This is not an attempt at a tutorial, really. My goal is to record what I did to get from point A to point B in a photo processing journey using tools that I just got and am just barely learning to use. With any luck, a year from now, I’ll look back on this post and laugh (or cry).
This photograph was taken on Tuesday, October 25th, 2011, out the window of the marvelous Springhill Suites at Bakery Square in Pittsburgh, PA. And when I say marvelous, I really mean it. That hotel was without question the nicest one I’ve stayed at as far as I can remember. I’m even looking for excuses to go back to Pittsburgh just so I can stay there again. Really.
What I’ve posted here is the finished product, after processing. I looked out the window and saw a sunset shining through some wavy clouds backlighting a skyline that included a spire that I’d been shooting earlier in the day. So I went and got my camera and turned off the room lights to minimize interior reflections.
Here is what I started with (more or less):
Quite a difference, eh?
The starting point shot was what I would’ve had had I taken just a single shot out my window. But, because I shoot a lot of HDR, and I knew that I wouldn’t be able to expose for both the sky and the buildings in one shot, I took a 5 exposure bracket (meaning in addition to the above shot, I took two shots at ½ and ¼ the exposure, and two shots at 2x and 4x the exposure):
Looking at these four extra shots, you might think that I really didn’t need a 5-exposure bracket. I could have done well with just the ¼ and 4x exposures (the second and fourth). They would have given me the bright sky and the buildings lit up enough to see.
You could well be right, except I use a Nikon D700, which only stops in one exposure steps, not two, so I could only do +2, +1, 0, -1, -2, instead of +2, 0, -2. Oh well. With the high-capacity EL-EN4 battery in the D700 grip, the shutter speed goes to a machine-gun fast 8 fps, which means hand-holding 5-shot AE brackets really isn’t that big a deal (it wasn’t that big a deal with the slower 5 fps, but at 8, it’s even less so).
So far, the only processing done on these 5 shots is lens correction in Lightroom.
With my 5-exposure HDR bracket, the first thing I needed to do was to merge the 5 shots into a single HDR shot. For this, I used Nik Software’s HDR Efex Pro, which I picked up at PhotoPlus Expo last week.
I’d been using Photomatix for a while and was getting comfortable with it, and even had a couple of my own presets that I was using for different styles of processing. But I wanted to work with my new toy and see what I could do with it, which brought me to:
This was processed using the “Vibrant Textures” preset because I liked how it brought out the texture in the spire bricks. I modified the preset by bringing up the warmth to 20%, because I wanted to highlight both the fall foliage and the sunset on the clouds.
Now, this HDR isn’t bad, really. But I thought it was still a bit dull. Besides, I had this really cool tool called Color Efex Pro that I’d just gotten, and I really wanted to see what I could do with it.
So, after saving my HDR out of HDR Efex Pro back into Lightroom, my next step was to load it into Color Efex Pro 4.
The first filter I used was Polarization set to 110 degrees rotation and 100% strength to draw out the orange in the clouds a bit.
Next I applied the Bright Contrast setting of the Sunlight filter to brighten everything up. I lowered the Contrast to 80% and the Saturation to -20%.
Next came an ND Grad to darken the top and lighten the bottom a little (Upper Tonality = -50%, Lower Tonality = 30%, Blend = 50%, Vertical Shift = 40%, Rotation = 180 degrees).
Finally, I added Brilliance/Warmth at the Warm Colors preset, and then lowered Saturation to -15% and increased Warmth to 75% to really pump up the orange sky and fall foliage.
This brought me to:
And lastly, back in Lightroom, I go to the develop module to crop, fix spots (for instance, the glob of dust on my sensor), and remove some noise.