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Still Life in HDR

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Still Life in HDR
We will start with 3 RAW images (14 bit, 12 bit is fine also), each will be processed to maximize the detail in each layer.

The Darkest layer -  -2EV - I want to retain detail in the lamp and the curtain, so I'll lower the exposure, but add fill light for line up guidance. Often when you work with the shadow layer, it's too dark to align, if you add fill light, it will align better.  Lower the contrast a bit to get more detail in the shadow. This is a great trick by the way, if you lower the contrast, the colors won't pop as much, but you'll extract more detail in the shadows with less noise. Later on you can boost contrast where you need it.

The Middle Layer - 0EV - I want to extract detail from the table cloth and maybe the checker board. Add a little bit of contrast and maybe vibrance

The Bright Layer - +2EV - I want to retain detail in the wall paper, radiator, chair, and a few things in the shadow. In comparison to the other photos, this image won't have as much noise, since there will be very little shadow. Often you can over expose an image, then darken it a bit, doing so removes the noise, which can be removed from the final image. I'll push the Vibrance up a bit, I may add some contrast, and boost the Clarity a little bit. Clarity used on other layers will soften edges, sometimes the noise can be reduced, and you can introduce a subtle amount of blooming around objects and windows. However in the bright layer, I would deepen the clarity to retain a little more edge sharpness.

Next, enter the tone curve and adjust the sliders for each, get the best of each image. The main goal is to increase contrast and color. It should be clear and brighter where it needs to be. In this case I wanted the table to be bright, the checkers well defined, the curtains needed to maintain the lacy texture, etc.

The last step is the color control, set it to Luminosity, Slide each color back and forth and see if it makes the image look better. You can do many adjustments with this, it's a great though time consuming tool. It's the fourth tab in by the way. After adjustment, open all the images up and place them all into one file, it should have all 3 images in it as 3 layers. SAVE IT. This is very memory consuming and you'll need to save often or the computer could crash.

Let's begin
Raw images side by side - HDR Tutorial Mike Savad
You can sort of see the before and after images if look close at the thumbs. I'm currently showing what changes were made on the shadow layer. You can see I warmed the curtain, added red to the table, darkened the whiter tones in the lace to retain more detail.

Next, select them all in the layers palette,choose auto align (Photoshop CS3 and higher) You should do this step even if you used a tripod. I always shoot by hand, so nothing will line up perfectly. If your wondering why I didn't use a tripod - I find them clumsy, they get in the way and can slow you down. The tour on this house was 15min, it was crowded and rather dark. As it was I struggled with the shot, and made the guy rather impatient.

Align Images
everything lined up - HDR Tutorial Mike Savad
So now everything is aligned, If you followed this guide use the Difference command to nudge all the other layers into alignment. Note the top strip - those are other layers that were out of place, as you can see each image needed alignment.

Place the image with the most detail on top, followed by the next and so forth. In this case the shadow first, then middle, the  bright. Make a layer mask (the square with the circle in it) Download the Action and Brush pack Choose paint brush  using the shader/grunge brush and paint in the detail from the layer below.

I wanted detail in the chairs, board, cloth and some of the wall - as these are in shadow as you can see above. Unfortunally the wall underneath is noisy, but that will be fixed later on. The shader brush will provide a soft  scattered look, much like a brush stroke, it will look more natural than a round brush would make.

As you paint in the details, periodically turn the layer on and off to see any details you might have missed. When satisfied, compress this layer down.

Behind the mask
what it looks like with a mask on - HDR Tutorial Mike Savad
To show you what I removed from the shadow layer; to the right is the mask. This is for demonstration purposes only, normally you wouldn't bother looking at the mask by itself. As you can see, Most of the walls are gone, a little bit of the board, some table edge, chair, etc are now revealing the middle layer. If you look below and compare it to the one above this you can see the difference. There is a lot more detail now then there was before.

All the layers merged
next layer - HDR Tutorial Mike Savad
So here is the result, you can now see the wall and the right side is more defined.  Pulling detail out of shadows can be fun, if you look carefully you can now see that that checker board is really two books edge to edge.

While this does look brighter, I still want more detail in the floor, radiator, chair, and the junk on that shelf. So I'll load up the brightest image (+2EV ) again and reprocess it in the RAW converter. Concentrating on the brightness and  detail in those areas. Be sure to realign that layer before starting.

It seems that even the best plans won't work. While pushing the detail out of the shadow, I had far too much noise to be of any value for me. I was able to get more detail in the places I wanted, but the floor was too dark to start with, and (while you can't see it), has a lot of noise in it.

But I do have a fall back plan. You can replace sections of texture with a new image. I collect textures where ever I can, (this is a great use for a small camera). I use these textures to either replace something I don't like, or to enhance the color.

