ABFriday Forum Week 16

My submission to Stacy Fischer’s After-Before Friday Forum this week is in response to some viewers’ questions about the techniques of producing a Star Trails image.  To do this, I won’t be showing the true “before” image because, in reality, about 20-25 separate images were used to produce the final result. So, the “Before” shown here is just a single example. And, had I shown all 20, it would be nearly impossible to tell one from another (with two exceptions).   And, I suspect, would produce many yawns among the few who took the time to look them over. Still, this is a pretty wordy approach so those not interested in techie talk may want to skip ahead when they see the acronym “ACR.”

These images were all taken on a single night in Bodie State Historical Park in California at a workshop guided by Michael Frye.   There are two ways you can make a star trails photograph.  The simplest way is to put the camera on a tripod, point it at the sky and when gets dark, open the shutter.  After waiting about 90 minutes or longer the shutter is closed.  That was not done here.  The second starts the same, with the camera on tripod pointing at the sky. But instead of making a single exposure, a timer (known as an intervalomter) directs the camera to make a sequence of exposures, one immediately after another, until the desired time has passed.  In this case, the exposures were 4 minutes long, so 22-23 exposures would be needed to cover a period of about 90 minutes. The sample “Before” image below was early in the sequence.

Robin Kent ABFriday Before Week 16

Example of a 4-minute Exposure in the Overall Sequence

(Technical Information: Nikon D-800E on tripod with 14-24 mm lens extended to 14mm; Exposure: 4:00 minutes @ f/5.6, ISO 400)

Once the sequence starts, the camera isn’t touched until it is time to stop.  For the next 90 minutes, all that can be done is to worry about things that could ruin the entire evening:  will someone bump the tripod; will an unexpected vehicle with bright headlights pass through the scene; did I correctly step through that long list of settings (auto focus off; mirror-lock-up off; vibration reduction off; self-timer off); Will a nearby photographer turn on his/her headlamp; etc.  And in this case, two of those things happened.

Once home and after some sleep, the images were downloaded and opened in Adobe Camera RAW (ACR).   The figure below shows a screen capture of the ACR window with 5 of the before images.  For now, no ACR adjustments will be made; the important thing is first to determine whether one has a decent final image that is worth spending the time needed to perfect it.

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 Images opened in ACR Window

The only choices made in ACR were in the Workflow Options Window.   The red arrow is pointing to the chosen options at the bottom of the screen (above).  Clicking on that line opens the Options window shown in the image below.

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Workflow Options Window

The choices have a lot to do with how the image will be published: as a large print, a smaller print, or on a display monitor (e.g., a website).   My choices are usually governed by the need to make large prints, so I typically opt for the color space that provides the greatest range of colors (ProPhoto RGB), the most information (16 bits instead of 8), and a resolution best suited for printing (300 ppi).   The image size is set to the Default native pixel dimensions of the camera (4912 X 7360).  The result is usually a very large file, about 200 MB.  However, the process for star trails engages all of these images simultaneously, the final image would easily top 4 Gigabytes, so the smaller 8-bit size was selected here.

Next, it is necessary to open all of the images stacked into individual layers as a single file. For Bridge users, this can be done by highlighting all of the selected files in Bridge and then click on Tools–>Photoshop–>Load Files into Photoshop Layers. (See Figure below)

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Commands for Opening in Layers

The next thing that happens is a lot of churning by Photoshop as it lines up all of the layers on top of each other.  Depending on the power of your computer, you may wish to go get a cup of coffee while it whirls away.  After a period of time, if all goes well, something like the image in Figure below is produced. But wait!  This looks no different than the initial “Before” image at the beginning of this post.

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 Selected Images loaded as Layers

No need to panic, at least not yet.  Because what one sees at this point is no different than looking at the top picture resting on a stack of 20 other pictures–it is not possible to see through the first image.  One more step is needed to bring out the key information in the others.  All the layers except the bottom layer are selected to make them active, and then the blend mode in those layers is changed to Lighten. If the star trails do not appear now, it is OK to push the panic button.  This step is shown in the Figure below. The yellow

Kent ABFriday Before 06 Week 16.

