched for my compositions. This one I liked particularly well because it is different from the classic shot from up here. I also got the classic one, but this one I liked rather much. And guess what? It’s shot with a fisheye lens. You can hardly even tell!

While I waited, bad weather came. La Defense in the distance disappeared completely, and it got closer. At this time I did not feel very lucky at all, but in the end we only got a small portion of the bad weather; enough to have minor problems with rain, but not enough to ruin the photos.

Back to the wobbly fence. When it was time, and the exposures got longer, I waited until the fence was still, or if didn’t stay still, I held my breath and I put my full weight against the fence (hoping it would hold). I shot a lot of photos of the same composition and hoped that enough would be sharp enough to work with. As it turned out, it was not so bad at all. I got a lot useable photos.

So this photo I am quite happy with, not only because I like it, but also because I went through a lot of trouble to get it.

Stars above Saint Mont Michel

Stars and not least spot lights above Mont Saint Michel. These spot lights are amazing. The top of the tower is about 150m above the sea level, but these spot lights are just lighting up the sky.--Jacob Surlandwww.caughtinpixels.comArt sale as limited prints. Photo by Jacob Surland, Licensed Creative Commons non-commercial v4.0. No Derivative Work. Protected by

Stars and not least spot lights above Mont Saint Michel.

Stars and not least spot lights above Mont Saint Michel. These spotlights are amazing. The top of the bell tower of the monastery at Mont Saint Michel rises about 150m above the sea level, but these spotlights are just lighting up the sky.

This is the second image I have posted of these spotlights, and the first time I posted, someone wrote to me, that Saint Mont Michel did no look that way with the spot lights. I know I like to play with my images, but in this case I did not add the spotlights. This is the original unedited image:

Saint Mont Michel - before

Nikon 28-300, 28mm, F ISO 1250, f/5.6, 25.0 sec.

Because Mont Saint Michel has so many spotlights at night, and the night itself was pitch dark, it is impossible to capture all light in one shot. The shot above is the brightest shot, and the monastery itself is completely blown out while the stars are nice. I shot from -2 to +4, 7 shots all together.

Chateau Queyras sitting on the top of the World

Sitting on top of the world, or so it seems. Like many other castles and fortress in mountain areas, Chateau Queyras sits overlooking a pass for protection. --Jacob Surlandwww.caughtinpixels.comArt sale as limited prints. Photo by Jacob Surland, Licensed Creative Commons non-commercial v4.0. No Derivative Work. Protected by

Chateau Queras in the French Alps.

Sitting on top of the world, or so it seems. Like so many other castles and fortresses in mountain areas, Chateau Queyras sits overlooking a pass for protection. While Chateau Queyras might not be the most famous castle in the world, it certainly is picturesque. I shot this photo, as I was coming down from the mountain, after having shot this one:

Chateau Queras is placed like the old fortress it is, to guard the entrance to Queras, a beautiful area in the French. Quite a gem really, full of beautiful places and then this beautiful old castle. Photo by: Jacob Surland,

Long exposure photo of Chateau Queyras.

I shot these shots while attending a photo workshop by Duncan MacArthur. One of the advantages of going on a photo workshop is, that you get the photo locations served right in front you.

About the processing of the first photo

The top photo is a combination of an HDR photo and long exposures. Cars don’t come by very often, and I had to wait for at least 5 minutes, after having shot my HDR series. I think the light trails adds a nice touch to the photo, and it fills an empty space area in the lower left corner. If you are interested in my general HDR workflow, you can find it here.

I did a lot of cloning in this photo. As a Fine Art photographer, I see myself as an artist I am not trying to portray reality in any way. I am bridging between reality and surrealism, and I do to photos what I like, and what I find fun. And actually I sometimes find it a great sport, to see how much you can remove from a photo, and still not notice, without scrutinizing it.

In the case of the top first photo of this post, I removed a fence and a phone booth.

Chateau Queyras - clone away

In this case I found it a great sport to remove in particular the phone booth. I end up feeling like a painter.

I use a combination of the Healing Brush Tool and the Clone tool. The Clone tool makes an exact match, while the Healing Brush Tool does some magic, to match both lights and tones. And to be honest, it quite often fails in doing a good job.

Chateau Queyras - clone away - tools

In this image I used the Clone tool a lot, to get exact match texture control. This resulted in a too bright piece of wood (see #2 below). This area is more in the dark, than the areas above, I used to clone from. To fix that, I added an Exposure layer mask, set the exposure to approx -1.27 stop, inverted my mask (CTRL+I or on a Mac CMD+I). My adjustment layer is now hidden, but I can paint it in using the brug tools. And by doing this with a 30% opacity I can dark areas I want to darken.

Chateau Queyras - clone away - fix light

I ended up darkening the two areas #1 and #2 (se image above).  The first area was just ‘too bright’, as a result from the HDR tone mapping and it attracted too much attention, to my liking. But #2 was a real problem, because it was obvious it was faked.