I was asked whether one of my recent landscape pictures had used any filters - having broken the bank buying Lee Filters it was reasonable to assume I would be getting my money’s worth out of them. I answered with some glib response about how I hadn’t but used Lightroom CC and its Merge To HDR function along with some other editing controls to produce the final image. When the response was along the lines of ‘What did you do??’ I suggested a tutorial which was warmly received. So here it goes. The landscape (or seascape if you prefer) in question was one of my recent barge project pictures.
It started, as many of my pictures do, with a load of bracketed exposures. The above image is actually made up of six images in total although two of them were the same exposure. The Fuji X-T1 can take three bracketed images with one press of the shutter. I took two sets of bracketed exposures with shutter speeds ranging from 1/15th second down to 1 second. You can see the image details in the screen shot below. Bracketing exposures basically means taking additional images either side of the ‘correct’ metered exposure to get one or more slightly under-exposed images and one or more slightly over exposed pictures.
The next stage in Lightroom CC is to merge the six images into a single High Dynamic Range (HDR) image. Dynamic range refers to the number of stops of light from the brightest areas through to the darkest areas. The higher the dynamic range the more stops of light you capture. This can now be done directly in Lightroom instead of needing a third party piece of software like Photomatix or using Photoshop. Select all of the images using CMD click on a Mac or Control click on Windows, then right click to get the context sensitive menu and select the Photo Merge -> HDR option.
Lightroom will then attempt to merge the selected images into a single file. The real beauty of using Lightroom to merge the files is that it creates a raw image final which maintains much more file information than a JPEG file would if you were using something like Photomatix to create your HDR image. This will be important after we have merged the files and use the Lightroom Exposure, Shadows and Highlights sliders.
After Lightroom has merged the files it will show you a combined preview image as shown below.
Clicking on Merge will cause Lightroom to merge the files together and create a new file in your Lightroom library. By default the file name will be the filename of the first file in the merged set with -HDR appended to it and it will be an Adobe DNG raw file. Double clicking on the new file in the Library module will open it to full screen mode.
We now need to start work on our merged image so we need to click on the Develop tab to move into the Lightroom Develop module.
The first thing we need to do is bring the overall brightness down. The image was taken at night but Lightroom has assumed we want a much brighter image using the full range of brightness from our six individual images. Use the exposure slider to take the overall brightness down.
The problem now is that we have lost a lot of detail in the barge but because we are working with a raw file we can recover that detail using the Shadows slider. We are going to push it all the way up to 100.
Note that the position of the Highlights, Shadows, Whites and Blacks sliders will vary depending on how Lightroom merges the images. You can adjust them as much as you like to suit your personal taste - because the image is a night time shot I could take the whites down more to darken the image further but Highlights is already at -100 so cannot be reduced.
The sky is still to bright compared to the original scene but if I reduce the exposure anymore the barge will become to dark and detail will be lost. I have already pushed the Shadows to its highest setting. I want to apply quick darkening of the sky so to do this I will use the Lightroom Graduated Filter tool. This is the rectangle in the middle of the tool bar just below the histogram display.
Click at the top of the image and drag the centre line down. The top line marks the full effect of the graduated filter and the bottom line marks the end of the graduation - no effect. Now move the Exposure slider to the left to darken the sky. You can also apply effects like colour saturation. When you are happy with the effect click on Done.
The raw images a camera produces will not include information like scene modes which apply in-camera colour saturation, sharpening etc. Consequently the colours can seem a little flat. Using raw files allows us to make decisions about how much saturation and sharpening we want to apply to the image instead of taking what the camera gives us. To boost the colours (either to render them as we remember the actual scene or to apply some ‘artistic license’) we can use the Clarity, Vibrance and Saturation sliders.
The clarity slider will boost the edge contrast giving a sharpening effect. Push the clarity to the right to increase it. Be careful not add too much clarity because it can make the edges look a bit unnatural.
The Vibrance slider will boost colour saturation on the softer more pastel like colours before boosting saturation all over.
The Saturation slider will increase saturation across the whole image the more you push it to the right.
Lightroom is non-destructive, this means that we have not affected the original image in anyway and we can always reset our changes and start over. Also we can go back and change any of the settings we have applied including things like the graduated filter. I think there is still some scope to darken the sky down some more. Clicking on the Graduated Filter tool will bring the original gradient up (click on the small dot to select it) and I can adjust the exposure slider more to darken the sky.
Okay, finishing touches. We are going to open the image in Photoshop and apply a textured background to give it that ‘canvas feel’.
Open the image in Photoshop by right clicking gone the image and selecting the Edit In->Edit in Adobe Photoshop CC 2014 (or whatever version).
When Photoshop opens click on the New Layer icon on the bottom right (next to the waste bin and looking like a piece of paper with the corner turned over. Make sure the new layer (probably Layer 1) is selected and then click on the Paint Bucket Tool. Use the Color swatch on the right of the screen to select a light brown colour.
Now in the Photoshop menu go to Filter->Noise->Add Noise and select Gaussian and an amount of about 12.5% and click on OK.
Double click on the layer thumbnail in the Layers palette to bring up the layer style dialog. Select Bevel & Emboss and the Texture options and click on OK.
This should create a basic texture as shown below.
Change the blend mode from Normal to Multiply and reduce the opacity down to about 40%
This applies the texture to the image but the multiply blend mode and colour toning also has the effect of darkening it. Use a Brightness/Contrast layer to brighten the image.
Adjust the brightness to suit and we are done!
I hasten to add this worked example is a slightly different texture to the one posted on my website and at the top of this blog. Also I have used slightly different settings in Lightroom for exposure, shadows, highlights, clarity, vibrance and saturation but this tutorial should show the basic methodology I used to get to my final image.
Robert’s your mother’s brother as they say!