After Blend Mode Change is Made

arrows point to 21 top layers.  The red arrow at the top points to the blend mode=Lighten step.  The magenta arrow points to the bottom layer (last image in the sequence) which is not active, so the blend mode remained at Normal.  What is happening here is that the blend mode “reveals” only sections of each image that are lighter than that same part of all the images above them.  So, as the earth turns during the 90 minutes, the stars are in a slightly different section in each image and the 4-minute trace of light in that section is added to those above it.  The same is true for the building and car lights at the very bottom.

There is very noticeable problem, however.  The blown out bottom section of the image was caused by a car driving slowly through the scene with its lights fully illuminated. In addition, a less obvious problem is the small red lights near the right edge of the image caused by several photographers who briefly illuminated their headlamps not knowing they were in our shot.  started working in our scene a.(Remember those worries mentioned above?)

The second problem is easy to fix.  The layer on which the red lights appear can be made active and using a brush tool with the color black, one can paint over the red lights.  They are no longer brighter than the layers above and disappear.  The car lights are more difficult.  The easy solution is to just eliminate that image since it was the last one taken (Magenta arrow). (Eliminating one of the middle images would cause a noticeable gap in all the trails.)  But the lighting on the face of the church is nice, so a combination of cropping from the bottom and judicious use of the cloning tool made it possible to produce the image below.

Robin Kent ABFriday After Week 16

Final Image

Once again, many thanks to Stacy Fischer for organizing and keeping this forum going.  Please visit  her Week 16 post here and check out the excellent submissions of the other contributors.

The Milky Way

The night sky, unsullied by the artificial lights of civilization, never ceases to amaze me. Even here in Yosemite National Park, you cannot find absolute darkness but you can get pretty close. Last night was the first night of our night photography workshop, led by Michael Frye, and Olmstead Point in the eastern portion of the park would be ground zero.

We arrived about an hour before sunset and hiked a short distance up an inclined granite dome littered with glacial erratics and a scattering of pine trees that somehow had found places to grow on this massive stone. This little jaunt took us only about 100 yards from the parking area, a spot that provides a premium viewpoint for little effort. This will not be the case two nights from now, however.

But I digress. If you are in a good location, capturing a single image of the Milky Way is relatively simple, except for one minor thing: focusing in the dark. It doesn’t work to simply turn the lens to the infinity point until it stops because modern lenses are designed to go a little past infinity. We were given several techniques to try (subject for a future post) and I opted for using the Live View function on my camera.

The Milky Way becomes visible to the naked eye about 2 hours after sunset and then moves slowly across the sky as the earth rotates. This gives one the opportunity to find several possible compositions using foreground objects and/or the horizon.   The highlight here would come at about 11:00 PM when the Milky Way would be directly above Half Dome, seeming to erupt from this iconic feature of the park in a spectacular arc across the entire sky above us and disappearing into the horizon to our north.

In order to capture as much of the sky as possible, we all used very wide-angle lenses and in my case, that is a 14-24mm f/2.8 zoom. The image showing Half Dome is below. Because it is several miles away and the lens was set to 14mm, Half Dome is a little hard to pick out in this small size, but it is there (the small bump in the valley on the horizon) if you look carefully.

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Milky Way over Half Dome

(Technical Data: Nikon D800E on tripod with 14-24 mm lens extended to 14mm; exposure: 15 sec. @ f/4.0, ISO 6400, Time of day: 11:17 PM)

The group then spent some time working on light painting, which involves using a flashlight or other light source to illuminate an object in the foreground while using the sky as a dramatic background. Michael knows Yosemite extremely well and he led us to a Western Juniper pine tree that he had found several years ago. The group clustered around the tree, each one selecting a different composition and on the count of three, shutters were opened and a member of Michael’s team “painted” the tree with a flashlight for about 2 seconds. The result is shown below.

