Knowledge Saved The Day
Knowledge weighs nothing, travels everywhere and is your camera bags number one asset. A holiday in Paris – then I saw Les Invalides. Oh wow! Beautiful light, beautiful building – but only a Nikon D800E and Sigma 50mm ART lens. Knowledge saved a great opportunity. One camera, one lens, one beautiful photograph; a simple “How I made this image” story. The making of Les Invalides, Paris, France.
What I shot and what I had to work with back home (shown below in Lightroom), all hand held. The solution was stitching multiple images, a 50mm lens far too long to capture the whole scene in a single frame. There were a number of critical issues I had to consider when shooting the overall image though. Shoot on manual exposure so there was no exposure change as I panned around. Try to keep the camera level and turn the auto focus off, but most critical of all was the exposure. Due to the contrast, I had to get the histogram as far to the right as possible, so the shadows would get as much help as possible; to get the shadows up and out of the dead zone of the film curve; where all the darkest tones are muddy, lack separation and richness, all contaminated with noise. I allowed “blinkies” in the white of the clouds, to make the images as bright as I dare push my luck. I planned to replace the sky, so the sky was not important. The exposure was all about the buildings. Making sure I had plenty of over-lap in each image, I panned left to right shooting; taking the 18 frames shown here in Lightroom. All images are taken with a Nikon D800E. 50mm Sigma ART lens at 100asa, f11, 160th.
Composite The Frames
The first job in putting the image together is stitching the frames together in Lightroom, then checking there were no errors created in the joins from the stitching process. All perfect, next, I needed to protect my shadow detail by boosting the shadows a little in Lightroom and holding back the highlights. I prefer to start with a slightly flat and de-saturated looking base image because when the global contrast is added, the shadows get darker and could start to fill in, losing detail. The highlights get brighter and the color becomes more saturated. I try to preempt these possible defects before they are created. The important issue was to squeeze every ounce of detail out of the raw files as possible.
Add Global Contrast
Global contrast was added to give the image a bit more ‘snap’. Having protected my extreme shadows and highlights with a healthy safety margin, those have not filled in or burnt out. It is important to remember that as you increase global contrast, you also increase the local contrast. This is seen in enhanced texture in the rock walls and the detail in the carvings. As predicted the color becomes more saturated.
Clean The Image
The image is prepared for the creative part of the process by first cleaning the image. This covers everything from dust in the camera to people and objects not wanted in the final image. I did decide to keep a couple of people to give the image scale and a feeling of life. Cleaning the image now means any tell-tale signs of the cleaning process are further hidden as the image is worked on in Photoshop. I also chose to sharpen the image now, so that I have a mint condition base image to take forward. I also check the shadow details again and gave any local enhancements required to retain maximum shadow separation in the darkest areas.
The original, stitched panoramic image that was created by Lightroom was 17,142 x 10,789 pixels. A full-frame original Nikon D800E file is 7,360 x 4.912 pixels. The image is now cropped down to 16,179 x 10,798 pixels so that it is in the same proportion as an original Nikon D800E image when scaled down. The first transformation is to get the vertical and horizontal lines parallel to the image frame for artistic composition reasons. In reality, our eyes would not view the far building like this though; because we are not looking at the far end building straight on. Stretching and transforming the horizontal lines, distorts the church and people; becoming very tall and thin. There is no curvature in the image as the ‘perspective’ option was chosen in Lightroom when merging the images.
The second transformation stretches the image left to right to correct the thinning of the church and people etc. It is more controllable to do the transformations in a two-step process, than do all the transformations in one go. The transformation also attempts to limit creating unwanted distractions at the image edges like cut arches. Image quality has been greatly compromised due to the stretching of certain areas during the Lightroom ‘Photomerge’ process followed by the two Photoshop transformations. The quality loss is neutralized when we reduce our working image down to the size of a full-frame Nikon D800E file. This is a 75% reduction in size; a far greater percentage than we transformed or distorted any part of the image.
New Add Sky
I felt the existing sky had no life about it, too ordinary and bland; a postcard feel. I felt a long exposure feel would add a certain movement, life and time element to the image and be a good contrast against the static building. It was a case of experimenting with various skies I had on file, to find the best one. In order to drop in the sky, the buildings had to have a mask created in the finest quality possible for accuracy; making sure no join would be seen later. The sky was a full frame Nikon image, a great deal smaller than the working image. However, as the sky was going to be blurred anyway, then reduced, the difference in resolution was not an issue. The sky was just enlarged using ‘free-transform’ to fit the image. The important quality was to have a very clean, smooth and simple sky.
Blur The Sky
Using the Radial Blur filter, set to Zoom, the sky was transformed into the long exposure look. It is important to have the lines radiate out in a similar perspective to the buildings, giving the picture harmony and to draw the eye towards the church dome. A little Gaussian blur being added to remove any over sharp lines the Radial blur filter can sometimes create. The correct choice of sky meant it created a natural darker border at the top of the image, giving the image tonal variation and keeps the eye from wandering out of the image. Also, the brightest area of the sky being in the rough position of the sun, makes it logically correct from a lighting point of view. By unlocking the mask from the sky, the skies position and composition can be fine-tuned.
Fine Tune The Sky
The final sky change was to create a more delicate look to the sky by lightening some of the tones, especially along the ridge of the roof to create contrast, enhancing the outline of the buildings. Also, to color correct the sky so it matches the delicate tones of the stone. The image is then checked for any masking issues, making sure the join is perfection and no Photoshop tell-tale signatures are left to give away the fact the sky is not the original. The sky is critical to giving the picture its dreamy mood, but must always remain as a background element, not the main player.
The image is now given an overall color wash that helps give a cohesive feel to the image. The image is checked and polished on a minute detail level, for example enhancing the statue of Napoleon in the middle arch, second floor. The contrast was added to the dome and work did make it feel more golden and rich. As a large print, all these details are seen clearly and so are very important.
The Final Color Image
The walls on the left and in front have been darkened a touch to enhance the light and three-dimensional feel of the courtyard and the dome has had darkening to make it feel more rounded and enhance its form. A slight vignette is added to the sky to enhance the feeling of the light source coming from the left of the dome, behind the buildings.
Final Black and White Image
A black and white version for curiosity, which is pretty well a straight conversion, but with an overall color wash to give the image some warmth.
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‘The modern architecture of The City of Arts and Sciences’ in Black and White, Valencia, Spain.