Friday, January 14, 2011

We're Back And Thanks For Asking

At first glance it might seem to be a strange image on a day when it’s minus two degrees outside as I start this post, but this is a shot of where we’ve been for the past couple of weeks.  Today’s image is of part of the waterfront in Marigot, St. Maarten in the Caribbean.  We were down there last year also, but before we left I had put five postings “in the can”.  This year, things were too hectic to get a few ready and I just needed a break.  We were on a cruise with Norwegian Cruise Lines.  We’ve done a cruise in either January or February for about the last ten years.  While in St. Martin/St. Maarten we’ve snorkeled, done tours, walked the main shopping areas and just about anything else we could think of.  This year we rented a car for the day and did a pretty thorough tour of the island.  We knew that Marigot was our destination and wound our way around the island with the objective of getting to Marigot at lunchtime.  We timed it fairly well, but had a bit of a hike to get into town from where we parked the car.  To give you an idea, the car is around the corner, behind the hill you see in the shot.  The buildings you see in the shot appear to be hotels.  One is and one isn’t.  The building on the right is a shopping mall.  It’s about four floors of shops.  The entire town is shops and restaurants, but someone thought there needed to be a few more and went up when they couldn’t go out.  Today’s image is treated.  To find out how, hit the “read more”.
Today’s image is a three shot HDR image, with a non-HDR sky. I shot a five shot burst, hand held, with the camera set on high speed shutter and auto-bracketing by one stop per shot. That produced images that were -2.3, -1.3, -0.3, +0.67, and +1.67. Minus point three is pretty much the “standard” setting I leave on the camera 99% of the time. It gives a little better color saturation than a 0.0 setting. From the five shots I pick the two extremes and the “normal” shot to give Adobe Photoshop CS5’s HDR Pro something to start from. One more shot was used to get the “non-HDR” clouds. That was the lower middle exposure (the -1.3).

Because the shot was made hand held there was a very slight variation in alignment from shot to shot. HDR Pro’s “Remove Ghosts” algorithm does a great job at selecting one of the images to be the base image and eliminating the ghost from the scene. The issue/problem comes trying to put in the clouds. Since HDR Pro “tweaked” which shot was the base shot and there are slight differences is each shot, aligning the clouds was a trick. The way around it was to lower the Opacity of the top (non HDR) Layer to about 50%, and use Free Transform (Ctrl T) to Rotate and move the images into alignment. Rather than use a mouse or a pen and tablet, the cursor keys were used to “nudge” (that’s an actual Adobe Photoshop term) the top image one pixel at a time. Since the two images weren’t grossly off from one another it wasn’t a really big deal. The easiest way to do this is to enlarge the heck out of the image and find something that can match up easily. In this case it was the sculpture about a quarter of the way in from the left. Part of the sculpture is some chains hanging near the tip. They provided both “x” and “y” references and made the alignment reasonably easy.

Once the layers were aligned the Quick Selection Tool (W) was used to select the sky. It didn’t need an incredibly precise mask, so the choice made by the QST was “good enough”. Because of the palm trees and the hillside there’s no way to see if there are skips in the coverage. I was taken aback when the mask was applied. It didn’t seem to cover the HDR clouds as well as I thought it might. The “aha” moment came when I remembered I hadn’t brought the Opacity back up to 100%. Once that was done the clouds looked as expected.

The Main image was adjusted for individual colors using Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layers. Sharpening, vignetting and noise reduction were done in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3.

One last thing. I’d like to thank those readers who kept checking to see if there were new postings on the blog and especially those who sent emails saying “what’s up, are you okay”. Yup, everything is fine. We were just on vacation. Thanks for asking.