With all the excitement over HDR and the ease of Lightroom, many people have become lazy when it comes to using Photoshop. In doing so, you are missing out on so much potential to create a real WOW! The above photo started with HDR and finished with several quick layers in Photoshop. Take a look:
1. Shooting a scene for HDR with auto-bracketing of EV+/- 2.
HDR is perfect for the bright lights of Broadway. By setting my tripod-mounted Canon 7D for auto-bracketing of EV +/-2, I was able to capture the highlights, the mid-tones and the shadows of this electric scene with ISO400. (Please see the links at the bottom for my previous articles on shooting HDR with the Canon 7D.)
2. Using Photoshop CS5’s Merge to HDR Pro to assemble the photos.
I know many people jump to Photomatix Pro for HDR, but Photoshop’s built-in Merge to HDR Pro has superior ghost handling (resolving things that move between the shots). In fact, Photoshop’s HDR component is so powerful, that you can shoot hand-held and it will create a perfectly aligned composite. Just be sure to check the Remove Ghosts option at the top. For the above scene, I also used the Photorealistic setting from the drop-down. (Please see the links at the bottom for my previous articles on using HDR to Merge Pro.)
3. Duplicate the layer containing the final HDR composite and start the fun!
Once you have the 16-bit HDR image, you have the starting point for some really cool manipulations. To keep it quick and simple, you can’t beat the plugins from Topaz Labs. The above screen is from Topaz Labs’ new B&W Effects plugin. I love the Cyanotype group. It is perfect to create this night-time blue look. I started with the Steel Cyan preset and tweaked from there. One important tweak is under the Finishing Touches to set the Transparency to 60%. This change will retain some of the original color from the photo to create the subdued night-time hues.
[NOTE – now you can download my Nighttime Blue by Photoframd Preset to make it even easier.]
4. Create the electric colors in another layer.
I duplicated the original HDR layer again and used Topaz Adjust to pop the colors. I started with my Grunge Me by Photoframd preset and increased both the Saturation and Saturation Boost settings to intensify the colors.
5. One more layer to bring out the shadow details.
Duplicate the layer that was just created in Step 4 with Topaz Adjust. Now, apply the B&W Effects to this layer using the same Steel Cyan preset. Topaz Adjust emphasized the contrast in the details and the B&W Effects will create a look that blends perfectly with the darker image.
6. Blending the Layers together.
Now the fun part! Take a look at my layer stacking order. The layer from Step 5 is on the top, followed by the layer from Step 3 and then Step 4. I am using masks on these layers to selective reveal the parts that I want in the final composite image. The based image is the night-time blue from Step 3 (labeled “B&W Effects”). I added a mask to this layer and painted with black in the mask to reveal the electric colors from the Step 4 layer (labeled “topaz adjust”) below. My goal was to reveal the lights and reflections in the Step 4 layer and make those colors POP. To finish the composite, I added a mask to the Step 5 layer (labeled “topaz adjust + B&W Effects”) and painted black in the mask to selectively reveal more of the details in the shadow areas.
Once you are happy with the masks on each layer, take a look at how the layers work together. It is a good idea to adjust the opacity of each layer so that there is real blending between the layers. For example, the Step 5 layer (labeled “topaz adjust + B&W Effects”) I have set for an Opacity of 85% and the Step 3 layer (labeled “B&W Effects”) has an Opacity of 95%. You can even adjust the opacity on the Step 4 layer (labeled “topaz adjust”) to decrease the electric colors since you still have the original HDR layer underneath. It’s the power of using layers!
The final composite photo is very dramatic and only took a few minutes to create.