Sunday, May 17, 2009

Stephen Ross School of Business - Before and After Tutorial

Stephen Ross School of Business Building

This is a shot taken of the main entrance to the Stephen Ross School of Business building at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. I took this shot on a beautiful sunny spring day, with the mid-afternoon sun shining on the west side of the building. I find this building very interesting. It has a variety of interesting lines, colors and textures from the various materials used in the construction.

For this shot I used my 7-14mm wide angle lens. My camera is an Olympus E-3 which has a 4/3 sensor, so the cropping factor is 2x the focal length. This picture was shot at 7mm (14mm effective focal length) using ISO 100 and an exposure of 1/200 sec @ f/8.0. This lens is pretty good with respect to distortion, but you need to keep the sensor plane parallel to whatever you are shooting or you can rapidly get some drastic perspective distortion. I did my best to keep parallel to the building, but the image still ended up having some distortion.

Stephen Ross School of Business Building - Unprocessed Image

The image above is an unprocessed version of the final image. I use RAW capture, which always requires some post processing, and you can see in this shot that the image is rather flat. My standard processing either involves doing some work in Lightroom to enhance contrast, or I do the same thing in Photoshop. This time I decided to go straight into Photoshop CS4 to do my work. My main objectives with this image were to improve the contrast and fix the distortion. As I worked with the image, some additional ideas came to me.

Note: In the images below, if you move the mouse over the image, you will see the 'before' version of that development stage and when you mouse out the image will revert to its processed state.

The first thing I wanted to do was correct the perspective distortion. I really prefer architectural shots to have parallel lines if at all possible (unless used for dramatic effect).

Perspective Correction LayerImage after Perspective Correction

In order to fix the perspective distortion I used the Free Transform tool of Photoshop CS4. From here I selected the Skew option. In the image below, you can see how I corrected the image. I started by putting in some vertical guide lines to help me gauge my progress. I then took the upper right corner and pulled it right until the lines on the right side became vertical. I repeated the process on the left. There was still some minor skewing, so I took the upper middle control and moved it just a bit to the right to straighten out the middle.

Perspective Correction Edit

The next step was to add some punch to the image. I could have just used a curves layer to add some additional contrast, and possibly a Hue/Saturation layer to add a bit more color, but I decided to use the Topaz Adjust filter to see what interesting look I could come up with. Topaz Adjust can create all sorts of interesting effects from simple exposure adjustments to very gritty almost HDR looking images. I wanted something with a bit more punch, but still realistic. I started with one of the standard presets and then adjusted some of the controls to refine the image. After saving I decided that the effect on the walkway was too severe so I used a layer mask to reduce the effect. I also used the opacity slider to reduce the overall effect on the entire layer.

Color Adjustment LayerImage after Color Adjustment

At this point I was ready to stop but then I decided to go ahead and play with the sky. I really like architectural images with some contrast, particularly against the sky. I decided that a black sky might go well with this shot. Fortunately the roof lines of this building are simple and straight. I used the pen tool to draw along the roof lines and created a selection once I completed the path. I created a new layer and filled in the selection with black. I ultimately added a second layer where I filled in a few spots that I had missed. I probably could have used the Select -> Color Range... tool or one of the smart selection tools as well, but I decided to use the pen tool instead.

The final steps in the process were to run a noise reduction tool (there wasn't much to begin with) and do some sharpening. The final image is what you see at the top. I had played around with a black and white version as well, but I didn't like it as much as the color version in this case.

All processing done with Adobe Photoshop CS4.

This image is for sale in my Architecture gallery on ImageKind.

Comments and feedback welcome.

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

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Ann Arbor Graffiti Alley - A Before and After Photoshop Tutorial

Graffiti Alley - Ann Arbor, Michigan

I originally posted this image to (my photo gallery blog) a few days ago, and at the time, I thought that it would make for a good 'before/after' tutorial for this blog.

