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.



Using LAB color to bring out the magic

Fire in the Sky

This photo really came to life, when I used the color space Lab Color as a tool.

Teaser: Last in this post, you can see the before version of this image of the Eiffel Tower.

Recently I have been working a lot on understanding colors and color spaces. It has been coming to me, from two different angles. It’s funny how things sometimes converge from different places and situations into the same realization, at the same time.

I have been working on understanding why some of my prints went haywire color wise, even at a professional printing house. It turned out, it had to do with color spaces or more correctly the gamut of a color space. A gamut is the range of colors a color space can produce. Gamut is a strange word, but I will try to exemplify in a simple way. I will discuss this in more detail in a later post.

At the same time, as I was working on getting my prints looking right, on another track in my life, in my eternal search for new cool processing ways, I came across the Lab color space as a processing technique. It was introduced to me, by Robin Griggs Woods, and I was completely blown by it.

What is a color space anyway?

Before getting deeper into the Lab Color color space, let’s talk a bit about the color spaces in general. Color spaces are quite complicated, and I will try to make an easier-to-digest description.

Continue reading

National Natural History Museum in Paris

Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle in Paris is worth a visit, alone because of the building. I had some expectations but I was still completely blown away when I got there. So incredibly beautiful and dynamic lighting for a fantastic room. I only had 1,5 hours before it closed, and I didn't even get time to see the exhibition.--Jacob Surlandwww.caughtinpixels.comArt sale as limited prints. Photo by Jacob Surland, Licensed Creative Commons non-commercial v4.0. No Derivative Work. Protected by

The colors of the roof and walls keep changing colors, to simulate day, night and the weather.

I knew that the ‘Muséum national d’Histoire Naturelle’  would be something special, but I was still blown completely away with the beauty of this enormous old room.

I arrived in the midst of a tropical thunderstorm. The roof changes colors, along with the one wall, to simulate the weather. It can show lightning, day and night, and a rainbow … at least that was what I saw, during my 1,5 hours I had there until it closed. I didn’t even get much time to look at the exhibition, but that looked really awesome too. This place I would require a day, to do it full justice I think.

I could just squeeze in visiting the Museum between I hung up my artwork at Carousel du Louvre, and the VIP grand opening later in the evening.

About the processing of this photo

This photo is shot with a Sony A7R using my metabones Nikon adapter attached with my 16mm Nikon Fisheye lens. The fisheye is obvious. I used a fisheye in this location, to got something out of the ordinary classic shot from this museum, and I think I managed to get that. At least, I have never seen anything like this before.

It is an HDR shot bracketed -2, 0 and +2.  The Sony A7R is somewhat limited regarding shooting bracketed HDR photos. I need at least 1 stop between each shot, and prefer 2 stops. When choosing this option, the A7R can only shoot 3 bracketed photos. If I shoot less than 1 stop between each stop, it can shoot 5 shot, a ridiculous limitation.

I shot it at an f/stop somewhere in the middle. One of the drawbacks from using the Metabones adapter for Nikon is, that no EXIF information is transferred from the lens. But I know I had the f-stop somewhere in the middle, my guess is f/8-f/11. And then I had the camera at ISO 100 and the longest shutter speed was 5 seconds. This allows me to blur most of the people fairly much away.

I used my standard processing workflow for this image. I processed it in Photomatix (you might want to see my tutorial here), and afterwards i took the three originals along with the output from Photomatix into Photoshop and blended it to this final result. These are my three original unprocessed photos:

Paris - Natural History Museum

One of the important things, when you shoot a photo symmetric like this one, is that symmetry is as exact as possible. I could spend a long time while shooting, to get it exactly right in the camera, by shooting, checking and re-shooting. I work in a different way. I need to be ‘close enough’ to the final framing, but I do not mind, doing a final more exact crop at home on the computer. This way I get more time, to do more shots, instead of working one composition into death. This might be a different way, than others work, but I like it that way. Of course I sometimes get stuck, if I can’t get a “good enough” result quickly. I hate getting home with something, that I cannot use.

I am far from puritan about ‘getting it right in the camera house’. I see no point in doing that, it would only require more time, at each location, giving me less to time, to do more compositions.

In Photoshop I first got an “overall” good blend of the tonemapped output from Photomatix, and the three original images. Then I added some effect, by using Topaz Adjust. Afterwards i used two of the original shots ones more to fix or improve very specific areas.

