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Post-Processing in Photoshop

Out of the three tone-mapped images we just saw, I really like the look from HDR Efex Pro. There are quite a few imperfections in the image, though. Thankfully, all of them are very easily correctable. A couple of clicks, and you can turn this image into something special.

Step One:

Whether it’s a dusty sensor or rain on the front of your lens (as was the case here), spots or specks in your photo will immediately appear magnified on the tone mapped image. While they’re distracting in an otherwise normal picture, they scream, “Look at me!” in a tone mapped image. So, let’s take care of them first. When you look at a photo full-screen, it may look good, but you may see a host of problems when you zoom into it. You should always zoom in to 100% to get the best idea of whether the image needs a little bit of spot work. When I zoomed in here, I saw all of the distracting areas marked with arrows. Ouch!

Step Two:

For fixing spots on a background, the Patch tool (press Shift-J until you have it) does very well. Sometimes, it can be a little repetitive, though, so here’s a quick tip to help you: Instead of making one selection and dragging it immediately to patch, press-and- hold the Shift key after your first selection is made and then make another selection around another spot. This way, you can select a series of spots and once you have all of them selected, you can then drag them in one fell swoop and get rid of them.

Step Three:

Sometimes, you’ll work in high-contrast areas with a dark area next to a light area, like the side of this building. Trying to patch this will leave you with something worse than what you already have because of that contrast. So, instead of patching, create a new layer, zoom in really close, and make a selection of the offending area with the Lasso tool (L). Make sure you include only the area that you want to fix, and stay as close as you can to the building edge (the more you zoom in, the easier it will be to make the selection. This is also where a Wacom pen really shines).

Step Four:

Using the Clone Stamp tool (S), Option-click (PC: Alt-click) on some of the sky above this selected area to sample it. With a low Flow setting (up in the Options Bar) and the Sample pop-up menu set to All Layers, paint the sky back in inside your selection. If your Flow setting is low enough, you should be able to make this area look good without a second step. (Note: If the selection border is getting in your way, you can hide it by pressing Command-H [PC: Ctrl-H]. Just don’t forget to deselect when you’re done.) There are times, however, where the edge of the selection will look very “painted in” because of the color of the cloned area (as seen here). This edge will have to be feathered out a bit.

Step Five:

Merge your cloned layer into the Background layer, switch back to the Patch tool, and only select the very edge of the area. Once you have that selected, drag it just a tiny bit away from the building and it should feather itself out, giving you a smoother transition. You may need to use a small Clone Stamp brush to fix the edge of your cloning just above the lower roof.

Step Six:

Now, you’ll notice that tone mapping an image can introduce a bit of color contamination in some areas. When things you expect to be a certain color look different, it automatically makes the viewer question the authenticity of the image. So, a small adjustment can go a long way here. In this image, the green of the grass has been enhanced to look great, but that green color has transferred itself to the walls of the small buildings at the front left and front right of the picture. You wouldn’t look at this scene in person and see green walls, so we’re going to need to fix that.

Step Seven:

Add a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer (we covered this on page 78). In the Adjustments panel, change the second pop-up menu from the top to Greens, and then change the Hue from its present green color to another color. Keep in mind that it’s going to affect the entire image right now, so just focus on what the wall looks like. Then, press Command-I (PC: Ctrl-I) to Invert the mask and make it black, hiding all of the color change.

Select the Brush tool (B) and with a soft, round brush, paint with white on the mask, revealing the color change you made on the walls. Also, change the Flow setting of the brush, up in the Options Bar, to somewhere around 50%, so you slowly paint in the change on the image.

Step Eight:

In film photography, we used to put a filter on our lens to change the color of the scene to match a specific taste. While we can still do this with our DSLRs, making the change in post-production allows you to selectively make those changes to the image, giving more realism to the image. Much of the Capitol building looks great, but it seems that the tone mapping has left the top portion of the building a little blue. Because we don’t expect the colors to shift so dramatically on the face of the building, it’s a good idea for us to apply a warm Photo Filter to the image, hide it, and paint in only the areas we want to keep.

Step Nine:

Click on the Create New Adjustment Layer icon and select Photo Filter. In the Adjustments panel, you’ll notice that you can select from a series of Filter presets, or a specific color. Here, we’ll choose Warming Filter (85) as the start of the effect. Then, invert the mask, hiding the effect behind a black mask. With the Brush tool still active, choose a soft, round brush at a lower Flow, and paint in white on the layer mask to reveal that effect only on the top of the Capitol building.

Step 10:

There are times when you look at an image and, while you don’t really know what looks wrong from a color point of view, you know something doesn’t look right. In cases like this, Color Balance is one of the simpler adjustments to use. In this example, it appears that the building and foreground look great, but the sky could have more blue in it, making the night look a little bit colder. So, we’ll add some additional colors with a Color Balance adjustment layer.

Step 11:

Add a Color Balance adjustment layer. In the Adjustments panel, you’ll see three sliders that you can adjust for shadows, midtones, and highlights. In this instance, we’ll leave the Tone set to Midtones, and drag the Yellow/Blue slider a little bit to the right to get some more blue in the image. As we did before, we’ll invert the mask, then choose a soft, round brush with a low Flow setting (about 50%), and paint in white on the layer mask, revealing the color change only in the sky area.

Step 12:

Now, while a tone mapped file can certainly provide a lot of contrast in images, there are times when you’ll want some portions of the image to pop out more than others. Curves adjustment layers are a great way to do this. A simple S-curve and a layer mask, and you’re good! In this image, the one thing I’d like is for the building to pop out from the rest of the environment, so let’s add a quick S-curve to add contrast, hide that added contrast, and paint back in the building at the higher contrast.

Step 13:

Add a Curves adjustment layer. In the Curves graph in the Adjustments panel, click on the line in the lower-left portion of the curve to add a point. Drag that point downward slightly, and the dark areas in that range will be made even darker (as you see here). Click again, this time on the upper-right portion of the curve, to add another point, and drag it up slightly to brighten up the highlights in the image. From here, you can adjust the contrast to your taste. Then, invert the layer mask, get a soft, round brush set to a low Flow (about 50%), and paint in white on the layer mask over the Capitol building, revealing the added contrast only on the building.

Adding that contrast to the small buildings on the sides made them greener again, so I clicked back on my Hue/Saturation adjustment layer, switched the second pop-up menu to Greens, and reduced the Saturation and increased the Lightness. I also switched it to Yellows, changed the Hue a little, then reduced the Saturation and increased the Lightness. See the next page for a before/after.

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