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Juniper Tree and Milky Way

(Technical Data: Nikon D800E on tripod with 14-24 mm lens extended to 14mm; exposure: 15 sec. @ f/4.0, ISO 6400, Time of day: 12:25 AM)

Tonight, depending on weather conditions, the group will be off to another location. Again, thanks to Latte Da Coffee in Lee Vining for making this post possible with their wi-fi service. And another good cup of coffee which I desperately needed.


Summer Specials

Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens in Washington, DC is famed for its lotus display that peaks in late July.  This year I found time for only one brief visit about five weeks ago.  But I did manage to capture a few images which are shown below.  The most recent report I have on the status of the blooms is pretty dated–July 31st.  They apparently were looking very good on that day.  If you are thinking of going there now, it would be best to check ahead.  Here is the link the the Kenilwoth Aquatic Gardens website.  The best time to go is early morning.

Kent Lotus Blog 01A

Pollinator Hovering

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Single Lotus

Both images were taken with a Nikon D800E on a tripod, 70-200mm lens with an exposure of 1/640th sec. @ ISO 400.  The apertures varied only slightly, about f/4 ,and the lens was close to fully extended.

If all goes well next week, I should have an image or two from Yosemite National Park.  If Mother Nature is kind to me, I’ll have some images quite different from these.

After-Before Friday (Week 13)

ABFriday Kent Before Week 13

Original RAW Image

This week’s submission to Stacy Fischer’s After-Before Friday Forum was taken several years ago at Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park.  I arrived at the shoreline in the late afternoon hoping for a nice sunset image.  As the sun dropped toward the horizon, the low angular light was having an increasingly dramatic effect on some boats stacked on top of a dock.   (Technical Data: Nikon D200 with 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 lens  extended to 56mm; Exposure 1/80th @ f/18, ISO 640)  As expected, the RAW file that resulted  (shown above) did not convey the intense colors I had seen. But the information was there and using Adobe Camera RAW (ACR) the adjustments made were as follows:

Exposure: decreased to -0.40

Contrast: Increased to +15

Blacks: decreased to -5

Saturation: increased to +31

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Image after Changes in ACR

The adjusted image (shown just above) was then moved to Photoshop for the final steps. These are shown in the sequence of the three images below. All changes were made with adjustment layers.

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Levels Adjustment Layer

As a first step, the levels setting of 255 was decreased to 242 to darken the overall image just a bit (see red arrow in image above).

ABFriday Kent Before 04 Week 13

Curves Adjustment  Layer

Next, some additional contrast was added to the overall image which helped emphasize the color of the boats (see red arrow in image above).

ABFriday Kent Before 05 Week 13Selective Color Adjustment Layer

Finally a Selective Color adjustment layer was used to bring more life to the blue sky and the lake.  The color Cyan was chosen from the drop-down menu (white arrow) on the Colors bar and the Black value was increased to 22% (red arrow).

ABFriday Kent After Week 13

Final Image

The final result is shown above.  About ten minutes after this photograph was taken, the sun dipped behind a ridge,casting this dock into shadow.   Thanks again to Stacy Fischer for managing 13 straight weeks of the After-Before Forum.  Please visit her post at Visual Venturing to check out the examples by other contributors.

After-Before Friday Week 12

My submission to Stacy Fischer’s After-Before Friday Forum this week is from a recent trip to Paris (which is pretty obvious when one looks at the image).  I am often shooting cityscapes during twilight and one of the challenges in these circumstances is exposing for extremely bright lights scattered across an otherwise very dark scene.  Such was the case with this twilight image of the Eiffel Tower.  The problems are not so apparent when looking at the image in the small size here, but when printed at sizes of 24 inches-plus, a string of overexposed street lamps can be a little obnoxious.  My go-to tool (until I can find something better) for reducing the glare is the “Highlights” slider in Adobe Camera Raw (ACR).  The starting image is shown below and is the unprocessed RAW image with no changes.  I should add that the final image, shown at the end of this post is actually a Photomerge with one other image, which explains the slightly wider field of view.  But both images were treated the same.