I took this shot in an alleyway in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The alley runs between Liberty and Washington streets and is situated between some old buildings and a newer building/parking structure (seen here in Google Maps). The alley originally had a mural painted on it, but some time ago at least part of the mural was painted over with white paint, and new graffiti sprouted. A search on Flickr for 'ann arbor graffiti alley' yields a large collection of images of this area. There are actually two alleys, one is sort of a branch off of the other. The shot above was taken of the 'branch' alley. This alley was meant to service the buildings, whereas the main alley functions more as a path from the parking garage on Washington Street to the Liberty Street area of Ann Arbor.

Graffiti Alley - Unprocessed Image

The picture above shows what I started with. The colors were rather plain and flat. Since this was a RAW image, it isn't surprising that it would need some work to make the image look more like what I saw when I took it, so my original goal with this image was to simply bring out the color a bit more. However, as I worked on the image, I decided I wanted a slightly more intense and grungy look that was more in keeping with the subject matter. As you'll see below, it didn't take a great deal of work to get to the finished image, and I didn't really do anything drastic, but I think the end result produces an image which has a lot more visual impact.

Note: In the images below, if you move the mouse over the image, you will see the 'before' version of that development stage.

Initial Lightroom AdjustmentsGraffiti Alley After Lightroom Adjustments

The first thing I did was to import my image into Adobe Lightroom. Inside of Lightroom I played around with various adjustments to convert the RAW image into something more in line with what I envisioned. I actually created a couple different versions using the Virtual Copy capability. The other version had more of a brighter HDR look to it, but it wasn't quite what I was going for. What you see above are the operations I did on the original RAW image to initially develop it. If you compare the altered image to the RAW image, you should notice that it is darker, has more contrast and has a bit of a vignette to it.

At this point I liked the result, but I still wanted a bit more 'pop' so I decided to take the image into Photoshop for some additional work. I probably could have done almost everything in Lightroom, but I'm more comfortable with using Photoshop at this point for certain changes.

Curves Adjustment LayerGraffiti Alley After Curves Adjustments

The first adjustment was to add a Curves layer to give the image a bit more contrast. As you can see from the curve, I shifted the white point to the left and added a bit of an 'S' shape to the curve to increase contrast.

Clarity Adjustment LayerGraffiti Alley After Clarity Adjustments

The next adjustment was to simulate the 'clarity' capability of Lightroom or Adobe Camera Raw. For this layer, I converted the layer to a Smart Object so I could make edits later if I wanted, and the applied an Unsharp Mask filter with a small amount percentage and a very large radius. Clarity simply adds a bit more local contrast.

Distortion Correction LayerGraffiti Alley After Distortion Correction Adjustments

Looking at the image, I noticed that there was a bit of distortion created by the angle at which I took the shot. I didn't like the fact that the window on the right wasn't parallel to the edge of the frame, so I used the Free Transform/Skew tool to straighten things out a little bit.

Distortion Correction LayerGraffiti Alley After Dodge and Burn Adjustments

The image was almost done, but I felt that the bottom left and upper right corners were too bright and distracted from the main subject area. I decided to use the Burn tool to darken these areas. To accomplish this, I first created a new layer which contained all the information from the layers below. The Burn tool is destructive and I wanted to be able to have some flexibility to simply remove this layer if I didn't like it. Normally I would use a curves adjustment layer, which is non-destructive, and then paint on a mask to control the area and amount of the change, but for some reason I decided to go with the Dodge/Burn tool. I used a relatively large brush at a lower opacity and simply painted the areas with the burn tool to darken the two corners. I finished up with another unsharp mask layer using a low radius and moderate amount to get the finished image.

The steps I took to go from start to finish may not be the most optimal. I tend to start with the image, work with it a bit in Lightroom to get something I like and then finish in Photoshop. For this image, most of what I wanted to do could probably have been accomplished in Lightroom alone using some of the newer tools like the adjustment brush and gradient filter. In Photoshop, I simply experiment with curves and other adjustment layers until I get the look I like. As Bert Monroy is fond of saying, you just need to "play". That's the nice thing about the digital darkroom, you can play with your image, and as long as you don't overwrite your source 'negative' file, you can develop and redevelop your image many times to suit your mood. Ansel Adams once referred to the negative as the score to a piece of music and the finished print as the 'performance'. I think the same holds true in the digital world.

All processing done with Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop CS4.

This image is for sale in my Color gallery on ImageKind.

Comments and feedback welcome.

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