Stacy Fischer, of VisualVenturing, has launched an invitational series “After-Before Friday” in which participants may submit two versions of an image, one being the final result and the second being the original or starting point. The idea is to exchange ideas about a photographer’s conceptual vision and how she or he made it happen. Stacy’s weekly post will display a series of submitted image pairs, each with a brief description by the photographer. Each submitter also has the option to provide a link back to their own blog which would provide more details on the post-processing techniques used to achieve the final image.
Marine Corps Memorial, After Post-Processing
I really liked this idea and submitted these two images (After above) to the first running of this series. The subject is the Marine Corps Memorial just around sunset on September 4, 2009. A storm front was approaching from the southeast and I had a difficult lighting situation: a sky with dark clouds and bright open sections, an overall low light level, and a very dark main subject. The dynamic range exceeded the capability of the sensor to duplicate what the eye could see. My plan was to expose so that there would be at least some detail across the entire range and the actual scene could be restored during post-processing.
Marine Corps Memorial, Original RAW File
The “Before” image above is the image after a few tweaks (clarity and vibrance) in Adobe Camera Raw, but is essentially the way it looked immediately after download. From here all changes were made in Photoshop, although there are other ways this could be accomplished.
Step 1: A Curves adjustment layer (blend mode: luminosity) was used to darken the image as shown above. A layer mask was added to retain the original brightness of the gold leaf insignia and lettering on the base of the statue.
Result after Step 2
Step 2: A Curves adjustment layer (blend mode: normal) was used to provide additional darkness to the clouds. A mask was added to block any change to the statue, foreground and trees.
Result after Step 3
Step 3: A selection tool was used to isolate the flag, then I employed another Curves adjustment layer (blend mode: screen) to brighten the flag.
Step 4: A selection tool was used to isolate the green signs in lower left, and then I added another Curves adjustment layer (blend mode: normal) to darken the signs.
Result after Step 5
Step 5: I used a selection tool with a very soft feather to create an oval mask centered on the statue and extending out toward the corners. Then a Curves adjustment layer (blend mode: multiply) to slightly darken the corners. It is pretty subtle, especially at this size and the objective is to avoid making it noticeable. But the purpose is to help bring the viewer’s attention to the center of the image.
Those who have worked in a “wet” darkroom recognize that these techniques (Steps 1-5) are what used to be called dodging and burning. At this point, the digital darkroom made it possible to consider a creative issue: should the bystanders and small dog on the right be allowed to remain in this scene? This is not anything I would have considered in the old days of film and chemicals because I (and most photographers) lacked the skill and resources.
In this case, the decision was to remove them because they tended to detract from the composition rather than strengthen it. This is particularly noticeable when the image is printed in a large size.
Most of my images don’t involve nearly this much change from the original. But even with all of the work, anyone who was there would agree that this is pretty close to what it looked like at the moment of the exposure (except for the tragic disappearance of the bystanders and dog).
My thanks to Stacy Fisher for her efforts in organizing the Before-After Friday series. I am looking forward to the submissions of others and learning from their experiences.
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Very interesting to read your technique, and the effort is certainly rewarded. It’s a wonderful final image. How long did the overall process take?
Thanks very much for your comments. I would guess that it took several hours, mainly because I was trying a variety of new techniques (blend modes and the vignette) that I had learned during a printing workshop at the ICP in New York City. But to replicate it now would take less than 15 minutes.
Nicely done, Robin. It’s fascinating to watch an artist demonstrate his mastery of his tools.
Thanks Greg. I appreciate your kind words.
Excellent discussion, Robin and very well done.
Thanks very much. I appreciate your feedback.
Wonderful result Robin, Congrats. Maybe, this finally version is not exactly what your eyes saw when decided to take the picture but, surely, it was what you really had in mind when shooting. So, I consider it is properly correct. The final result is much more pleasing, esthetically.
Thanks very much, Jaime. I appreciate your taking the time to visit the post and to comment. The feedback is helpful and we hope you will be a regular visitor to After-Before Friday.
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Thanks. I appreciate your comments.
Robin, I am fascinated by your use of adjustment layers in Photoshop. As you might have already surmised, the bulk of my work is in Lightroom, where I use filters and adjustment brushes. I’m wondering if using PS might be a less labor-intensive process. You mentioned that duplicating the effort on your image would now take you about 15 minutes. In LR, adjustment brushes can take a great deal of time, since painting over pixels at edges requires 1:1 zooming and a steady hand. I’m definitely going to delve into my PS program again and relearn some of the basic tools.
Your photos are always so incredibly striking, and this one is no exception. As for removing the dog and the bystanders? I’m all for it. I believe in creating art, which doesn’t necessarily involve duplicating reality!
Thanks for your detailed feedback. I really appreciate it because I find discussions on technique a really good way to learn new things.. As for the 15 minutes to repeat the process, that’s true once I figured it out. But often, and in the case of this image, one spends a fair amount of time trying various settings to find those that work the best for that specific image But still, I think that the use of masks and layers in Photoshop provide a degree of precision that isn’t available (yet) in LightrRoom. But LR has other advantages that are important for photographers with a different business model than mine.
The other side of the coin is that the necessary modification can be quite basic yet still time consuming. For example, I was working on an image today that needed only one Curves Adjustment layer and it took less than a minute to determine the desired effect. But constructing the mask took about 20-30 minutes because the portions being masked out were quite intricate. So that would be similar to your painting over edges in LightRoom.
At any rate, I really like the concept of After-Before and am looking forward to next week’s session.
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