ABFriday Kent Before Week 12

Original Image, Unprocessed RAW File

The two images were photographed at twilight and the numerous bright lights complicated the exposure because much of the scene was not well illuminated.  I chose an exposure that would provide at least some detail in the darker areas, knowing that further refinements could be made in ACR.  (Technical data: Nikon D800E on tripod with 24-70mm f/2.8 lens extended to 31mm; exposure: 5 sec. @ f/16, EV= -0.67, ISO 400). The small aperture was necessary to get a hyperfocal effect, maximizing the depth of field.  Although it is somewhat hard to see at the small size here, the street lamps, carousel lights, and the Eiffel Tower itself are somewhat blown out.

Once downloaded into ACR, a number of adjustments were made to compensate for the initial exposure. The results are shown in the image below.

ABFriday Kent Before 02A Week 12

The settings were as follows:

Highlights: decrease to -93 (an extreme decline to suppress the glare of the blown out lights)

Shadows: increase to +78 (also extreme, to open up the underexposed dark areas)

Clarity: Increase to +18

Vibrance: Increase to +25

The image above, given its size, may not clearly show the difference between the two images.  However, an enlarged detail section below showing the image before and after the ACR adjustments should help show the improvement.  The top section, the image prior to ACR adjustments, shows that in a larger print, the lights of the carousel, street

ABFriday Kent Before 03C Week 12

lights, vehicle lights, and the Eiffel Tower all have a harsh glare.  After the adjustments in ACR, the effect is less pronounced.  One last note; the “star effect” on the street lamps is a result of the chosen aperture (f/16), not a special filter.  In twilight scenes such as this, I find that this optical effect is more pleasing to the eye of the viewer than an unstructured flare around the bulb.

With the ACR adjustments finished, the image was photomerged with another that had received an identical treatment (for more on Photomerge techniques, check my post of August 1st here.)    There was a little clean-up work undertaken, but no major Photoshop steps after the merge were necessary. The final image is shown below.

ABFriday Kent After Week 12

Final Image

Again, I would to thank Stacy Fischer for keeping this forum running.  Please check out the excellent submissions by the other contributors at her Visual Venturing blog.

Washington, DC—August Scouting Report

Breaking News:  Local readers, photographers or not, should take into account that this coming Monday to Wednesday (August 4-6) could be somewhat chaotic in downtown Washington as the leaders of 40- 50 African nations will be here for a summit meeting.

OK, back to our normal programming:

Yesterday I thought it would be a good idea to zip down to the city and check out the status of possible shooting locations.  The weather was cloudy and it looked like we might get a shower or two, so the prospects for actually stopping and doing some serious photography seemed remote.  I almost didn’t take my camera, but a Little Voice said: “You might be sorry.”

As it turned out, the Little Voice was right.  My first stop was Union Station which is still undergoing a massive interior renovation started months ago.  The first sight when you walk in the front entrance is a mass of scaffolding, huge tarpaulins, and netting to protect pedestrians from falling debris.  (See image below)

Union Station 2801

 Union Station Washington, DC Under Renovation

But then I turned left and I was already glad that I had brought the camera. The west wing of the Waiting Area was free of construction and the station’s famous centurions were on duty and alert.  Be aware, however, that there is a strict prohibition on tripods at Union Station, so one needs a high ISO and a wide aperture, especially on a cloudy day. (Technical Data: hand held Nikon D800E with 24-70mm f/2.8 lens extended to 45mm; Exposure 1/125th sec @f2.8, EV= -0.67, ISO 800).  Three images, photomerged.

Union Station D-14-08-02-2768_71 PAN

 The Centurions of Union Station

Over at the Supreme Court, a new repair project has just begun.  The Capitol Police officer on duty told me that this set of scaffolding had just gone up this week.

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 Yet Another Renovation at the Supreme Court

Next stop: The U.S. Capitol Building.  The long awaited and much-needed repair of the Capitol Dome is now underway and the scaffolding is being erected now.  On the positive side, Congress is on recess and the shallow reflecting pools on the eastern plaza have been repaired and the water is running again (See image below).

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 US Capitol, East Plaza

 Photographers that want to include the dome will have to accept the presence of scaffolding for perhaps the next two years.  (See the list of the end of this post for details on the situation around the Capitol.)  But there is a positive side: it makes one think about different approaches as exemplified by the image below.

