We all know what a sunset typically looks like, we all know what a grassy meadow is supposed to look like and there are only so many colors that mountains and streams come in before the question is raised if the photo is no longer in the realm of realistic. However, when you move out of the country and into the city, and when daylight turns to night, nearly all bets are off when it comes to what looks ‘realistic’. This was the lesson in one of the chapters of a book I read a while back on extreme exposure photography. That no one really knows the ‘color of the night’ and thus the options are much broader than when the sun is overhead. This was one of the thoughts that come to mind when I sat down to work on some of the photos I took over the weekend from downtown Fort Worth. I was there to see the Fort Worth Symphony perform a ‘Sci Fi Spectacular’ show, narrated by George Takei and with pre-show photo ops with characters from both Star Wars and Star Trek. This themed show was another element in my choices when both taking this photo and certainly when I started working on the processing.
First, the photo itself, fairly standard evening photo requirements when not using ultra-high ISO settings. I was set up on the 4th floor of the parking garage across the street from the hall, conveniently enough also where the car was parked. With the ISO set at 160, low enough to keep the noise at a minimum but high enough I wouldn’t need to venture into BULB mode for smaller aperture settings, and an aperture of f/16 for some decent amount of light-stars my Canon 60D set a 10sec exposure with the +.66EV exposure adjustment needed to get some detail in the background buildings.
At first look, this image may look like a HDR shot, and in fact when I posted this on a Facebook group someone actually commented on how nice of an HDR shot it was. However HDR was not used in the creation of this photo, though most of the reasons to use HDR were present. For sure there was a high dynamic range between the buildings in the background and the bright street lights shining on the Bass Performance Hall in the foreground. However after experimenting some I found that the car tail light streaks were something that the HDR software did not handle well and with them being a fairly prominent foreground element I decided to forego HDR and see what I could achieve with a single image in Lightroom and Nik Color Efex Pro 4 alone.
First in Lightroom 5, I looked through Trey Ratcliff‘s set of ‘HDR in Lightroom’ presets, effects that somewhat mimic the look of HDR, but without the need for 3 images. I settled on the ‘Somewhat Potent’ preset as this appeared to give a good start to taming the brights and bringing out the shadows as well as increasing the clarity of the original. Knowing that I was going to do more creative work in Nik Color Efex I toned down the preset values a bit in places, added a touch of noise reduction and sharpening to give a good ‘stage one’ look before opening the image in Color Efex.
One of the things I like most about the Nik Collection of software is the Control Point interface that it has. I know I’ve raved about this in the past, and I promise that Google isn’t paying me (not that I would mind if they did) to say that this give me the flexibility to create unique looks quickly. For this photo, as with most of my nature shots, I started with the Detail Extractor filter. This being an urban scene however, I was able to turn up the settings on the filter higher than I typically do for a nature landscape. Using control points I dialed up or down the opacity of the effect in different parts of the image. Highter in the dark areas to bring out those details more out of shadow, a little less in the street to keep the look within my personal bounds of realistic appearance. The night sky, as with when I have a large area of blue sky, had a 0% opacity control point added to prevent unnecessary noise from being introduced (and to keep a few unsightly lens flare artifacts from showing up).
Typically when working in Color Efex I use a number of filters, all with light to moderate levels of effect and opacity with control points to add or subtract the effect as needed. This prevents the image from screaming ‘THIS FILTER WAS USED’ too loudly to people who know and use the software and to make my work have a unique look and feel to other photographers. This photo was no different. After the Detail Extractor filter gave me the detail enhancement I wanted, I turned to a number of other filters including the Photo Stylizer to finish the look. Photo Stylizer is another filter you may have heard me mention in the past if you have read any of my other Show and Tell posts. In this case I turned not to my typical modes of ‘Copper’ or ‘Russet’, but instead to the Varitone mode #3. This did two things, made the yellows more orange (note the light in the hall windows) and blues shifted towards turquoise and became more vibrant. This really gave the image the pop of color and vibrance that the original was lacking and gave it a bit of a futuristic feel as well going back to the Sci Fi Spectacular event.
Finished in Color Efex, I took the resulting image back into Lightroom for final tweaks. Noticed that the horizon wasn’t quite straight, something promptly fixed in the Crop/Rotate tool, a few very minor tweaks in the General tab for exposure and shadows to zero in on just the look I wanted (at least on my computer screen at the house) before uploading the finished image to Picasa so it could be shared.
It is fun to get outside one’s comfort zone a little from time to time. And it certainly shakes up the routine of processing nature landscapes and lets one explore the possibilities of different filters and presets that one may be just the right look for another shot down the road. This one certainly isn’t my usual subject or look, but is still very uniquely created from my vision of the scene. I hope this has helped provide some insight into how and why I took the image and why I processed it the way I did.