a14 March 2014

Post-processing workflow: City in Motion

before after


I'm trying to post my Post-processing Workflow regularly but you know how it is :) Nevertheless today I'd like to share yet another one, for more posts from this series go here.

Today photo is a blue hour long-exposure HDR image from Warsaw, Poland. I took it a few weeks ago when there was first (and so far last) snow this winter. For more information about this photo, visit this post. You will find there EXIF data, precise location info, links to buying prints and quite a long post detailing process of taking this photo (what wasn't trivial by the way).

In this case Before shows one of the 0 EV exposure images and After shows blended and finished image. Quite a difference, huh?

BTW to learn more about HDR photography, read my HDR tutorial.

This photo was one of the toughest image I post-processed this year because it in fact consisted of 40 images with varying exposures that I had to manually blend. Photoshop didn't like it very much and even simple operations could take forever.

There were two main goals of blending:
  • Fix exposure so both shadows and highlights were properly exposed,
  • Make the light trails longer and brighter. In theory I could simply take one image with very long exposure instead of several ones with shorter ones. Unfortunately it wasn't possible. I was shooting from an opened terrace and the wind was very strong on that day. So strong that my tripod was shaking slightly. With shorter exposures (but still around 10 seconds) I could fit between stronger blows thus reducing chance of blurry photos.

Editing in Lightroom

Ok, without further ado, let's talk about editing.

As always I started my editing in Adobe Lightroom where I enabled profile corrections to remove distortion and vignetting and also changed white balance to make the image more magentish. I applied these changes to all my source exposures:

Editing in Lightroom

Take a look at the image above for one more second. I displayed rules of third grid on it so you can see in what way I composed this photo.

Basically I used rule of thirds - 1/3rd of height is occupied by sky and 2/3rds by city itself. Also I put virtual end of the road in one of the grid points to make the composition even more attractive.

Manual blending

Now I will just show you how the blending looked:

Manual blending

There is not much to discuss - as I said I did this mainly to make the light trails longer. The only interesting thing and a tip for you is that apart from background layer I used Lighten blending mode for other layers.

What this blending mode does is that it takes brighter pixel from the two layers and outputs it. So it's a great thing to use when you want to make light trails brighter and longer (or eg. waterfall, star trails, river, snow fall) as they are usually much brighter than the rest of the scene. If the same pixel in one layer contains dark road and light in the other, light will be output.

Please note one more thing, do you see this red oval? I marked one of the lamps with it. I had to remove it through cloning.

BTW after blending the file had size of 3.2 GB.


After blending the photos I flattened the image and started to work on a new file as working on a 3.2 GB file isn't easy. By flattening the layers Photoshop started to work much faster :)

In the image below you can see what layers exactly I used to create final image. Starting from bottom they are:
  1. Source & Fixes - this 2 groups were all about fixing various issues like removing the lamp I mentioned, removing some flares and some additional cloning.
  2. Denoise - the sky contained quite a lot of luma noise so I removed it with Topaz Denoise filter. To prevent loss of detail in other parts of the image (which were virtually free from noise), I limited denoising only to the sky.
  3. Midtones contrast - I added some midtones contrast by using Curves adjustments layer. 
  4. Highlights contrast - I added some contrast to highlights (mainly well-lit areas and light trails) using Curves adjustments layer with Strong preset and opacity of 14%.
  5. Shadows contrast - I added some contrast to the darkest parts of the image (sky, snow, buildings), brightening them at the same time. I used Curves adjustments layers for this purpose with Screen blending mode and low opacity (18%).
  6. Blues vibrance - I added Vibrance to the sky (+47).
  7. Reds saturation - I wanted to make red light trails more pronounced and for this reason I added some extra saturation only to the red channel of the image.
  8. Color balance - I moved color balance of the image towards magenta just a little bit using Color Balance adjustments layer.
  9. Church saturation - I slightly increased saturation of the small building at the end of the road. Layer mask looks like completely black but there are a few white pixels in it :)
  10. Clarity - I added some extra clarity using Topaz Clarity filter.
  11. Sharpening - I sharpened the image using Smart sharpening filter. One of advantages of using this filter is that not only the result is very sharp but also noise is reduced at the same time.
  12. Final fixes - I fixed a few more things here, applied a little more of denoising.
Post-processing with luminosity masks

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