Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Another Day, Another Connecticut Skyline In Photoshop

Well, if you read the previous post I was supposed to be posting about calibrating my lenses using the Spyder Lenscal device.  I didn't get around to it because my tripod was in the trunk of the car and the car wasn't here.  Ya can't calibrate a lens hand held.  You can, however, make panoramas hand held.  In fact, most of the panos I do are hand held.  One reason is that "most" are done in the bright sunlight with a shutter speed of 1/500th or more and this particular image had an F-stop of F 14.  Lots of DOF (Depth of Field).  The big deal was the brilliant blue sky and the row after row of clouds.  Lately we've been seeking out the skylines of Connecticut cities.  So far, the best (read that as easiest)  have been the ones on the water.  Either the Connecticut River or along the Long Island shore.  We don't have a whole lot of access to boats, so we've had to find places with either established parks or outcroppings with views of the cities.  Today's image isn't exactly straight out of the camera (but then again, not many of my images are) and the use of Adobe Photoshop CS6 was liberally applied.  To find out what "tricks" were used to finish the image, hit the "Read More".
It's always "good practice" to shoot panos with the camera in a vertical (portrait) orientation.  It gives you more height to work with and it really doesn't matter how many shots you need to take to get your full width.  If you read any of the "purists", they'll tell you you need a specialized head for your tripod and a single meter reading so the exposure matches across the sweep of the panorama.  Bologna!   With reasonable camera technique you can fire away and get good results.  I typically shoot a series of images for a panorama using Aperture Priority (with an eye on the Shutter Speed).  I'm fairly quick but also very deliberate in my camera movement.  Once I click the shutter for the first image (99% of the time it's the left hand side of the scene) I'll look at the right side of the view finder to see what's there.  Maintaining an even horizon (as best as possible) I'll move to the right until the distinguishing feature I saw on the right is now on the left of the view finder.  I'll click and repeat until I get to the right side end of the scene.  I've seen people rotate around their waist to get the rotation through the scene.  That only works so far.  After a while you just can't twist anymore.  What I do is a foot shuffle around the scene.  Every shot or two I'll shuffle my feet to get the scene a little more square to my body.  It works very well with a little practice.  One of the benefits is that you won't get as much of an hourglass effect as a simple twist will give.
Once all the individual images are "in the can" it's time to let Photoshop do its magic.  The latest issue of Outdoor Photography (October 2012) has an article by George Lepp.  I love to read his column and usually hang on his every word, but wow, his piece about assembling a pano is, in my opinion, way too hard to do.  He talks about hand aligning each image.  Ouch!  Since about CS4 (or maybe even CS3) Photoshop has had an amazing ability to figure out how to automatically assemble panos.  Seamlessly blended with any vignetting removed and has given the masks to go along with each image.  The results are (99 % of the time) stunning.
So, Photoshop makes it a snap to assemble a panorama.  Many times (also 99 % of the time) you'll end up with what looks like a horizontal hourglass.  A portion of the top and bottom will neck in, leaving an area devoid of pixels.  In the past, the only recourse would be to crop the image to get rid of the blanks.  Since CS5 there's another way to "fix" those blank spots.  Enter Content Aware Fill (CAF).  The magicians at Adobe have come up with an algorithm to fill in those areas with, what appears to be, the missing data.  In today's image the bottom half of the image was Masked.  That way the CAF could only "see" the clouds.  By using this technique the possibility of getting any extraneous pieces of the buildings floating around in the middle of the sky was eliminated.  The clouds filled in beautifully, with no telltale signs of a "patch" being applied.  Same thing with the water area at the bottom of the frame. 
The first bit of "finishing" was to make a Selection of the sky using the Quick Selection Tool (W).  I zoomed way in and picked up any missed pieces using a combination of the Quick Selection Tool (W), the Magic Wand Tool (W), the Marquee Tool (M) and the Lasso Tool (L).  Refine Edge didn't pick up all the small interior pieces of the buildings where the sky shown through.  Once the Selection was made it was turned into an Alpha Channel (Select/Save Selection) so it could be used multiple times without needing to make new Selections each time.
The land area was then enhanced with HDR Toning, High Pass Sharpening, and trip over to Topaz Labs Topaz Adjust for the Detail Enhancer and Topaz Detail to bring out even more detail.  After that the Alpha Channel was brought back (Select/Load Selection) and the sky returned to its original condition.  The whole shooting match then went back to Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4 (LR4) and the tree area lining the waterfront was brightened using the Adjustment Brush, distinguishing it from the forested hills behind the city.
Next time you try a pano, rather than cropping, try using PS CS6's (or CS5 [but CS6's does work better]) CAF.  It really is amazing.