Today I wanted to try something a little different than usual for me. I've recorded a screencast of my editing on one of my favorite photos. I've also included a link to download the files I started with straight out of camera. This is a bit longer of a post than usual, but it goes more in depth into how this specific image was created, the software I used and the effects within those pieces of software. The video itself is about 7m 27s long from beginning to end, with a more detailed description written out here in the post.
The software/plugins I used for this image are
All of these programs have free trials that you can test if you do not own them. I highly recommend every piece of it, but I would not be able to live without Lightroom and Color Efex.
I've included the 3 original files that I start with at the beginning of the video if you would like to download them and follow along or just do your own edit and see what you come up with. These are in the DNG format and straight out of camera. Click the link here to download the zip file containing the 3 raw images. http://db.tt/i9MqE4YB
Creating the HDR image...
My program of choice for creating an HDR is Nik HDR Efex Pro2. To get things started, I selected the 3 exposures I was wanting to use and exported them into HDR Efex. For some reason, to send the images over into HDR Efex, you need to open the "Export to" and then choose HDR Efex as opposed to most other plugins where you select from the "Edit In" menu.
The first window you see pop up is where you select the image you want as a reference image for ghost removal. You can choose to not have any ghost removal, or in increments of 20%. Knowing that I wanted to have the water from the longest exposure visible, I chose the right hand picture from the top of the window, and you see the preview change. You can adjust the amount of ghosting until you're happy with the look. In this case, I left it at 100%. The slider below the preview image adjusts the exposure of the preview only, this will not affect the image creation at all. On this same window, you can correct for Chromatic Aberration and the alignment of the images.
After you select the ghosting options you want, you click the "Create HDR" button on the bottom right and your HDR is created in a short amount of time and you are taken into the main part of the program to do some stylizing and other options. On the left pane you can select from a good variety of presets in a few different categories and you'll see a small thumbnail preview of the effect. Feel free to play around with these all you want and you can always reset back to the default blend by selecting the Default preset. Once you do a few images, you'll get a feel for what presets you like and you will be able to select them rather quickly. I usually pick between 3 or so options, and rarely will I pick a different one.
My top 3 choices tend to be
- Deep 1
- Deep 2 (used for this image)
Of course you have the large preview of the image in the center, and many more options over to the right. On the right you have a lot of control over nearly any element of the image you would like. The preset you choose on the left will adjust the options over on the right, but you can override each option if you wish. For my workflow, I normally just play around with the Depth, Detail and Drama under the HDR Method portion. I don't do anything with the color adjustments as that comes next in a separate plugin. When I'm happy with the look and tonal range of the highlights and shadows, I save my image and back to Lightroom it goes as you see below.
This is where most of the major changes happen to the look and feel of the image. Another one of my go-to plugins is Nik Color Efex Pro 4. Nearly every image I create, whether it be a landscape or a portrait makes a run through this software. This is another plugin that can have such drastic effects on your image. It's very powerful for full image adjustments or localized adjustments using what Nik calls U-point technology.
On the left pane you'll find the different effects you can use. It can look a bit overwhelming at first since there are a lot of options, and when selecting one, you often see a huge change to your image. This will take some playing around with and seeing which effects you like. You'll quickly find your favorites after using it a couple of times.
My favorite adjustments are easily the following.
- Contrast Color Range
- Detail Extractor
You can see major changes with each of the effects during the video. You're not always going to want such drastic changes, nor are you going to want every effect across the entire image. This is where the right pane comes in.
On this pane, you adjust the different options for each effect you choose. For Brilliance/Warmth, you see a Saturation, Warmth and Perceptual Saturation slider. Saturation does exactly what you'd expect and simply increases the saturation of your colors. The Warmth is your temperature and makes it warmer or cooler. I tend to be drawn more towards bright, warm vibrant colors so I typically increase the warmth a tad as you see in the video.
Perceptual Saturation was introduced in version 4 of Color Efex pro. This isn't a simple saturation booster as it works differently and is best left described by Nik software themselves.
Perceptual Saturation is a new setting in the Brilliance/Warmth filter in Color Efex Pro 4. This is different from the Saturation filter in that it doesn’t increase the overall saturation of the image. Instead, it affects the hues and their complimentary color in the surrounding colors to increase the perception of additional saturation.