Paris - Natural History Museum - Photoshop layers

How do I determine what ‘needs to be fixed’ in an image? What I get out of Photomatix is next to NEVER a final image. This I know, and I just have to look for the ‘problems’ with the image from Photomatix. There is always something, that doesn’t look too good. Something that is too extreme, a nasty halo or a to hard contrast. How do I spot that? I look closely at the image, both in a smaller thumbnail seized image, and in a closer to 1:1 version. But in the end it comes down to a mix of taste and experience/practice. The more images you have processed, the better you get at doing this. In the beginning, this was pretty much a lot of guessing work and less qualified work. Most of this early work, I have withdrawn from my public stream. The more images you process, the better you get at it, and some of the ‘problems’ gets so obvious to fix, that you hardly think about it.

In this particular image, I first got the ‘basic’ image, by blending the Photomatix version, with the three originals. Then I made some effect using, Topaz Adjust, and afterwards I fine tuned the image, by picking some very specific areas from the original images, to fix some problems.

–Jacob Surland

How to cross process photos in Lightroom

I always find that churches are interesting and I love to photograph them. Each country has it's own style, and yet you can almost always recognize a church. This particular church is from Hishult in Sweden. A typical Swedish village church. Photo by: Jacob Surland,

Location location and location. Three of the most important things for photographers, at least for cityscape and landscape photographers like myself. The three next important things are light light and light. But what if you only have one them, the Location? Will you then have nothing?

Usually my mantra is ‘Light is everything’, but as recent events has turned out for me, I have ended up with a whole bunch of daytime photos. And instead of discarding them, I have started working on them, to see if I can get something interesting from them. Something more artistic.

This is the original of the photo above:

A swedish church - before photo

As you can see quite different, and not really interesting. There is one good thing, to say about the light; it’s slightly defused, due to the slight overcast. And this does give me more flexibility. Lucky me!

This photo needs a kick. A kick to send it somewhere more interesting. The first thing you have to realize, and accept, is that you have to leave reality behind you, and enter the world of art.

The making of this is photo

Since I ended up with all of these daytime photos, I have been playing with toning and cross-processing photos Lightroom. There are number of ways of doing this, to get something really interesting out of it. Cross processing was invented in the film days, and you did it by developing in the wrong chemicals. This of course was a very unpredictable process. Today you can do it digitally, and you have full control.

These are some tricks, that I use when I cross process my photos in Lightroom.

Split toning: There is a panel in Lightroom called split toning. This I use more often than not, on my photos, daytime or not. Sometimes only to nudge a photo ever so gentle in a direction. This photo is split toned like this:

Swedish church split toning 2

I often end up with some kind of yellow in the highlights and some kind of blue in the shadows, this case is no different. But when you try it, do try to move the cursor around, slowly to digest the changing colors and see what you can get, that you like. Remember that not two photos are alike.

Hue / Saturation / Luminance (HSL): This panel in Lightroom is really powerful, when it comes to Cross Processing the colors.

Swedish church HSL panel

But how do I end up with these values? Exactly these values? I do it, by using this button for each of the panels. This example is for the Luminance, but you can do the same for the Hue and the Saturation panel.

Swedish church HSL panel 2

This way, you typically adjust two or three sliders, at the same time, but not at the same rate, because the pixel you clicked on will not have all colors represented to the same extend.

Colored Gradients: The last thing I used to tone this image, is toned gradients, like this:

Swedish church Gradients

As you can see this image has three gradients. Each touches the image in an individual way. Two has got toning, a blue color and a yellow color. The last one, makes sure that the upper right corner has a similar brightness as the left hand corner has. The before photo has a bright and less bright corner, but I like a more symmetric look in the sky, and therefore darken the right hand corner a little bit.

Final steps in Photoshop

After having “toned” and “cross processed” my photo in Lightroom I brought it into Photoshop. What I still didn’t like, was too much contrast and I wanted the gate to be a little more prominent.

First I added some Orton Effect (you might want to learn about that here – it’s digital magic). I used the “Overlay” blend mode, this way, I could stick to my normal exposure. The Orton Effect I added using A mask. I rarely use global changes in Photoshop. The reason why I bring things into Photoshop is to tune specific parts of an image, and by applying global changes, I shortcut my purpose.

Swedish church Photoshop in changes

After having applied the Orton Effect to the extend that I liked, I merged all layers into a new layer (not flattening!), by pressing SHIFT + CTRL + ALT + E (or on Mac SHIFT + CMD + ALT + E). This is probably the feature that I use the most in Photoshop.

This new layer I changed the Shadows and Highlights in, using this feature:

Swedish church Photoshop Shadows and HighlightsThis tool I used to increase the shadows, making the photo less contrasty, which I think improved the photo in general. However, I still took what I needed, using a layer mask.

