Photo Notes A place to talk about making images.

March 8, 2012

Retouching the Irving Theater

Filed under: Indianapolis,Photographic Education,Post-Processing — John Siskin @ 4:52 pm

I did a workshop at the Irving Theater in Indianapolis on March 4.  I offered 25 tickets and had a sell out. I shot the Irving with the participant and the owner and a couple of assistants. This was the actual shoot for the Irving so the participants got to see the actual process rather than a staged version of the shoot. I’ve been teaching for a couple of decades and I’ve discovered that many students like to see the way shoots actually work, and the actual problem solving that goes into a shoot. Of course not every moment in this kind of a production is good entertainment. Personally, I sometimes feel as though I’m making a bad landing in front of an audience. Especially if I’m shooting in a theater.

The next step in this process is to discuss post-production. What you do after the shot can be as important as what you do in front of the camera. I should point out that the images here will enlarge if you click on them. The next shots are the before and after Photoshop for the first shot:

Original Capture


Final Version

I used eight lights to make this shot. The theater lights were turned off.

In this next shot I used only 4 lights, plus a little daylight co ming through the windows. I’m going to walk through the steps of post-production with this shot.

Version 1: The raw file is converted to jpg without adjustments. There are four lights: 2 behind the camera each at 800 watt-seconds with a 45-inch umbrella. One mono-light on the right side of the frame, which you can see. It has about 600 watt-seconds with a 45 inch umbrella. Finally a 500 watt second light hidden at the back of the shot. This had a shoe cover over the strobe.

Version 2: Raw file converted with Fill Light adjustment at 9, blacks at 1, Vibrance at 15 and Saturation at 10.

Version 3: Same as above with 1 stop higher exposure and blacks set at 0. This version might be used to create lighter areas in the finalversion. Under other circumstances I might make a dark file as well as a light file. This was the last work done with the RAW files.

Version 4: I took the dark version and put it over the light version in Layers. I used the eraser tool set at opacity 15%. This gave me a way to lighten the image selectively. I can vary the size and softness of the eraser tool for good control. This works better than dodging for me. I wanted the ceiling dark. The walls are just a little lighter and I kept the floor dark. I lightened the pews just a bit. When things looked good I flattened the file. You need to do any work in layers before you work with cropping.

Version 5: This is all the cropping. First I use lens correction because my light has slight barrel distortion. I usually have this set around 3. Then I do the cropping and change the perspective with the cropping tool. I do the cropping incrementally that works better for me than one big correction. You‘ll notice I cropped out the light on the right side of the frame.

Version 6: Next I used the burn tool. In some circumstances I would build another layer from raw (not after cropping) but the details of this shot don’t require it. I had the tool set between 8% and 20% for this and I changed the size of the tool as needed.

Version 7: I usually do unsharp mask twice, once to increase contrast in the image. This time my settings were Amount 10 and Radius 40 for that. My second sharpening was Amount 35 and Radius 2.5, this actually sharpens the image. Of course how you do this is going to depend on your camera and lens.

Version 8: This image is a little grainy, especially on the wall. I made a duplicate layer and removed the noise on that version. The settings were Strength 9, Preserve Details 10, Reduce color noise 90 and no sharpening. This is a lot, but this isn’t the layer we’ll look at. Then I used the eraser tool, as did I above, to custom blend the two versions. The eraser tool was very big, 900 pixels, so that I could fix areas of the shot.

Version 9 (Final): I’m going to look at the image at 100%. I’ll fix dust and problems in the image like the hanging fluorescent lights. This will take a while. I kept the reduced noise layer for this, so I can also spot fix noise. This is the image I’ll hand to Dale at the Irving Theater. He may want additional cropping or other changes, but I’ll do these after I consult with him.

Now maybe you don’t want to do this. or perhaps there are jobs you don’t have the skills to retouch. That happens to me frequently. I use a company called when I need extra help. You can see that there were a lot of ceiling tiles missing in the first version of this shot. This is from my recent airport shoot.

Version 1

Version 2: fixed ceiling tiles


In Version 2 all the tiles suddenly appeared. Deepetch did the job in just a day and for an extremely reasonable price. As photographers it is our responsibility to get the job done right, but that doesn’t mean we have to do everything ourselves.
I teach three classes at BetterPhoto:

Portrait Lighting on Location and in the Studio

An Introduction to Photographic Lighting

Getting Started in Commercial Photography

I hope you’ll check them out. I have been told that prices are going up this year at BetterPhoto, so you might want to sign up soon.

October 6, 2010

Strobes and Layers

Filed under: Architectural Lighting,My Books!,Post-Processing — John Siskin @ 6:13 pm

This blog entry is a chapter from the book I’m working on now. This book will be about lighting interiors. Of course I hope you’ll look for it in about a year. In the mean time my first book will be out any day: Understanding and Controlling Strobe Lighting: A Guide for Digital Photographers

Shots in the bath are always difficult. The room is generally small and there are a huge number of reflecting surfaces. So it is always a special pleasure to be able to shoot in a bath that is really large. You still have reflective surfaces, but you also have more options for dealing with the problems. This was a really fun bath to shoot.

One of the things that made it particularly great was the assistant. I am often lucky enough to often have assistants who are great photographers in their own right. Mike had a different approach for shooting this room. In the end we did it both ways. He was really interested in a version with ambient light and I preferred a shot made with strobes. I always think in terms of how to light a subject, even when I end up using ambient light as the primary light.

In this case a 60-inch umbrella, near the camera, was all the light I needed. Of course this is usually the way I start, and sometimes finish. Although the light was ok, I didn’t like the camera position. Not only was the camera tilted, but the doorway was also cutting into the cabinets.

The first capture with the strobe. 1 mono light at half power with a 60-inch umbrella.

