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.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

'39 Delahaye - Before and After Tutorial

1939 Delahaye 165 Cabriolet

The picture above shows a 1939 Delahaye 165 Cabriolet automobile which was on display at the 2009 Meadowbrook Hall Concours d'Elegance in Rochester Hills, Michigan. This car won the Best in Show - Foreign award at that show, an award I feel was well deserved.

I love taking pictures of classic automobiles, unfortunately I'm mostly limited to taking pictures at shows, and shows aren't the best place to get great images. The lighting is dependent on the weather, you have crowds to deal with, and the cars are generally placed close together which makes it difficult to get a great shot. I was lucky on this shot. The car next to this one was being driven as part of a 'pass in review' which gave me more room to get this shot. There were still issues with people and the background, but I managed to find a way to eliminate or at least reduce their impact on the image.

The image below shows what the picture looked like out of the camera. There were distracting elements, such as the information placard in the front of the car, the cars behind the Delahaye, and of course the people.

1939 Delahaye - raw image

Here are the steps I took to convert the raw image to the finished image you see at the top. If you mouse over the images below, you should see the effect that step had on the image.

Step 1 - Improve Contrast

Raw images almost always need some sort of contrast/white balance correction and this image is no exception. The color balance wasn't too bad, but the image was sort of flat. I used a Curves layer to add a bit of an 'S' contrast curve, pushing the image just a bit darker. I liked the added contrast, but later on I worked to brighten the image up a bit. I also decided that there was too much grass in front of the car, so I cropped the image.

Step 2 - Remove Distractions

In the process of cloning out the distractions I used a couple different layers. I used a combination of the Clone Stamp tool along with the Patch tool to eliminate the information placard, some crud in the grass in front of the car and some dark elements along the left hand side. On one of the cloning layers I used a layer mask to eliminate some bleed-over which occurred on the hood of the car. I think I used the patch tool to get the grass the way I wanted, but that affected the hood.

Step 3 - Brighten Image

The next step I took was to brighten the overall image. I used the Topaz Adjust filter to add crispness and adjust the brightness of the image.

Step 4 - Simplify Surroundings

This next step made the biggest change in the image, at least to my mind. There were too many people in the shot to do any sort of cloning, but I felt that unless I did something the background would be a distraction competing with the car. I've starting using the Topaz Simplify filter to 'simplify' distracting elements. I find the filter does really nice things with grass, trees and even people. If used on a whole image, it can give the appearance of a painting, but I didn't want a painting.

When I use the filter, I generally use the 'BuzSim' preset and make changes from the defaults used by that preset. Most of the time I just leave the settings at their default. Once the filter has been applied, I then create a layer mask and mask out the parts of the image that I don't want 'simplified'. Sometimes I'll also reduce the overall opacity of the filter to let some of the underlying elements come through. In the case of this image, I wanted the car to be sharp and everything else I wanted to be 'simplified'.

Step 5 - Adjust Saturation

At this point I was mostly happy with the way the image looked. The only thing that bothered me a bit was the color of the car, I felt that it was just a little to red. I used the HSL tool to desaturate the reds and yellows a bit and to my eye it looks better.

The steps I took to get the end result may not have been optimal but I like the end result. What do you think?

Comments and feedback welcome.

Image and text Copyright © 2009 James W. Howe - All rights reserved

Please visit my Automobile Details gallery at ImageKind to see this, and other automotive images.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Angelo's Restaurant - Before and After Tutorial

Angelo's Restaurant - Ann Arbor, Michigan

The company I work for recently move to a new office. We needed to come up with names for our conference rooms and after much discussion we decided on names of restaurants which were unique to our town of Ann Arbor, Michigan. My assignment was to get some photographs of each of the places which we would get framed to be hung in each of the conference rooms.

One of the names we chose was Angelo's, a terrific local restaurant which is only open for breakfast and lunch. I had tried to get some pictures before, but it is a difficult place to photograph. It faces north and is next to the University of Michigan Medical campus which has some large buildings. As a result, the building sits in shade most of the day. In order to get a shot of it in sunshine, you have to shoot it between 7am and 8am in the summer. I went out this weekend just to get some trial shots which would help me figure out how I wanted to shoot it. The day itself was cloudy, but bright. This prevented the building from being in shadow, but resulted in flat images. I took several shots from different angles and finally decided on a shot taken at a slight angle to the front, from across the street. You can see from the original, raw camera image, the picture is nothing special:

Angelo's Restaurant - raw image

As I looked at the image, I decided to see what I could do to make the image more along the lines of what I would ultimately like to take. The main things that I originally wanted to correct were the flat look and to eliminate distracting elements such as the light post, one way sign, etc. My ultimate goal with this image was to just have fun and see what I could end up with.

Step 1 - Add some punch to the image

The first thing I did after getting the image into Photoshop was to duplicate the background layer. I then used the Topaz Labs Adjust filter to bring out some color and character. I had recently read a blog post by Scott Kelby on Topaz Adjust and how he used it to create an effect similar to what you would get with the Lucis Pro plug-in filter. I decided to try a similar technique. I open Topaz Adjust and selected the 'Psychedelic' preset and saved the image. I immediately did a Fade of the effect to about 60%. You can see the effect below: (in all the image below, if you move the mouse over the image, you will see the before image and when you move the mouse back out you see the result with the effect/edit applied)

Topaz Adjust LayerAngelos after Topaz Adjust filter applied

Step 2 - Clone out offending items

When I looked at the original image, I didn't like the fact that there was a light post and a one-way street sign right in the middle of my shot. I had thought I might crop out the left side of the shot to eliminate the one-way sign, but I really wanted the whole building. I spent quite a bit of time removing the street sign, the lamp post as well as the telephone pole and wires, parts of a chain link fence on the right side and a bit of a car which was in the image frame.

