Geoff shoots Tower Bridge and tells you how
With the advent of winter and the fact I have no other trips planned for a few months I thought it would be a good time to start a project I’ve had in mind for a while, night shots of London land marks. To make things more interesting I thought I’d document how each image was shot and processed with the hope that it might help others. Also that people might pipe up with their own thoughts and processes, therefore teaching me a thing or two. I had a personal victory with my night shot HDR of Prague from the other week so wanted to expand on those ideas for the first image, an HDR of something shiny. I’m not going to go too in depth into how everything was done, if you want more info on using Photomatix, adjustment layers in photoshop or anything else I brush over here, there’s plenty of amazing tutorials around on line, but feel free to ask me in the comments as well.
There’s nothing overly special about this shot as regards to composition. It’s the same sot from the same perspective that’s been done a million times before, I decided to focus all on the post production.
The wee image to the left is the setup on the night. It’s my 7d, Sigma 17-50 f2.8 and my 3legged thing Eric. 3legged thing make amazing tripods, I won this tripod so feel I should mention it, it’s the only thing I’ve ever won except for a New Zealand Herald colouring competition when I was 5, I won some candy, I’m pretty sure it was just a “you entered prize!”, but still…
I also used my Kenko polarising filter, even though it was dark it still made the bridge leap out from the background.
This is a 3 shot HDR, a normal exposure and 2 more, each +/- 2ev at f8. I had a small problem when I shot this that I didn’t notice till I got home. With my polariser on and at f8 my ideal exposure length was 30 seconds, this created a problem when I let the camera decide my bracketing as 30 seconds is the longest automatic exposure length my camera can do, so i got two 30 second exposures and one 8 second :/
This hopefully won’t happen again.
To get around this my +2v exposure is my standard exposure boosted 2 stops in Lightroom, here they are:
So how have I put this together?
First I removed the noise in each source image using Nik Effex Difine.
Then I ran the images through Photomatix Pro to create the HDR. I find people usually slam the settings in Photomatix, or whatever HDR software they’re using. When I adjust the settings all I’m looking to achieve is an image with all the tonal detail in it. Whack the strength up to max, adjust the smoothing so there is no nasty halos and tweak the micro contrast to suit, that’s pretty much it. The final image will look dull and lifeless, the image on the left is what I ended up with:
Pretty bland, but we’re not done yet. Remember, all I wanted was to make sure I had all the detail there, detail in the shadows and detail in the highlights without any nasty artefacts, I’m pretty happy with this so far. I’ve also used the skew adjustment in Photoshop to remove the converging verticals of the towers. I do this a lot to my images and to be honest I’m still a little slap happy when I apply it, but practice makes perfect.
So now I’ve got a pretty bland looking HDR image. The next step was to apply some saturation and contrast adjustments. For this I used (and almost always use) Nik Effex Viveza, the structure slider also features pretty heavily. You can be pretty heavy handed with the structure slider, I usually slam it up to 50% and then tweak it from there. The saturation and contrast controls need a slightly gentler hand, usually both of these are hovering between 5-15%, I forget what this was set to:
Now it’s stating to look like a thing. Only those blue and yellow lights are stabbing me in the eyes and giving me a headache. Two quick saturation adjustment layers sorted this out, one taking the harshness out of the yellow (this happily was applied to the whole image as there aint no yellow anywhere else). The other removed the blue, but I used a layer mask so it only effected the bright lights at the base of the towers and their reflections. I’ve also added a subtle level adjustment to add a bit more contrast, the towers have been masked on this layer as the adjustment really darkened them down which I didn’t want. Here’s a screen shot showing you roughly what I did, hopefully it makes sense, you can kinda make out the masks:
Finally I’ve added 2 exposure adjustment layers, one for the sky and one for the river, to darken them down by just over 2 stops. I used a straight gradient mask on the river and painted in the sky as you can see in the screen shot. Then final curves and levels adjustment layers to alter the overall contrast, masking out the bits I didn’t want effected, which was basically the highlights and towers.
So that’s the final image. I’m pretty happy with it, the only thing I don’t like is the river, most of the river is nice and blurred but the reflection of the right tower is not so blurred. Basically Photomatix has used the darkest shot there, which at 8 seconds wast’t long enough to create a nice blur. I tried manually underexposing that section from the other image and using it but it was just too over exposed and had no detail to pull back. I tried using the blur filters in Photoshop on that section but it just looked awful, so in the end I’ve left it as it is.
What do you think? How could I have improved on this? Tower bridge isn’t far away so I could re-shoot on day. Would you have done any thing differently, particularly with the post production?