a11 June 2014

Post-processing Wednesday: Just before storm

before after

Time for another post in my Post-processing workflow series. For more posts from this series go here.

Note: As part of bigger changes to my blog (more on them later this week) from now on this series is renamed to Post-processing Wednesday and as the name suggests new parts of this series will appear regularly on Wednesday (except when I'm travelling as I don't write new posts during my travels). Some posts of this series will be in written form while others in a form of video.

About photo

Today I will show you how I post-processed one of my favourite landscape photos I took this February in Mexico. It was some pretty nice sunset initially but after a few minutes dark clouds appeared creating some dramatic mood and light. A few minutes later severe tropical storm began and I had to flee in order to protect my gear.

For more details about this photo, including exact location and EXIF metadata, please read this post.

At high level, post-processing of this photo involved following steps:
  1. Apply some basic adjustments in Lightroom to whole bracketed sequence.
  2. Load bracketed photos into Photomatix Pro 5 and tone-map them using Contrast Optimizer tone-mapper to restore highlights in the sky and add some local contrast.
  3. Load tone-mapped image into Photoshop CC and use luminosity masks to increase contrast and colour saturation.
In this case Before image shows unedited 0 EV exposure frame and After shows finished image after applying all adjustments mentioned above.
BTW to learn more about HDR photography, make sure to read my free HDR tutorial.

Editing in Lightroom

This time the only adjustments I made in Lightroom were lens correction and chromatic aberration reduction. After that I exported my 7 exposures to Photomatix Pro 5 using the Photomatix's Lightroom Export plugin.

Editing in Photomatix Pro

In Photomatix Pro 5 I used Contrast Optimizer tone-mapper with following settings.
Editing in Photomatix Pro
After using Photomatix the image looked like this:
Image after editing in Photomatix Pro
As you can see it's pretty close to the 0 EV photo. The main difference is amount of details in highlights and also a bit better overall contrast. I used Photomatix here exactly for this purpose, i.e. to restore highlights (especially in the sky).


After finishing processing my image in Photomatix, I opened it in Photoshop CC and used luminosity masks to boost both contrast and colours a little bit.

In the image below you can see what layers exactly I used to create final image. Starting from bottom up they are:
  1. Source - this group contains some operations done on the source image. I decided to blend water from one of the longer exposures and also used another exposure to get rid of people walking in the frame.
  2. Contrast - this group contains operations I did to enhance contrast of the image.
    1. Midtones contrast - I slightly increased midtones contrast by using Curves adjustment layer. 
    2. Highlights contrast - I added some contrast to highlights (clouds and water) using Curves adjustments layer. 
    3. Lights contrast - I added some contrast to the lights (brightest area of the sky) using Curves adjustments layer with Multiply blending mode. Using Multiply blending mode had the effect of darkening this area.
    4. Shadows contrast - I added some contrast to the darkest parts of the image using Curves adjustment layer. I used Screen blending mode for this layer - this way shadows became slightly brighter.
    5. Blacks contrast - I added some contrast to the darkest shadows using Curves adjustment layer with Overlay blending mode. By adding contrast to the darkest parts of the image, I increased its clarity and made the rocks more 3-dimensional.
    6. Water contrast - I added some extra contrast to water using Overlay blending mode. This way water "pops" a little bit.
  3. Colour - in this group are all operations I did to boost colour of the image:
    1. Vibrance - I started by increasing vibrance of the image (+24). 
    2. Water saturation - next step I did was to increase saturation of blues and cyans in the water.
    3. Reds saturation - I then slighly increased saturation of reds and yellows in the sky and on the rocks to make the light slightly more dramatic.
    4. Clouds saturation - finally I increased saturation of the clouds.
  4. Topaz Clarity - I then applied Topaz Clarity to increase clarity of the image. I applied it selectively - mainly to the rocks to make them stand out more.
  5. Sharpening - I then applied sharpening using High-Pass Filter as described here.
  6. Smart glow - finally I made the colours glow using simple trick with Gaussian blur. I will describe it later in a form of tutorial.
Post-processing with luminosity masks

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