Thursday, October 4, 2012

Wednesday Q&A: HDR Lookalike

There's an old commercial in the US where the question is asked "is it real, or is it ...".  The debate that rages today is HDR.  Some people love it, some hate it and some are ambivalent.  I'm kind of in the third classification.  Some of it is really interesting.  My buddy Lorri does great HDR images, but if you look on any of the photo sharing sites you can find a lot of junk HDR.  Today's image is a four shot panorama, but not HDR.  It does have an HDR "look", but never went through any of the common HDR programs or Adobe Photoshop CS6's (CS6) HDR Toning (Image/Adjustments/HDR Toning).  It did include trips over to Nik Software's Color Efex Pro 4 and to CS6 to replace a really boring sky, but the major magic happened in LR4 (or it could have been done in Adobe Camera Raw [ACR]).  To find out about the "magic", hit the "Read More".

Magic?  There's no such thing.  If you take some flour, a couple of eggs, some water, a little flavoring and maybe some sugar, you have a cake.  It's not magic, it's a recipe.  In fact, Color Efex Pro has a button called "Save Recipe".  It doesn't say anything about "save the magic". 

The first step is making the panorama.  From LR4 you'd select the set of shots that would make up the pano and go to Photo/Edit In/ Merge to Panorama in Photoshop.  You can, just as easily, make a pano in Adobe Photoshop Elements 11.  Chose the "auto" option and make sure the Vignette Removal  checkbox is in the selected mode.  Depending on how the series was shot you may wind up with an hourglass shaped image.  In today's image, since it was going to be cropped to a 1 x 3 ratio, it didn't present any problems.  The image was sent back to LR4 (ACR) for cropping and touching up.

In LR4 (ACR) the image was given a lot of Clarity (in the Basic Panel).  The Highlights were brought up (farther than you would think) and the Shadows opened up (again, more than you would think).  Blacks were brought down to restore some contrast. 

Next was a trip to Nik Software's Color Efex Pro 4 (CEP4).  Guess what?  It was sharpened again there using just about every option that offers any sharpening.  How about Contrast Color Range, Contrast Only, Detail Extractor, and Tonal Extractor.  Might have been others tossed in too.  By the time it got back to LR4, the sky was a mess.

That meant it needed a trip over to CS6 to replace the sky.  I basically knew what type of sky I was interested in, but the one I had in my stash of skies wasn't big enough.  A simple stretching made it look stupid.  I decided to book match the clouds as a method of enlarging the sky.  That usually ends up being pretty obvious.  To avoid that the sky was changed using Free Transform (CTRL T).  The sky was tilted on about a 30 degree angle and matching (obvious) sections were either removed (using a Layer Mask)  or lightened or darkened.  This redefined the sky.

Using the Quick Selection Tool (W) the sky of the original pano was selected and saved (Save Selection) to have it available in any later situation.  With the sky still selected, a Layer Mask was applied to the cloud Layer.  If (as in this case) the sky covers the city, simply Invert The Mask (CTRL I [eye]) and the new sky will be in the right area of the pano.  From there, the last step was to put a Curves Adjustment Layer with a Clipping Mask on the sky and match the look of the sky to the look of the city.