US Capitol D-14-08-02-2807_08 PAN

The US Capitol, View from South Side

 And down the hill on the western side of the Capitol, the flowers around the base of the James Garfield statue are looking great.  I couldn’t resist this image, even with the scaffolding in full view.

US Capitol D-14-08-02-2860_61 and 65 PAN

James A. Garfield Statue and US Capitol

 The following summarizes my observations on the drive:

Good news:

  • A lot of the fountains are running, including those in front of the American History Museum, the Library of Congress (Court of Neptune), Senate Garage Fountains, Supreme Court fountains, the Bartholdi Park fountain, the Haupt Fountains on Constitution Avenue across from the German Friendship Garden and most of those at the World War II Memorial (But see the Bad News Below).
  • Almost all of the scaffolding has been removed from the renovation project at the Smithsonian Arts and Industries Building. (But see the Bad News below)
  • The eastern plaza of the US Capitol Building is no longer a parking lot (as it was on Thursday) for Congressional VIPS as they have departed for the August recess. The reflection pools surrounding the two main skylights for the underground visitor center are back up and running and there must have been a bump up in the gardening budget because the flowers around the Capitol are looking better than I have seen in a long time.
  • The National Park Service Tulip Library, located near the Tidal Basin at Independence Avenue and Maine Avenue, is well past the tulip season. But the annuals that were planted after the tulip bulbs were removed are looking good.  And it appears that an ugly wooden fence right across the street (ruining any possibility of combining these flowers with the Washington Monument) is in the process of being removed.  I have been hating this fence since I first saw it 7 years ago.

Bad news:

  • The work on the western wall (Freedom Wall) of the World War II Memorial is still not completed.
  • Although the renovation of the Arts and Industries Building is complete, there are no plans to open it due to a lack of funds. So there may be some minor gates and barriers to prevent people from entering the space.
  • The US Capitol dome project includes a large construction support zone on the northwest sector of the grounds and a lot of netting inside the dome. Tours are still ongoing.
  • The Supreme Court front entrance now has scaffolding for a new project.
  • The impressively tall fountain (name unknown to me) at the intersection of 20th and C St. NW is not running.
  • And, not surprisingly, the Columbus Fountain at Union Station continues its 10-year-plus streak of neglect, despite a recent renovation of the entire plaza surrounding it.

After-Before Friday Week 11

I always like to participate in Stacy Fischer’s After-Before Friday Forum where photographers can exchange ideas on how to achieve their artistic vision.  The best part is seeing what the others are doing and I hope you will zip right over there right after you finish reading this.  Spoiler Alert: The link to her blog is at the end of this post.

This week, I thought that it might be interesting to talk about a specific technique rather than go through the entire post process of a selected image.  One of my favorite tools is the so-called “Photomerge” process in Photoshop.  The technique can be used to solve a variety of problems and is most often used to maintain sharpness in large prints.  In this case, however, I used it to compensate for the fact that I did not have a super-wide lens at a time I needed it.  The location is Mitchell Pass in Scotts Bluff National Monument in Nebraska. The “Before” image here shows two separate images taken a few seconds apart.  Both have already been through Adobe Camera RAW (ACR) and the next step for them was the Photomerge process.  (Technical Data: Nikon D700 on tripod with 24-70mm f/2.8 lens set at 24mm; Exposure: 1/60th sec. at f/13, ISO 400.)

ABFriday Before Week 11 01AABFriday Before Week 11 01




   The Two Starting Images, after ACR

There are any number of ways to merge multiple photographs but I have not tried any outside Photoshop.  But the following steps seem to work for me, so why go searching?  After the ACR process, the two images were opened as .NEF files in Photoshop.  To get things started, the following file sequence was used: File->Automate->Photomerge.  This opens the Photomerge dialog box (See image Below).

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The Photomerge Dialog Display Panel

The next step is to click the “Add Open Files” button (Red Arrow) which brings in all files that you may have open at the time.  Just select those not wanted (blue highlight) and click on “Remove. “On the left is the “Layout” pane with a variety of different Photomerge procedures.  It’s best to start with “Auto” if you’re not sure and that is the choice made here.  Finally, make sure the “Blend Images Together” box is checked.  Then click OK.

