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Welcome to a new weekly event on HDR by RTG! How it’s Made Monday. Every Monday you can look forward to, or dread, a new HDR image from me and the steps I took to get there. It will be part self training, part journal, and partly because I want to see how my techniques progress! Mostly though, I hope it helps you out in your photography and maybe inspires you to grab your camera if you have not looked at it in a few days, weeks, or years?!

So for today (12/8/14) we will start our first “How it’s Made Monday” with a shot from some statues in the park in Chicago. Last July 4th weekend, my wife and her parents and sister made a trip to Chicago (I had never been, they had been – and we all wanted to get out of our respective home towns for the holiday). This was our last day in town and we walked, no joke, like 10 miles that weekend. So needless to say, I wasn’t too interested in carrying around my tripod, so I was working with handheld images from most of this trip – which really isn’t too hard to handle for day time HDR shots.

So here are my 3 Exposures from the statues –

+2 Exposure -2 Exposure Even exposure


I took these three images in Photomatix and processed them into a tonemapped image that was about 50% complete – there was still some key areas that needed adressing – like adding some detail and adressing that gross looking sky! Below is the tonemapped image –

Tonemapped image

It did a great job capturing the faces and foreground the way I wanted it to, but it fell short on the middle left up to upper center, that whole top left corner of the image is pretty sad. So I went into Lightroom and edited the under exposed image only to produce something that would be able to capture the city in the background better. I ignored the entire rest of the image and just concentrated on that upper corner – here is what I got –

2 - Lightroom Edit


















So this image looked great for the sky and the trees, but lost everything else. I took the tonemapped image from Photomatix and the Lightroom sky edit image and masked them together in Photoshop. The resulting image would be my main base layer for the remainder of the editing –

4 - Lightroom edit and Tonemapped Combined


















This image was taken directly in the Camera Raw filter – Here is where I adjusted the shadows and highlights, clarity, contrast, exposure, whites and blacks. I also use Camera Raw for any color corrections, so there was some slight adjustment to the Hue, Saturation, and Luminance of each color. A small sharpening was also applied. The result was –

5 - Camera Raw Filter


















Next up we needed to get some drama in this image somewhere, and my favorite place to add it is the ground or the sky. In this particular case, we didn’t have much sky to work with, and its pretty boring – not much to do there. So I focused on the ground. Using Topaz Adjust 5’s Dynamic Pop 2 filter, I was able to pull back some of the texture and dynamic range of the shadows on the sidewalk and grass –

6 - Topaz Adjust for ground


















When I imported the original 3 exposures into Photomatix, I told it that these were taken “hand held” style, not on a tri-pod. Photomatix is smart enough to align the 3 pictures almost exactly, for its processing. Which is a fantastic tool to have. However, it does create some alignment issues that I didn’t catch when I brought in the sky edit from Lightroom and masked in the right side of the trees so lightly. Its very hard to tell in these thumbnail pictures, but the right side of the first statue had some ghosting on the very edge. Basically, the very edge of the head was slightly transparent so you could see the edge of it, and then some tree branches through it! That looked terrible, so I took the clone stamp tool and just stamped my way down the backside of that head to fill in the transparent bits. Here is the zoomed in view of what im talking about

Ghosting Zoom

Notice the tree leaves you can see “THROUGH” the edge of the statue?














And... GONE!

And… GONE!














Next up I added a “de-noise” filter to get rid of the noise, or speckles in the image to give it that nice smooth look.

8 - Topaz Denoise


















Then I took the clone stamp tool again and “erased” some of the pits and cracks on the 1st statue – notice under the 2nd line down from the top of her head, there was a chunk missing or something, i just filled that in – then a few other spots here and there that where white specs or other small pieces that had fallen out.

9 - Clean up


















The next step was a curves adjustment to the highlights and shadows on a very selective basis. Using “select>Color Range>highlights/midtones/shadows” then adjusting the sliders to fit the selection I wanted I was able to very intentionally adjust certain areas of the image that were too dark or light. This gives me the ability to select the brightest of the highlights and give them a curves adjustment, versus giving the entire image a curves adjustment. Notice how patchy the blue sky was in the previous image? Now look at it below! Subtle, but effective.

10 - Zone Edit


















My next step was to do a Dodge/Burn layer to add some dimension to the first statue’s face – notice how the blowout on the nose got a little more defined, and the eye got a little more depth?

12 - Dodge and Burn


















The next step was to sharpen the image. For this I used a high-pass filter on a 50% gray layer, at 1 pixel, set to overlay mode. Sounds like a lot of work, but I created an Action in Photoshop, basically a recording of my every step, then i just have to hit “play” on that action and it runs through all those steps in about 1 second.

13 - High Pass and final


















The last and final step was another layers adjustment to just darken the tree leaves on the left of the frame every so slightly, they were bugging me. And boom. Final Image!

On our last day In Chicago this past July, we went over the see

Click the image above to jump to Smug Mug and see this thing in full resolution!