Workflow Friday: Roger Madsen

Photoshop Workflows

This week we welcome another exceptional photographer to our Workflow Fridays series, Roger Madsen. I don’t recall where I first encountered Roger and his work but I’ve always thought there was something really compelling about it. I always appreciate it when there is more to a photo than the technical – framing, composition, color, tone, texture, etc. – and it actually tells a story, captures more than the moment, and draws you in and transports you to another place entirely. Much of Roger’s work makes me want to be there, and inspires me to be better, myself.

 Thanks for sharing with us today, Roger!

Last fall I took a one week trip to London and Paris. My creativity was pretty low at that time and one thing that always works for me to get it going again is to travel somewhere. So I took a plane to London and spent a few days there shooting and then I took the train under the English Channel to Paris and spent another few days there shooting before I flew back home to Sweden again with some great images. The picture I was most satisfied with from that trip was the one below of the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

Roger Madsen - Eiffel Tower - Final

One thing I often do when I arrive to a place that I want to photograph is to walk into a tourist shop and look at postcards. Not to just copy and get the same images myself but to be inspired and get ideas. The angle in which this image is shot is pretty common on postcards in Paris although on every postcard I saw it was shot at night when the tower is lit and with a completely black sky. I wanted to shoot a similar picture but at sunset with a more interesting sky and in HDR converted to black and white. Getting a more interesting sky is of course not something that you can just choose to get whenever you want to but as
you can see I was pretty lucky that day.

I will just describe what HDR is very briefly here if you’re not familiar with it. HDR stands for high dynamic range. Sometimes the dynamic range in the camera is not enough. You either get blown out highlights or completely black areas in your image. This is when HDR can be a solution. You shoot a couple of images with different exposure, some that have details in the shadows and some that have details in the highlights and then combine them to one high dynamic range image.

Here’s my step by step guide to how I post processed the image of the Eiffel Tower.

Step 1.
First step is to combine my different exposures in Photomatix. Photomatix is pretty much the standard software to use for HDR today but there is a new software out called HDR MAX that might be interesting to check out too. I haven’t tried it myself yet though. You can actually do HDR’s in Photoshop too but I don’t recommend even trying that. You will for sure get a headache.

I shot this image with seven different exposures but I only used three in Photomatix. That’s usually the way I do it. I set my camera to bracket 7 or sometimes even 9 shots and then I pick three different exposures from those that I think will work best. It also depends on the subject I’m photographing, how much dynamic range I actually need. Sometimes I use four or five images. It’s better to shoot to many exposures and end up using just a few than to shoot too few exposures and not having enough dynamic range. Here’s the three exposures I used for this image.

Roger Madsen - Eiffel Tower - Exposures

I don’t do any adjustments at all on my RAW images before I open them in Photomatix. I just open them just as I shot them straight from the hard drive on my computer. If I need to do any cropping on my image, which I didn’t in this case I also do that after I have combined my exposures in Photomatix.

Step 2.
I have now opened my three different exposures in Photomatix by hitting the generate HDR button and then choosing my three images. Now I have some settings to deal with before I can generate my HDR.

Roger Madsen - Eiffel Tower - HDR Options

I shot this with a tripod so I will not check the align source images check-box because I know all my images are perfectly aligned to begin with. The number one rule when shooting HDR is to use a tripod so I never check this box.

The other check box, attempt to reduce ghosting artifacts is a bit more tricky. It should help you get a better result if you have something in your images that has moved during the exposures like trees that are moving because of the wind. If there is something that could have been moving between my exposures then I usually try different settings here to see which one works best. I probably did have some very small movements in the clouds in this image and I have tried all the different settings but I didn’t see any difference. So for the final image I choose to not have this box checked.

For this image that will be in black and white I don’t really care about the white balance and just choose as shot.

Now I hit ok and let Photomatix do its magic.

Step 3.
The tone mapping step. This is the hardest part. At least the hardest part to explain. There are so many settings here and I wonder if there is anyone that knows what every single one of them do. I just drag different sliders around until I have something that I’m satisfied with. One thing to be careful with though is the light smoothing setting. This is where it can go very wrong. I usually have this set to high or very high. Many people seem to like to have it set to low (at least if you search for HDR on Flickr) and that will give you some really creepy looking pictures with halos and all kinds of stuff. To get a pretty natural looking image set this to high or very high.

I always set the black and white point slider to zero. I feel more comfortable doing this with a levels adjustment in Photoshop after I’m done in Photomatix. Here are the settings I used for this image.

Roger Madsen - Eiffel Tower - Tone Mapping

When I’m done with my settings I hit process and then I save the resulting image as a 16 bit TIFF. Now it’s time to play around in Photoshop!

Step 4.
This is the output image from Photomatix. I think the colors looks a bit strange but as I said before I knew from the beginning that I wanted it in black and white so I don’t put any effort into correcting that.

Roger Madsen - Eiffel Tower - Photomatix Output

 The first thing I did in Photoshop was to add a levels adjustment layer to lighten up the image a bit and also set the black and white point. To add a adjustment layer go into the Layers menu and then New adjustment layer. Here you will find all the different adjustment layers. The rest of this tutorial is all about adding different adjustment layers so I will just describe how to do that once here.

Roger Madsen - Eiffel Tower - Photoshop Levels

 Step 5.
Then I converted the image to black & white by adding a black and white adjustment layer. I pretty much always use the black and white adjustment layer for conversions and I also 90% of the time use one of the standard preset (Red filter, yellow filter and so on). In this image I used the red filter preset. I at least start by going through the presets to get a good starting point and then if I think it’s needed, which I usually don’t, I will tweak it a little.

Roger Madsen - Eiffel Tower - Black & White

 Step 6.
The levels and black and white adjustments has already added some contrast to the image but I wanted more so I added a curves adjustment layer with a s-curve.

 Roger Madsen - Eiffel Tower - Photoshop Curves

Step 7.
To get a more metallic feel to the Eiffel Tower I added just a touch of split toning effect to the whole image with a color balance adjustment layer. Giving the highlights a warm tone and the shadows a cold tone.

Roger Madsen - Eiffel Tower - Split Toning

That’s it! Any questions? I will keep an eye on the comments here for a while if you have any questions or just send me an email to the address you can find on my web page and I will be happy to answer your questions.

Thanks Roger!  Check out more from Roger by visiting his blog today!

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