The computer will churn for a little bit, depending on how many images are being merged and how much RAM is available.  If you are lucky, you will get something like the image below which is fairly easy to deal with.  This isn’t the place to go into all the rules about taking panorama images (most of which can be broken), but generally the wider the arc of your camera, the more challenging the merge process becomes.  In this case, we have only two images with a slight upward arc.  At this point, the image has two layers (red arrow) and it is necessary to flatten the image before going any further.

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The Initial Result from the Photomerge Process

In this example, a simple crop could be applied to eliminate the blank space, but sometimes it is desirable to keep some of the image rather than be forced to crop it out.  Two ways to get around this problem involve the Transform function and the Content-Aware Fill function.  So let’s say we want to keep all of the bottom information in this image.  First, select the entire image, then use the command sequence: Edit->Transform. A display sub-panel opens with a bunch of choices.  “Distort” was used in this case.  (See blue highlights in the Image below)

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Launching the Edit->Transform Function

A border will appear around the image, similar to the crop tool with control points in the corners.  It is also possible to segment the image into 9 control areas by clicking the icon (not shown) at the top of the main Photoshop Window.  This shows up in the location indicated by the red arrow above after the Edit->Transform command is executed.  When selected, there are 16 control points, one at every intersection of the dividing lines (See Image below).  After some adjustments with the control points, mainly on the bottom and left side (See blue arrows in the Image below) all of the bottom information and much of the left side have been preserved.

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After the  Transform Moves Have Been Made

But suppose it was necessary to avoid losing anything on the left side.  It is at this point we arrive at an ethical issue.  Is it “cheating” to create something that was not there?  If the answer is “No,” then the Content-Aware Fill procedure might be chosen.  After a unanimous No vote, the Polygon Lasso Tool was used to select the empty area (See black arrow in the Image below), making sure the Feather control was set to 0 pixels.  Then the command sequence: Edit->Fill was used and the Fill display box appeared.  Select “Content-Aware” in the Use: box, “Normal” in the Mode: box and set Opacity at 100%. No other boxes should be checked. Then click OK.

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Setting up for the Edit->Fill->Content-Aware Action

The computer will churn again for a brief moment or two and Voila!   The result is shown in the image below.  In this case, and most of the time, it is impossible to tell that what is there in the new image wasn’t there when it was taken. (Please note that in this screen capture image the right  and bottom sections of the Photoshop display window are chopped off.)

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From here all that is needed is a simple crop eliminating the jagged edge on the right, a couple of adjustment layers (Curves and Hue/Saturation) and the final result is shown below.  Thanks again to Stacy for keeping this forum going. Please check out the other examples of “After-Before” at her Blog here.

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Final Image

AfterBefore Friday Forum-Week 10

This is my submission for this week’s After-Before Friday Forum. The Forum is managed by Stacy Fischer of Visual Venturing and enables participants and readers to exchange ideas about bringing their vision of an image into reality. The submissions from all participants for this week can be seen at this link later today.

The location of this week’s submission, Reflection Lakes, is well known to those who have visited Mount Rainier National Park.  It was photographed at sunrise, and there was an extreme dynamic range between the sunlight snow on the mountain and the darks trees in deep shade along the lake.  Other complications included a totally clear sky and a mess of construction material along the shore in the foreground.  But on the positive side, it was only a 50-foot walk from my car, it was a beautiful morning, and I had the view all to myself.

The “Before” image below is the original RAW file, with no changes made.  It was slightly underexposed to ensure detail was retained in the bright areas and none was lost in the dark shadows. (Nikon D800E on tripod with 14-24mm f/2.8 lens extended to 18mm; exposure: 1/60th at f/16, ISO 800, EV= -0.67).  If you look closely at the bottom, you will see a small portion of the repair work going on. I knew I would be able to crop it out and there was nothing in the empty sky to warrant raising the level of the camera.