The final step was to change the perspective. I know, that there is a Perspective Crop in Photoshop, but I really prefer to use a different tool, that is much more visual. But to use that, I once more merge all layers into a new layer (still not flattening) using my favorite feature in Photoshop SHIFT + CTRL + ALT + E (or on Mac SHIFT + CMD + ALT + E).

Correcting perspective

The feature I use for correcting perspective, is transform->Distort. The advantage of this feature, is that it is visual, you can actually see what you are correcting. The disadvantage is that it only targets one layer, and for that reason I created the new merged layer.

If I used the perspective crop, I would correct perspective in ALL layers. However, if I do that, I would not be able to bring in a new version of the photo or a different exposure from Lightroom to blend in. Because I shoot normally HDR, I often go back into Lightroom to export another version/exposure of my image, to use along with the ones I have in Photoshop already. But if I corrected perspective using crop, this path would be closed to me.

By using the Transform->Distort, all I have to do is to remove that layer, and then import the extra photo into Photoshop. Do what ever I want to do, and then do a new Transform->Distort on a new merged layer.

Let’s see how this is done:

Swedish church Photoshop Correct perspective


And then you get a frame, that you can move around, and you see the result instantly. This I like, because I can really fine tune what I want.

Swedish church Photoshop Correct perspective step 2

And this is basically what I did to bring this ordinary daytime photo, into an artistic photo.

Follow my blog

If you found this tutorial helpful or interesting, you might want to receive my other posts. In the right hand corner you find a “Follow” button – click on that, fill in your email address and you will receive my posts on email.

The Orton Effect tutorial – digital magic

In Sweden there is an old junk yard, that closed sometime in the seventies. The old cars were just left, and as time passed by, a forrest grew up around the cars. Today this is an open air museum, and it is great fun to walk around looking at this ghost junk yard in Ryd, Sweden. Photo by: Jacob Surland,

Ryd Junk Yard in Sweden.

The Orton Effect is named after photographer Michael Orton, who invented the method back in the 1980’s – that’s in the film era, but you can apply it to digital photos too. It’s like digital magic. And digitally you can even control it much better and easier than you could in the old film days.

The Orton effect applies a magical soft and dreamy look to your photos, you could call it Glow. It has a softness to it, and yet it remains a sharp photo, if zoomed in.

The junk yard photo above, has Orton Effect applied in the trees and the leaves, and the tree below also has Orton Effect (click to see larger version). And as you can see, it is both sharpness and unsharpness at the same time. That is what gives the magic dreamy look.

Example of Orton Effect

It really can be that piece of digital magic, you add to a photo, that makes it really unique and special, but you must use it with care. I fairly often use it (or one of it’s sisters – which I describe later). I use it in perhaps 20% of my photos, but I only use it selectively and sometimes even only in very subtle ways. If you compared to a version without, you would be able to see the difference, but otherwise you wouldn’t notice it, because I use it with care.

This is the final version of the tree from Wanaka in New Zealand, and it has one of the strongest uses of the Orton Effect I have ever used:

To anyone who has been to Wanaka on the South Island of New Zealand, they would know what the THE tree is. And this is NOT the one, but it is a tree in Wanaka that I liked too. Photo: Jacob Surland,

How to make the Orton Effect step by step

There are some requirements for making the Orton Effect, and these are:

  • You need to have Photoshop (any version) or Gimp.
  • You also need an over exposed photo. But don’t worry you can make one artificially.

The Orton effect works best on overexposed photos. If you do not have an over exposed photo, you can increase exposure artificially both in Photoshop and in Lightroom. I shoot HDR photos most of the time, which gives me over exposed photos that I can use for the Orton Effect. Later in this tutorial I will show how to make artificial overexposed photos, but also a couple of alternatives to the Orton Effect.

Let’s make some Orton Effect.

Step 1: First open your overexposed photo in Photoshop or Gimp. Duplicate the layer twice, so that you have three layers with the same image.

Step 1 - Duplicate layer

Step 2: On the top layer you have to change the Blend Mode to “Multiply”.
Step 2 - Set blend mode to multiply

Step 3: The second layer must be out of focus, that is you have to blur it. You use Gaussian Blur to do that.
Step 3 - Select gaussian blur for the middle layerStep 5: Try moving the slider between different pixel levels. As you can see in the preview, the Orton Effect changes, as you change the blur levels. It changes quite a lot.

