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

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.

Cold Evening at The Bean

During the day, The Bean in Chicago is crowded with people, enjoying the wild reflections. It is insanely fascinating, such a large curved mirror, and I shot a ton of photos during both day and night of The Bean.--Jacob SurlandPhoto by: Jacob Surland. Buy limited prints on Licensed creative commons non-commercial v4.0. No derivative Work. Protected by

The Bean in Chicago is an insanly fascinating piece of art.

During the day, The Bean in Chicago is crowded with people, enjoying the wild reflections. It is insanely fascinating, such a large curved mirror, and I shot a ton of photos during both day and night of The Bean.

About the making of this photo

This photo is made from 5 exposure bracketed shots. They are shot from -2 to +2 with 1 step between each photo.

First I processed the shots to get the color balance I wanted. One of the problems with city night shots, is that colors tend to get all orange.

The bean before

This is the 0-exposure. It’s very orange and dull in the colors and something had to be done to bring it to life.

In this case I started by fixing the colors in Lightroom. I did that by adjusting the white balance, and afterwards adjusting the Split toning panel. The temperature I adjusted to match the temperature of the light in Chicago, and this is done by moving the temperature slider to lower temperatures.

In this case things began to look normal around 2.100 decrees celsius. If you are unlucky, there is no simple selection, because many different light sources, with different kinds of light bulps are in the frame. Then I would suggest to make virtual copies in Lightroom, and match the temperature for each, and then load all needed versions into Photoshop as Layers, and then blend them together.

The bean step 1 - white balance

Bringing the temperature down normalize the colors.

The result from the changed White Balance is a bit on the cool side. While I like some of the blue colors, I have lost the warm city light, which I would like to have some of. To bring it back, I use the Split toning panel. The split toning can add some color to both high lights and shadows.

The bean step 2 - Split toning

Splitning is used to bring back some warmth into the image.

I add some orangy / brownish color to the highlights. I use my gut feeling or taste to find the right amount. But the general idea is that the highlights should be warmer with a tint of orange.

To the shadows I add some purple. Again the purple is a blue, with some warmth in it, so to speak. And this way I add some warmth both to the highlights, and the shadows. You might ask, why I don’t I just change the white balance? Because the split toning allows me to target the highlights and shadows with different colors, and the result is different and more interesting.

I then synchronized the settings to all five shots in Lightroom, before I used my regular HDR workflow.

I exported the five originals into into Photomatix and did my tone mapping, saved the output file. This I opened along with the 5 original shots, in Photoshop as Layers.

Once in Photoshop I corrected the perspective and mixed the tone mapped image and the 5 originals to my liking. When I was done, I flattened the layers and saved it as a 16-bit TIFF file and reimported that into Lightroom. In Lightroom I did some final fine tuning of the colors. The sky had gotten more purple than blue, while during the tone mapping.