Kent Before 22014 07 25

I made more use of the capabilities of Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) than usual, including some work with the gradient tool. The first steps lowered the brightness in the upper portions of the image and opened up the shadows in the lower sections.  The ACR settings were as follows:

Highlights:  Decrease to -49

Shadows: Increase to +66

Clarity: Increase to +51 (much higher than usual)

Vibrance: Increase to +38

Still using Camera Raw, a gradient tool was then applied.  The image below is a screen shot of the ACR dialog screen for the Gradient tool (green arrow).  The gradient was dragged from the top to the middle of the image (shown by red arrows).  The settings in the Gradient Filter section were then adjusted to decrease the exposure to -1.30, the clarity increased to +25, and the saturation increased to +47.  While these numbers sound large, the impact is fairly subtle when used in this fashion.

ABFriday After 02 Week 10 Rainier

The last bit of worked was done in Photoshop CC.  The image was then opened in Photoshop CC.  The healing brush was used to do some clean-up (a few dust spots on the sensor and a few lens flares from the sun) and then the image was cropped to eliminate the construction junk in the foreground and a bit of the sky which was detracting from the scene. A hue/saturation adjustment layer with just a slight increase was added to the overall scene and then Mount Rainier was darkened a bit more with a curves adjustment layer. The final result is shown below.

Kent After 14-07-25 Final

Thanks again to Stacy for organizing this forum.  It is always interesting to see the techniques applied by other photographers to solve problems and bring their creative vision to reality.  You can see the postings later today at VisuaVenturing.




After-Before Friday Forum

ABFriday Forum Week 09

This is my submission for this week’s After-Before Friday Forum.  The Forum is managed by Stacy Fischer of Visual Venturing and is enables participants and readers to exchange ideas about bringing their vision of an image into reality.    The submissions for this week can be seen at this link to her site later today.

Normally, taking this photograph from this location is not permitted.  It shows the Reading Room in the Library of Congress and was taken from a balcony overlooking the room.  The Reading Room is probably the most spectacular space in the Library and the balcony provides the best overall view of it.  And the only view for most people because access is restricted to researchers with a Library-issued ID card. Photography is prohibited here (so as not to disturb the readers below) many other parts can be toured and photographed during open hours.  Details can be found at the Library’s website.

The reason that I was not hauled off in handcuffs for taking this photograph is that twice each year, the Library has an “Open House” and visitors are allowed into the Reading Room and pictures can be taken there and from the balcony.  These two days are usually on the weekend of the President’s Day and Columbus Day holidays.

So with only two chances per year, one doesn’t want to mess up.  The “After” image here was processed first in Adobe Camera Raw and then final changes were made in Photoshop CS6.  The original RAW image, before any changes were made, is shown below.  In this case, the main challenges were the lack of a tripod and the strong contrast in lighting: the overall room was relatively dim while the mid-morning light coming through the stained glass windows above was extremely bright.  Consequently, I chose a relatively high ISO and underexposed the scene by 1 stop.   (Nikon D800E with 14-24 mm f/2.8 lens; exposure: 1/60th sec. @ f/4, ISO 800, EV= -1.0)

Kent Before Image Final 5240Original RAW Image

The first set of changes were made in Adobe Camera RAW, where the dark shadows were opened up and the very strong highlights were dialed back.  The results at this stage are shown below.  As you can see, the difference is not enormous, but more detail is apparent.

Kent Before Image 02 Final 5240Image after changes in Adobe Camera Raw

The specific changes in ACR for the above image were:

Highlights: decreased to -43 (to reduce the brightness in the skylights, allowing more detail to show)

Shadows: increased to +28 (to show more detail in the dark areas of the lower section of the room

Clarity: increased to +26 (in my usual range of +20-30)

Vibrance: increased to +23 (to add some warmth)

The next step was to transfer the image to Photoshop.  At the time, I was using the CS6 version and the first step was to correct the tilt with the crop tool.  Next, some adjustments were still needed in the brightness levels of certain sections of the image.  The area below the skylights was selected and a Curves adjustment layer was applied (Blend Mode = luminosity).  The screen shot below shows that a moderate increase was applied.  (The left side of the library image is cropped out in the screen shots to make the Photoshop details a little easier to see.)

