Sunday, May 2, 2010

Richardson Oil Pump - Henry Ford Museum

(Nikon D700, 50.0 mm, ISO 6400, Exposure 1/125 sec @f/2.0)

One of the advantages of living in Southeastern Michigan is the ability to visit some great museums. One of my favorites is the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan. This museum houses a great collection of artifacts, mostly relating to manufacturing or machinery. One of my favorite full time exhibits is the part of the museum dedicated to power generation. Here you can see some wonderful examples of steam driven machines used to provide power to manufacturing facilities. One of the most impressive generators is one which used to be housed in Ford Motor Company's Highland Park manufacturing facility. This generator is truly huge. The shot you see above shows just one small component of this generator, an oil pump.

The museum is not well lit, at least not from the perspective of getting a great picture. The lighting is quite subdued. On this trip to the museum I was using my newly acquired Nikon D700. One reason I purchased this camera was for its low light capabilities, and I must say so far it has not disappointed. If you look at the EXIF data for this image, you will see that it was shot at ISO 6400. Yet, in the unprocessed image you see below, the noise levels are fairly low and the sharpness remains fairly high. Even so, when I took the shot, my idea was that I would create a more abstract or painterly image rather than creating a realistic image. Black & white might look cool (and I may try that), but I had a thought of using Topaz Simplify like I've done in the past to create an image which contains both sharp and 'simplified' elements.

As mentioned above, the starting point for the finished image is shown below, along with a snapshot of the layers used to produce the final image. The original image is relatively flat, although this isn't surprising in a raw image.

The first adjust I did was to use Topaz Adjust to bring out some details. There are several presets that I like to use at various times and this time I selected the 'Clarity' preset. Clarity enhances contrast and helps bring out small details. Sometimes I like to use 'Crisp' which is stronger. In many cases, I'll use the preset and then use the opacity slider to reduce the effect if I think it is too strong. In all of the images below, moving the mouse over the image will show you the 'before' version of the shot and when you move the mouse out, the image will return to the 'processed' version.

The next step was to take the image into Topaz Simplify to create the painterly look. As with the Adjust product, the Simplify product has a set of presets which can be a good starting point for making creative changes to your image. In most cases I like to use the 'BuzSim' preset. This preset is similar to the Photoshop Cutout filter, but it isn't as drastic. It creates a more abstract image, but one which still has plenty of details. When I use the Simplify filter, I will often times use a layer mask to selectively reduce its effect. In this case, I wanted the details of the pump control panel to remain clear and I wanted the rest of the image to remain 'simplified'. You can see the mask used in the layer panel information given below.

For one reason or another, I wasn't able to get a nice straight-on shot of this pump. As a result, some of the elements are a bit too crooked for my taste. I corrected this problem by selecting the entire image and doing a Free Transform->Skew to straighten things up a bit. I prefer to use Skew over the Lens Correction feature just because it seems faster and easier.

At this point the image was substantially done, but I did want to add just a bit more contrast. I used a curves layer with a very subtle S curve. I darkened the low end just a bit and move the white point to the left and raised it to add some contrast in the mid to light areas.

Another minor tweek was to add just a bit more saturation to the entire image. Topaz Simplify will actually add a bit of color, but I wanted just a bit more. I bumped the saturation by +19 to get the final look.

The last thing I did was to apply an Unsharp Mask filter to sharpen the entire image.

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Text and images Copyright © 2010 James W. Howe - All rights reserved.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Bennett Building - New York City

Bennett Building

Since it is winter time, and I've been shooting less, I've taken the time to look over some images that I took in the past and passed over for one reason or another. The image above is from one of those 'passed over' images.

This image shows the Bennett Building, located at Fulton and Nassau in New York City. I took this in the summer of 2008 when I was in New York on business. Whenever I'm in New York, I like to wander around the city and shoot architecture (primarily). In this case, I was walking back to my hotel in the South Seaport area from our office in the Financial district when I spotted this building. I really liked the details of this building, starting with the curved windows in the corner, to the ornate work around the windows. However, for one reason or another, I didn't really take the time to take some really good shots of the building. Instead, I ended up with this:

Bennett Building - Raw

There are many things wrong with this shot. I didn't have my ultra-wide lens, so I had to take this at an angle, resulting in a leaning building. The lighting isn't great either. I remember the day being very hot and humid and the combination of late afternoon light, caused the sky and the top left portion of the building to be washed out. Also, the angle of the sun caused much of the left side to be in shadow. The building has a fairly new paint job, and it looks really stunning, but this image doesn't really capture that. As a result of these issues, when I was processing the images from my trip, I overlooked this image.

