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.