Some of the cloning was simple, particularly the parts in the sky. The parts along the building were more complicated because I had to deal with brick and block patterns. I knew that I was going to be applying a 'simplify' filter later, so I wasn't concerned with perfection, but I wanted to have reasonable lines and shapes, without obvious repeating elements. Another tricky element with the clone had to do with the picture frames inside of the restaurant. The light pole covered up half of a picture. Fortunately there was another picture to the left and I was able to take frame elements from it to create the rest of the frame for the right hand picture.

I don't claim that the cloning is perfect, but I'm pretty happy with it. The one thing that surprised me is that I did most of it using the touch pad on my MacBook Pro. I found that I had greater control than with my pen. It was easier for me to position the clone point precisely. With the pen, I found that when I touched the pen to the tablet I might not get the exact position I wanted. Probably just need more practice.

Clone LayerAngelos after cloning to remove posts and signs

Step 3 - Simplify the image

All of the other images we are using in our new office building are some combination of HDR with the Topaz Simplify filter. I've been experimenting with the Simplify filter to create more abstract shapes out of elements in the background and to create an image which has a 'painterly' quality to it. For this image, I applied the filter and then masked out much of it on the main building. I wanted the building to be mostly sharp, but not quite.

Simplify LayerAngelos after applying Topaz Simplify filter

Step 4 - Make local color and contrast adjustments

These next few changes were done to change some of the tonalities in the image The first step was to eliminate the purplish cast to the road. This color was introduced by the Topaz Adjust filter. I used a Hue Saturation layer to reduce the saturation and then used a layer mask to selectively apply it to the street.

Street Color Adjust LayerAngelos after adjusting street color

The next adjustment was to add a bit more contrast to the entire image.

Contrast AdjustmentIncrease Contrast

Finally, I thought there was too much blue in the windows and some of the metal parts (like the chimney). I used another Hue Saturation layer to selectively reduce the blues in the image. If you mouse over the image below you will see where the blue was removed.

Remove excessive blueRemove excessive blue

Step 5 - Correct perspective distortion

I find myself getting pickier about having tilting buildings in my images, and since I'm not using a view camera which offers the ability to correct for distortions at capture time, I rely on some post-processing to correct such things. I created a new layer and used the Free Transform tool to adjust the image on the left and right side. I selected Skew and pulled the top left and right corners out until I got straighter lines. I turned on the guides to help me out. (as I look at it now I think I could do a better job, have to see)

Perspective correctionPerspective correction

Step 6 - Additional color corrections

I still wasn't happy with the look of the street in front of the building, so I decided to apply a localized curves adjustment layer to darken it. I started with the Curves dialog and pulled on the curve until I liked the look of the street. I then applied a mask to have the effect limited to the street.

Darken StreetDarken Street

At this point I felt that the bright sky was a distraction, so I used a curves layer to make it a bit grayer. I didn't like it that much better which led me to the change in the next step.

Darken SkyDarken Sky

Step 7 - Replace sky

I try to stay away from adding elements to an image which weren't in the original shot. However I really didn't like the look of the sky and I was really just trying to create a version of this image which I would have liked to have taken (and hope to get in the future) So, I decided, what the heck let's replace the sky. I happened to have a landscape shot that I had taken which was primarily ground and sky. I dropped the sky image into the image, resized it a bit to fit my image and then proceeded to mask out the parts that covered the building.

Replace SkyReplace Sky

Here is the original source image for the sky:

Sky source

Since the image had already been run through the Simplify filter, I decided that I should run the sky through as well. I tried to go back and add the sky to the image before the Simplify had been applied, but I figured it was too much work. If I had known that I was going to replace the sky, I would have done it earlier in the process, but oh well. The simplify doesn't have much effect on the sky, particularly in the small size displayed on this blog, but in the larger finished image it does make a difference.

Simplify SkySimplify Sky

Step 8 - Minor tweaks and sharpen

At this point I was just going to sharpen the image, but then I noticed that the 'Open' sign just didn't stand out enough. I zoomed in to the 'Open' sign, selected my brush tool, picked a color from the sign itself and then brightened the color. I painted over the lettering to make it just a bit brighter.

Brighten 'Open' sign and SharpenBrighten 'Open' sign and Sharpen

That's it. This was several hours of work for an image which isn't overly spectactular, but it was fun to work on. I'm hoping to get over to Angelo's some morning early enough to capture the sun on the building and hopefully with some clouds in the sky. It would be nice if the umbrellas were open as well. I would still clone out the post and sign, but hopefully the raw image would require less playing around with. Anyway, it was fun to work on and hopefully it gives you some ideas on things you can try with your own images.

Comments and feedback welcome.

Image and text Copyright © 2009 James W. Howe - All rights reserved

Please visit my University of Michigan gallery at ImageKind to see other shots from Ann Arbor, Michigan.