I’m not really happy with the balance between my light and the ambient light. I thought that more ambient light would be more attractive. There are artifacts from my sensor on the lights, which is often the case. But there are no large reflection problems and the color in the shot is pretty good. So change the camera position and use a longer shutter speed, for a better shot. In the next image the shutter speed was half a stop longer.

Here I’ve moved the camera and made the shutter speed a little longer.

When I opened the shot in Adobe RAW I changed the color temperature slider to a warmer setting. I used the recovery slider to brighten the shadows and cabinets a little. As I generally do I raised the Vibrance and Saturation levels slightly, but really I didn’t change much. Here is the shot after these changes:

I warmed up the color in Adobe RAW, and adjusted the recovery slider.

I didn’t have much to do in Photoshop. Cleaned up sensor dirt and the artifacts from the lights first. I also did a little sharpening.

The final shot. 1 strobe with 375 watt-seconds, and a 60 inch umbrella. Shutter at 1/10 and aperture at F9.5, ISO 100.

I really like the way the ambient light and the strobes work together in this shot. The final shot was made at F9.5 and 1/10 of a second, so you can see, because of the long exposure, how much of the ambient light I used. The light was a 750 watt-second mono light set to 1/2 power. The brightness of the open windows on the sides of the shot and the window with the covering in the back creates a nice feel for the light.

I shot quite a few versions of the shot with out any lights on. I wanted to see what I could do with an HDR version of this shot first. I ended up using 4 files for the HDR:

I used all four of these versions to create an HDR of the image.
I used the Equalize Histogram to convert from 32 bit depth to 8 bit depth. When I used HDR with the raw files the corrections to the color disappeared. The result looks like this:

I'm not happy with this version, but I wasn't really shooting for HDR.

I don’t like this version all that much. I could certainly fix the color, but the shot doesn’t have much sparkle. I really don’t like the way the windows work and there is some movement in the chandelier.

However Mike wasn’t thinking about using HDR. He had in mind using layers to manually bring the different versions of the shot together.

This is the bright version of the shot again. Most of the final image comes from this version.

This dark image will give me the detail I need in the windows.

This version will give me the lights in the chandelier. You can see how much overall color the lights created in the ambient light version of the shot.

This version will give me the lights in the chandelier. You can see how much overall color the lights created in the ambient light version of the shot.
The brightest layer will be the main layer of the shot. I used the dark layer to recover the windows and the layer with the chandelier lit to put the lights back into the shot. I also used the recovery slider (in Adobe RAW) on the bright layer to open the dark areas of the cabinets a little. I also used Vibrance and Saturation. I didn’t feel that I needed to change the overall exposure. Oh, as I mentioned above, I had already warmed up the color on the light and dark files. I made the color on the file with the chandelier lights on a little cooler. You can see, in that version, how much the lights change the overall color of the shot.

I started mixing the windows with a large soft eraser and pulled detail back into the window. I worked on the center of the shot and the mirrors on the sides. I used a 500 pixel brush with 12% opacity for the overall work. I also added just a little bit of density to the chandelier so there would be more contrast when I added the lights.

I added a lot more detail to the back window and the mirrors in this shot.

First I did the bulbs on the chandelier. I used a much small brush for the bulbs. I also used more opacity: 20%. Then I switched to a broad soft brush over the whole chandelier, at 5% opacity. The chandelier looks reasonable, but I prefer the version in the shot with the strobes. Of course all of this retouching is a mater of creating results that work for you and for your client. There are no actual rules. I could have pulled up the lights over the mirrors, but I didn’t like the effect of these lights.

Of course I needed to clean up sensor dirt and do some straightening with the crop tool. I also did a little sharpening in this last version.

I like the version made with the strobes better. For one thing the room seems brand new in that shot. I feel that the greater opacity in the back window, of the strobe shot, also makes the room seem more private, which is good for a bath. If I had a subject, such as a person in the shot, the cooler version made with ambient light might have worked better. One more thing, the cabinets look better in the shot I made with strobes.

Please consider taking one of my classes, or even recommending them. I have three classes at BetterPhoto:
An Introduction to Photographic Lighting
Portrait Lighting on Location and in the Studio
Getting Started in Commercial Photography, The better way to learn photography

April 24, 2010

U-Shaped Curve

Filed under: Post-Processing — John Siskin @ 10:27 pm

Branded 2 468x60

Normal curve

I wanted to take time out and talk a little about Photoshop this week, specifically curves. Curves is under Adjustments in the Image menu, if you don’t find yourself going there every time you’re in Photoshop. The standard curve is a line from the lower left corner to the upper right corner. This is a really powerful part of Photoshop; you can control contrast, exposure and color. You can do this with any level of detail you might wish. Some time ago I found an article at that discussed solarization in the computer.  When you did in a wet darkroom you re-exposed the print to light during development. The results were very interesting, but unpredictable. I have to say that unpredictability was part of the charm.

It turns out you can do something vaguely similar with curves. If you put the bottom left corner at the top left corner and bring the middle down all kinds of interesting things happen. The mid tones go toward black and the shadows and the highlights are light. With a gray scale image this can be very compelling.

U shaped curve

Cathredral grayscale

cathredral grayscale with u-curve

If you work with a color image or a gray scale image that you add a little color to, things get even more interesting. Here I added some red and yellow to the cathedral image. Then I used this u-shaped curve.  In addition to the cathedral image I used above I’m using some of the fly wings from last week with u-curve

The warm version of the Cathedral. I added red and yellow in Curves 

Fly wing with u-curve

The warm version of the Cathedral with the U shaped curve applied.

Please check out my classes at BetterPhoto. You can still sign up for the current session!
An Introduction to Photographic Lighting

Portrait Lighting on Location and in the Studio

Getting Started In Commercial Photography

Thanks, John Siskin

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