Kent Before Image 03 Final 5240First Curves Layer Adjustment Applied

 Next, the blown out window in the upper right corner still needed improvement and after selecting this section, another Curves adjustment layer was applied (Blend Mode = luminosity).  The image below shows the amount which was a fairly strong pullback.  It brought some improvement but it’s not perfect; I think more work may be needed here.

Kent Before Image 04 Final 5240Second Curves Layer Adjustment Applied

Finally, the ceiling dome is still a little flat, even after the dash of Vibrance applied during the ACR processing.  This was remedied with a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer Blend Mode = saturation) as shown in the image below.  The overall saturation was increased a moderate amount to +25, giving a more accurate rendition to the color of the dome and surrounding walls.

Kent Before Image 05 Final 5240

 Hue/Saturation Layer Adjustment Applied

 The final version of the complete image is shown below.   Comments and questions are welcome and I will do my best to reply.  Thanks again to Stacy Fischer for managing this forum and also to the other photographers who participate.  I have learned a lot from all of their examples.


Kent After Image Final 5240

Final Image

ABFriday Forum Week

AfterBeforeFriday Forum Week 7.

The AfterBefore Friday, launched and managed by Stacy Fischer of Visual Venturing gives readers an opportunity to exchange ideas about various post-processing techniques.  My submission for this week could be interpreted as a rescue attempt for a grossly underexposed image or an example of exposing for the highlights and processing for the shadows.

This image was taken last month at Les Invalides in Paris, best known as the burial site for many of France’s military heroes, including Napolean Bonaparte. It also houses the Musée de l’Armée and two other museums dealing with military topics.  None of that is shown in this image.  The throngs surrounding Napolean’s tomb and the spectacular altar behind it limited my photographic opportunities.

But off to the side, an unoccupied antechamber caught my interest.  The light coming through the blue stained glass window  was significantly brighter than anything else in the scene so getting a decent result would require some post-processing.  I remembered the ABFriday Forum and thought this could be a possible submission.   The “Before” image (shown just below) came out quite dark as expected, because the image was deliberately “underexposed” by 2 and 1/3 stops. (Nikon D800E with 24-70mm f/2.8 lens extended to 38mm; Exposure: 1/100th sec. @ f/5, ISO 400, EV =  -2.33)

ABFriday Before 01 Week 07 Portal 9381


RAW Image with no changes

Whether or not you like the final result, I would venture that this exercise does make a good case for the advantages of shooting in RAW.  After downloading, I made a number of changes in the Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) converter. The adjustments were made in the following sequence:

Highlights reduced to -16 (to tone down the highlights in the window);

Shadows increased to +60 (to open up the deep shadows);

Clarity increased to +31 (about usual for me)

Vibrance increased to +51 (more than normal for me, but needed to bring up a golden tone in the dark stone walls surrounding the portal);

Saturation increased to +47 (I rarely use this slider but did so here for the same reason as the boost in Vibrance);

Overall exposure increased to +0.65 (this was done here rather than as a first step, because I felt I would have a more precise idea of what was needed);

Finally, I used an adjustment brush for exposure (set at -0.55) to eliminate the effect of the previous step on just the window. The result at this point is shown below.

ABFriday Before 02  week 07 Kent Portal 9381

The next phase involved Photoshop CC.  First, I used the Edit > Transform>Distort tool to eliminate some of the parallax effect.  It is not entirely gone, but no longer is very noticeable. Second, I selected the exterior section of arched wall surrounding the portal and lightened it with a layer adjustment (Curves, blend mode=luminosity).  Third, the floral design above the arch was selected and brightened with another layer adjustment (Curves, blend mode=normal).  Finally the edit->fill (content-aware) tool and the clone tool were used to remove the small black object in the lower left and also the rope and stand inside the antechamber.  The reason for removing the latter was to make the entrance seem more inviting.  The final result is shown below.

ABFriday After 01 Week 07 Portal Kent 9381