There really are no rights or wrongs, just different effects, and you pick one that you like.
Step 4 - Blur the middle layerStep 7: Don’t always use the same blur level, experiment for different effects, before picking one.

Step 5 - Experiment with blur levelStep 8: Merge the two layers forming the Orton Effect into one layer, that makes it easier to work with.

You can merge the two layers by selecting them and pressing CTRL + E or selecting it from the context menu.
Step 6 - Merge layersStep 9: Using the effect globally is generally not a good thing and by merging the two layers, you can add a layer mask, and the mask in what you like.

Create a black layer mask to hide the layer. This allows you to paint in what level of “Orton Effect” you want to apply in your photo, and more important, where to apply it.

You can add a Layer Mask by pressing the button, and then invert the layer mask by pressing CTRL+I, while having the mask in focus. Or you press ALT (or CMD on a Mac) and press the button, and you will get a black mask.
Step 7 - Add a layer mask

Step 10: Using the brush tool (read about layer blending here, if it’s new to you) you can paint in what level of Orton Effect you want in your photo. As you can see I only use it selectively.
Step 8 - Blend layers

The Sisters of the Orton Effect

You might already be thinking ‘What happens if I use some of the other blend modes?’ Well, most gives something that is quite unusable and psychedelic, but ‘Soft light’ and ‘Overlay’ gives something that you can use. The method is otherwise exactly the same, and the effect is somewhat similar, in particular for the ‘Soft light’.
Step 9 - There are other blendmodes

The advantage of using the Soft light and Overlay is that you can easier stick to your ordinary exposures.

As you can see, you still end up with a a nice and glowing images, that has a dreamy touch. This is Soft Light:
Step 10 - try other blend modesAnd this is Overlay:
Step 11 - This is Overlay mode

As it happens I often end up using either blend mode ‘Soft light’ or ‘Overlay’, rather than ‘Multiply’ because it works better with normal exposures, and therefore is easier to incorporate in my existing processing workflow. Or maybe I am just lazy.

Changing the Exposure to Overexposed

It’s really no big deal to make an over-exposed photo artificially. In Lightroom there is a slider for it, and you can make a virtual copy of the normal exposure, increase the exposure of it and export it along with the normal exposure.

Step 12 - Change exposure to overexposed

And in Photoshop you can add an Adjustment Layer for exposure, and do the exact same thing. And if you duplicate your layer, and merge the Adjustment layer to the duplicate, you will have both the normal exposure and the overexposed as two layers.
Step 13 - Changing exposure in PhotoshopAdjust the exposure to overexposed by 2 stops.
Step 14 - Photoshop exposure layer

And then you can do the Orton Effect easily:

Example 2 of Orton EffectEnjoy using the Orton Effect or one of it’s sisters, but remember, to use it with care. Too much of everything is not great.

Bruges the Chocolate Capital

Canal in old Middle ages town.

The White hotel on the right is the one from the move “In Bruges”.

Bruges in Belgium is an amazing town with a center that dates back to the middle ages.Some call it ‘Venice of the North’, but I learned that cities and towns with many canals, like to call themselves Venice of this” and “Venice of that”.

I think both Bruges and Amsterdam both in all fairness can be called a “Venice of the North”. They are both absolutely fantastic. Bruges has a lot of canals, and they wind their way through the medieval center of the city. It is a very beautiful place that I can highly recommend coming visit it for an extended weekend.

I got inspired to go to Bruges from the movie “In Bruges” starring Colin Farrell. In the movie, a couple of hired killers go on vacation to Bruges, and the one character really hates it, while the other one loves it. Personally, I found the movie hilarious, but I know other’s hate it. Some movies divide the World, just like cats and dogs do.

Anyway, the great footage from the old center that made me want to see Bruges, and I made a point out of making a one night stop in Bruges on my way to France.

What I didn’t know about Bruges is that it’s called the Chocolate Capital. I just love chocolate, and we did buy some, which, unfortunately, had to eat at once, due to the extremely hot weather.

This photo is from a particular famous corner, next to “Cafe Little Venice”. I have seen many shots from this corner, and this is my version.

The making of this photo

I shot this photo using my Nikon D800 and Nikkor 14-24mm. I shot it as a 5 shot HDR from -2, -1, 0, +1 and +2. This is the 0-exposure (the normal exposure):

Canal in an old middle age town

 Nikon D800, Nikkor 14-24mm, ISO 200, 22mm, f/11, 2.5 sec.

I should have used a lens not quite as wide, but there was a light drizzle and I did not want to change the lens, instead I cropped the image. That’s one of the wonderful things about having many megapixels. You can crop quite a bit away, and still end up with a 12-megapixel image, like this one.

