How I Did It…. Part 1

So I’ve never claimed to be a Photoshop expert. I’ve never had a Photoshop class or even a photography class. Everything I know I’ve learned by experimenting or by reading information on the web (I’ll provide a few great links at the bottom of this post).
I don’t mind sharing any techniques I use, but keep in mind that there are hundreds of ways to achieve a result in Photoshop. What I’ll show you is one way that I’ve learned and works well for me.

If you want to know “How I Did It” for any photo on my flickr photostream, leave me a comment on this page or send me a flickr mail. I’ll be glad to make it my next “How I Did It” entry!

For my first tutorial, I’ll show every step I took to turn this:
into this:
Capitol Hill

First of all, this shot is an HDR shot comprised of 3 photos, each at different exposures (-2, 0, +2) or (1/400, 1/100, 1/25). I used a tripod to avoid any movement.
Here are the 3 SOOC (straight out of camera) raw images converted to jpeg (always shoot raw!):


These 3 raw images are opened directly into Photomatix to generate the HDR:

Once it’s finished processing, click the Tonemap button. I always tonemap using the details enhancer option. Here are my tonemap settings for this image:

(you may need to click on the image to get it to a readable size)
These settings could be different for every HDR you produce. You need to just play with the sliders until you find what you are looking for. I’ve found a setting that I like and actually works for most of my HDR’s. If that’s the case, you can save the settings and re-use them in Photomatix. All of my flickr HDR images have the tonemapping settings available to view. On the right side bar of any image, under the camera information there’s a link that says “More Properties”. Click there and you can find the settings.
Once I got the settings I wanted, I saved as a .tif and opened it in Photoshop CS2:

The first thing I always do in Photoshop is a levels adjustment:

The second adjustment I do is a slight curves adjustment:

Next, I sharpen the background layer using Filter >> Sharpen >> Unsharpen Mask:

These first 3 steps are done almost the same way just about every time I process a photo. After that, it depends on the photo and the look I’m going for. For this one, I wanted to really darken the clouds and give it a dark ominous feel.
So at this point, the sky was fairly noisy. So I did a “Stamp Visual” (ctrl-shift-alt e). This merges all the layers into one layer on top. I then did a Filter >> Noise >> Reduce Noise:

These are pretty heavy settings so I masked out the bottom part of the photo (trees and building) so I wouldn’t loose any detail there. Then I did another “Stamp Visual” (ctrl-shift-alt e).

At this point, I used a large “Burn” tool brush and brushed the sky:

For the Burn tool, “Ranges” was set to Midtones, and “Exposure” was at 60%

Next, I thought the sky was still to noisy so I did another “Stamp Visual” (ctrl-shift-alt e) and ran the “Reduce Noise” filter again with the same settings, again masking out the trees and building.

The next step is a trick that I discovered accidentally while trying out selective color processing. Duplicate the image and convert it to black and white:

Then, holding down the shift key, drag the black and white image on top of the color – making the black and white image a layer for the image you are working on. Put that layer in “Multiply” blend mode:

This really adds the dark tones and contrast. I tend to use this a lot as I really like the strong contrast in my images.

The last step is something I’ve been doing to a lot of my photos lately. It’s a small, easy step but It makes just enough difference in the outcome of the photo.
Start a “Color Balance” layer:

Click on “Shadows” and make the “Color Levels” read -5, 0, 5
Then click on “highlights and have them read 5, 0, -5

And that’s it! Here is the Result:
Capitol Hill
Save the PSD and save it as a jpeg to upload to flickr!

I hope this helps some, or at least gives you some ideas. If you have any questions, feel free to send me a flickr mail – I don’t mind trying to help. And as I mentioned above, if there is a photo in my photostream that you want to see here in the “How I Did It”
posts just let me know.

Here are some helpful links for learning more about HDR:
Stuck in Customs
HDR Exposed
HDR (a flickr group)
Tutorial Collection at My First HDR flickr group

Helpful links for learning more about Photoshop:
Photoshop Support Group
Photoshop Tutorials by Allan Gengler
Actions by Allan Gengler
CoffeeShop Actions

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9 responses

  1. Great tutorial Malcolm, and a great blog! I need to start updating mine more regularly! I will be a frequent visitor!

    April 28, 2010 at 6:58 am

  2. Very cool info Malcolm. The final product is spectacular. You’ve got some impressive skills! Keep up the good work

    April 28, 2010 at 10:57 am

  3. Jair

    What a fantastic tutorial! I can’t wait to try it! Thanks again Malcolm!

    April 28, 2010 at 10:31 pm

  4. Thanks for sharing your work flow Malcolm. I’m just a newbie in photography and glad to read such kind of tips like this…God Bless.

    May 6, 2010 at 1:50 am

  5. Pingback: How I Did It…. Part 2 | Malcolm MacGregor Photography

  6. Pingback: How I Did It – Part 3 « Malcolm MacGregor Photography

  7. Pingback: How I did it – Part 4 « Malcolm MacGregor Photography

  8. Pingback: How I Did It – Part 5 « Malcolm MacGregor Photography

  9. Pingback: How I Did It – Part 6 « Malcolm MacGregor Photography

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