You will need to find a look that you're happy with, as these items are very subjective. I like the look across the entire image so I didn't use any control points (selective adjustments) for this effect. Once you're happy with that particular filter, you click the "Add Filter" button and you're then able to select the next effect/filter you want. If I had to pick just one effect to use, it would be this one and I really love the way it brings out the greens and oranges on the rocks more than anything else.
Pro Tip - Change your effect sliders from one extreme to another a couple of times so you can see the entire range of what it's doing. Then dial it back to where you're comfortable.
The next filter in this image I used was Polarization. This does what most would expect and really affects the blue skies more than other parts of the image. It does have subtle effects on other parts if you watch closely, but most drastically in the sky. I usually like the way this effect changes my image, so I leave this one effecting the entire image as well. There are some subtle changes here and nothing to big, but I think it adds to the photo.
Contrast Color Range, like many others can change the look and feel of your photo very easily. Simply sliding the top Color slider back and forth, you can see how it changes. This filter is fun to play around with and can create some awesome effects and changes when balanced correctly. Spend some time and adjust all 4 of the sliders available to you to gain the look you're after. Again, I like the look this has across the entire image.
Detail Extractor... some of what this filter does can be achieved with tone mapping in your HDR creation, but I prefer to use this in Color Efex instead. It's more comfortable for me and easier to select specific parts of the image for it. As I do with most of the effects I apply, I will change the slider from one extreme to another. While doing so, looking closely at different parts of the image and not just the image as a whole. I've never used this effect across the entire image. You will see that I use the Control Points (U-point technology) to apply this effect in specific areas. To add a control point, select the + sign that sits next to a Control point icon below your effect sliders. Then drop the pin on the part of the image you want to add the effect to.
With this image, I used 2 control points. One on the top of the rock in the foreground and one around the sun. You can adjust the size of the affected area and the opacity of that particular control point. I enjoyed the effect at stronger levels on the rock, but not as much on the sun. You can see the sun gets some weird contrast in the colors there, so I was able to adjust that by changing the opacity on that control point only.
Pro Tip - Uncheck the boxes for the effects to see the image with/without that effect applied. This is great to do on a final pass to make sure you're happy with the edits.
Lastly, I used the Skylight Filter. This filter isn't always used, but I did like what it did to the colors and glow on the rock in the foreground. it was a bit to much for my liking in the sky, so to have only the rock (and nearby surrounding area) affected, I used another Control Point.
You can adjust any of the filters again by simply clicking on them on the right pane. Now that we're done in Color Efex, we save the image and it gets imported back into Lightroom for any further adjustments you may want to do.
Below is the image that we just finished up and sent back into Lightroom.
You may be able to see some dust spots in the sky, and what looks to be water drops on the filter that I was using when taking this shot. The water is apparent on the shadowy part of the rock on the right side of the frame. There is also a small piece of white shell on the lower right. The next step is to remove these items that I don't want in the frame, and for that I kick the image over into PhotoShop.
These edits are very simple on this image and I just use the Healing Brush to click and remove those spots. Adjust the brush size for the water spots, take a final glance over the image, then close Photoshop and save it back into Lightroom again.
After looking at the image for a few minutes during this process, I could tell that I wanted the sky to be just slightly more orange/red to better match the color on the front rock. Open up the Develop module in Lightroom, scroll down to the HSL/Color/ B&W, select HSL (should be selected by default) and now I can adjust the Hue of specific colors. To pick certain colors that your mouse hovers over, click on the little circle/pin at the top left of that menu.
Then move your mouse over to the area that contains the color you want to adjust. You will see the colors on the right highlighting as your mouse passes over them and when you have the one want highlighted, click with your mouse and drag up or down to adjust the hue. This will adjust the hue of that color across your entire image. I wasn't going for a big change, just a tad adjustment. Only thing left was to lower the exposure just a tad and then level out the horizon ever so slightly until I felt I was finished and ready to export the image for sharing.
Here is our final image after all of the editing! This one you can click on to view a larger view of it.
I hope you've enjoyed reading and watching the process I went through on editing this image. I am really happy with this and is one of my personal favorites. Not everyone will like it and that's perfectly okay! We all have different tastes and I enjoy seeing how other people create their photos, even if I see the image going in a different direction. That's the beautiful thing about Art, it's all subjective and we create to fit what we see in our own minds.
I'd love to hear what you think about the image itself and my process. Better yet, if you downloaded the files and followed along or created your own version, post a link so I can check it out!