I know that some people find that cropping images to be a sin and that you should get it right in the camera in the first place. I believe that if a photo get’s better from cropping it, then by all means crop it! And one more thing, I would rather come home with 10-20% too much of a scene, than 10-20% too little.

In this case, I didn’t like the white canal tour boats in the corner. I composed the photo, and included the boats and decided to crop the photo later if I didn’t like the boats.

HDR Processing workflow

My overall workflow, when I process HDR photos is, that I generate a pool of images, based on the original bracketed photos. And these I blend to together into a final image. I usually create a one or two images in some HDR software, usually Photomatix Pro. And these I add to the pool of the original RAW files, these files I load into Photoshop as layers and blend them together.

Photomatix supports presets and I have a few I use for inspiration. Often I use one, and tweak it a little bit until I am happy. I did that in this case.

I processed two versions of this photo in Photomatix Pro. First I made one, a single tone mapped. Saved that, and then I took the output, and put back into Photomatix, and did a double tone mapped image.

Bruges double tonemap

Use Double Tone Map to push the effects, but use it with care, because the effects easily get’s really out of control.

Canal in an old middle age town - single tonemapped

Single Tone mapped image.

The double tone mapped image usually goes completely wild, and you have to control it a bit, to make some of useful. The trick is to turn down saturation to around mid 40’s, and push Tone Compression to the left and Detail contrast to the right. They are highly potent, and you will have to find the right balance. Sometimes I find that the balance isn’t really there, and just skip making a double tone mapped image.

Bruges double tonemap number 2

How to get the best result when making double tone mapped images in Photomatix Pro.

When I start to blend my images in Photoshop (you might find my tutorial on layer blending useful) I order them, so that the one I like the most, is my primary image, and it’s usually my single tone mapped image, but not always.

Canal in an old middle age town - double tonemapped

Double Tone mapped image.

In general, my goal with my post-processing technique is to improve my primary image, and by improve I mean:

  • Remove ugly bits.
  • Add cool effects
  • Make it work as a complete and balanced image.

Now that I have my (primary) tone mapped image, I look at the issues I face:

#1 The lamps are way too bright. I dial them back a bit by blending in a darker version of the lamp, from one of the other images.

#2 The wall for some reason has gone almost white (blown highlights). This I also change by using a darker version and masked it in 25-50%.

#3 I really wanted the tower to be brighter, so I found a brighter version in one over the over-exposed image and blended that in.

#4 The water is bad – really bad. It has got a nasty halo. You can see that the water is almost black in the lower middle while it’s very bright along the edge of the reflections. This is called a halo and must be removed. I do that by mixing in the water from the 0 exposure.

A side effect from using the double tone mapped image is that light sources and other bright areas tend to get very bright or even blow out. A part of making the double tone mapped images is to find the balance between getting enough effect, without getting too much trouble repairing the blown out highlights and the halos.

To fix all of the above-mentioned problems, I use Photoshop. I load all my original five shots plus my two tone mapped images into layers (you might want to read this blog post for a full demonstration).

By using this technique I can remove and fix blown out highlights, by blending either the single tone mapped or one of the originals into the areas that are ruined or just look bad.

The result is, that the buildings and reflections come from the double tone mapped image, primarily, while the sky and the water comes from the original exposures.

Canal in an old middle age town - photo shop

Final touches

When done in Photoshop I then save the file as a flattened TIFF file and import that into Lightroom.

In Lightroom, I use the brush tool to increase contrast and the clarity in the sky. By doing this, I enhance some details in an otherwise flat sky. The texture is there, it’s just not very easy to see, but I can be enhance it this way. A side effect of doing this, is that the colors get too saturated, I have to turn down the saturation a bit.

Canal in an old middle age town - Lightroom

The pink areas are the areas that I painted using the brush. On the right you can see what settings that is applied to the pink areas.

Further reading

If you find this kind of processing interesting and want to try it out for yourself, you might want to get a hand on a copy of Photomatix Pro. There is a free trial, but if you use the discount code “caughtinpixels” you will get a 15% discount.

Get Photomatix Pro.

You might also want to read my basic understanding of making HDR photos. There’s a lot of things to understand, and a lot of pitfalls. I get around all of these things here.

I also have these tutorials:

Detailed tutorial on using Photomatix Pro.

Learn how to make double tone mapped images in Photomatix Pro.

Learn how to blend layers using layer masks in Photoshop.

Learn how to blend layers using layers masks using GIMP, the free alternative to Photoshop.