I've been doing more work on images requiring perspective correction, so when I was browsing images in Lightroom and saw this one, I decided to see what I could do with it. The first thing I did was to see how it would look if I corrected the perspective. For this, I used Free Transform and a combination of Skew and Scale. I first used Skew to straighten the lines. I grabbed the upper left and right corners and pulled them out to straighten the lines. Doing this caused the building to look short and stumpy. I then switched to the Scale tool to stretch the building so it looked normal once again. If you roll over the image below, you can see the difference between the original image and the 'corrected' layer'

The next thing I did was use my Topaz Adjust filter to punch up the clarity. The key feature of this building is all the little detail work, and using the Clarity setting in Topaz Adjust improved the local contrast to bring out more of the features. It also makes the image look a little less hazy. Again, mousing on and off the image will show you the difference the clarity filter had on the image.

Even after applying the clarity filter, I still wasn't happy with the contrast in the image. I added a curves layer with a gentle S shape, mostly increasing contrast in the midtones.

The next thing I tackled was the lighting on the building. The combination of hot, humid weather, late light and shadow, created a bright, bluish area in the upper left side of the building. After some experimentation, I figured out the best way to deal with this was to convert the image to black and white. There really wasn't much color in the image to begin with, and black & white is a great way to show line and form so I think this was a good choice. I was able to get more color using some of the Lightroom development tools, but I like black & white for architecture. I used a Black & White adjustment layer, and primarily darkened the blues. I think this did a nice job, particularly with the windows.

Looking at the image after the perspective correction, it appeared to me that there was some barrel distortion in the center of the shot. I decided to try my PT Lens filter which applies lens specific corrections to an image. The filter recognized that I was using an Olympus Digital Zuiko 14-54 and automatically applied a correction based on its knowledge of this lens and focal length. As you can see, it did make a change right in the center of the image.

At this point the image was starting to shape up, although I wasn't entirely happy with the perspective of the building. I think the combination of all the horizontal and vertical lines actually gave the impression that the top was closer to the lens than the bottom. I applied another free transform layer which slightly broadened the bottom of the image. The building now has a gentle inward angle from bottom to top.

The next thing I worked on was the overall brightness of the image. It seemed a bit dark to me so I added another curves layer to brighten things up a bit. When I'm working on an image, I'll often use several curve layers at different points to adjust things that I don't like. It may not be optimal, but it's the way I work.

The next thing I looked at was the sky. The hazy day left a bland and featureless sky. I first played with making the sky black like I did in this photo of the Equitable Building. That looked ok, but I wasn't completely happy. I then tried a mid-gray color which was also somewhat ok. Finally I decided to do something that I rarely do, and that is to drop in a sky from another image. I happened to have a shot with some clouds that was taken later in the day, so I decided to drop it in to see how it looked. I decided that I liked having a bit of texture up in the sky, so I kept it. To add the sky, I simply opened the sky image and then dragged it over to this image. I then added a mask to put the building in front of it. I could have probably extracted the building and placed it over the sky, but I had already been playing with a mask, so I used that. I should probably consider investing in a tool to simplify image extraction.

Layer 8

Since the sky had been dropped in after I had already applied a black and white adjustment layer, it was obvious that I needed to make the sky itself black & white. For this layer, I darkened the blue to make the sky darker, but not black.

Once again I addressed the lighting issue. I felt the image was too dark, particularly in the lower left. This was the part of the image that had been in shadow so I thought I would try to lighten it up. I used a curves layer and increased the brightness and then used a mask so that the curve would primarily affect the lower right portion of the building.

My next step was to add a bit of toning to the image. Many times I will use some prebuilt curves to do things like a platinum or selenium tone, but for this image I decided to do something different. I made a copy of the image and flattened all the layers. I then converted it to grayscale and the to Duotone. I applied a preset called 'Warm gray 8 bl 1'. I then copied the dutone image back into my main document.

Since the image had such drastic perspective correction done to it, the details, particularly in the top of the building, were not that great. I decided to give the image a more traditional feeling by adding some simulated film grain. I used a technique that I had seen done in a video by Katrin Eismann The grain was created using noise layers applied to the Red, Green and Blue channels separately. First the blue channel had monochromatic gaussian noise added at 8% and then a gaussian blur of .3 pixels was added. The green channel was done the same way. Finally, the red channel had 4% noise and a .3 pixel blur. It is hard to see the effect in these small blog images, unfortunately.

The final bit of work before sharpening was to add just a bit more contrast. In this case, all I did was add a new curves layer and moved the black point in just a bit, and moved the white point in about the same amount.

That's about it. If you've made it this far I hope the information was helpful. Mostly when I'm working with an image I will try a variety of things just to see what looks good to my eye. Some things are obvious fixes, others are just a matter of what I think looks right. I hope to get back to New York sometime in the future and get a better base image of this building. I like the way this image came out, but I would probably try a couple different things to really capture the character of this building.

If you found this tutorial useful, please consider visiting any (or all!) of my sponsors. Thanks!

Comments and feedback welcome!

Text and images Copyright © 2008-2009 James W. Howe - All rights reserved.