Replacing the wood
wood floor texture - HDR Tutorial Mike Savad
For the purists - this is Cheating. If the floor is too dark, if the wall is too blank, if there is writing you can't clone out, if you want a cracked wall but there isn't one, or cover one up; I use Plan B. This plan can actually enhance an image when you have an otherwise good shot but in a bad location. A table that is covered in dust, fingerprints or otherwise ugly looking can be covered with a new piece of wood. This technique will be used on the floor and that plain looking shelf.

The images don't have to be huge dimension wise, you can stretch a tiny file until it's large enough to fill your area. While you will have a loss of detail, it's in the background and blended in - it won't be noticed.

Going through my textures I came across this one,  it's  a bit worn and fits in the time period. The scale might be too large, but I can reduce the size and line them up together if I need more width. Insert the image into your picture. Make it a little transparent at first so you can align it. Adjust the angle with Free Transform, until it looks right to you. It should match the perspective of the item below it. In this case I used the wall and the lines in the floor to get it to look right. Don't worry if it overlaps the edges of other things, this will be masked later.

Overlaying the wood
placing the floor - HDR Tutorial Mike Savad
The wood texture, without any layer overlays.

Fade it in
placing the floor with overlays - HDR Tutorial Mike Savad
The one on the left is set to soft light, but it's too dark. The one on the right is another layer of  set to Normal, Faded to 20%

masking the floor - HDR Tutorial Mike Savad
Once you have placed the image where you want it to go. Scroll through the layer options and see what fits best for you. Typically for a wood overlay I will use two layers one on SOFT LIGHT, the other on MULTIPLY. Soft light will warm up the color to what is underneath, and Multiply will enhance the dark areas of the texture creating a more realistic look. Along the way, I will use Curves or Contrast to balance out the tones.

In this image, I tried Multiply first, but the floor looked too dark and was not enhanced  at all. Instead I used Soft light for one layer set to 100%, and created another layer with Normal settings, but faded it to 20%. This gave me warm tones that looked like an old floor, yet still had character. Turn off one layer, work on the soft layer first.

But it's overlapping the table cloth.

Create a mask, A black mask - Hold ALT and hit the mask icon (the circle in a square), this will fill the mask with black, and the texture will disappear. Use White and with your paint brush, paint in the areas where you want the floors to be. This black mask method works great, as it eliminates hard lines by adding textures in this way.

When your mask is complete,  you'll want to repeat the same look on the other layer. Hold CTRL and click the left click on the mask you just made. This will select the mask, turn on the hidden layer (the one above it in this case), and click on the mask button, this will now create the mask you just made. Make adjustments if needed, play with the opacity, colors, curves, etc. Adjust the mask a little reveal more of the layer below, etc. NOTE: ignore the third mask that I made on the top layer, it was accidental.

This is the final floor, it's brighter, has less noise, I think I messed up the angle though. I don't think anyone would notice though. I'll do the same thing with that shelf. I want something with a slightly bolder grain.

Adding wood grain
making the shelf nicer - HDR Tutorial Mike Savad
I found plywood, which I squished down a bit. Note that it doesn't fit - it's ok, I plan to just paint in the areas I want anyway just like I did above. I chose Multiply to enhance the wood details. 

Overlay done
shelf installed - HDR Tutorial Mike Savad
There wasn't enough texture, so made a second layer also multiply set to about 50%. Tweak the color if needed. Repeat the steps for any other surface. Often a room can have bland areas this method will make those areas more interesting to look at. However in this room, there are so many competing textures, that it really isn't needed.

Straighten & Clone
straightening the photo - HDR Tutorial Mike Savad
Straighten the image, Use whatever method you like best.

Clone out anything you don't want, do this before you crop it out. In this image I removed the white thing on the plant and the wire on the lamp. Also you'll note that the guidelines show where the crop will be. I wanted to keep the chair on the left, to show that it's a two player game, and it adds extra detail.  but leaving the chair in like that means I'll have to clone in more floor. Later on I found I couldn't clone in more table cloth as the pattern is too complex to bother with, so the crop became tighter anyway. The guy I can just crop out.

Final Result
photo straightend and cleaned - HDR Tutorial Mike Savad
It's funny the things you miss. When it's time to clone things out it's important to get in as close as possible to the image using zoom. I did not notice there was a clipboard on the radiator. So that had to be cloned out as well. I also cloned out some extra solder and paint that was there. I want the image to have a certain amount of authenticity So I'll always try to remove anything that doesn't fit that time period.

The Magic of good lighting
Lighting the room with a shadow layer and mask - HDR Tutorial Mike Savad
A good magician never reveals how they do their tricks.

However a great magician does. They can, because they created the trick themselves, and even after knowing the secret, you still need to be able to preform it to do it right. Penn and Teller, comes to mind.

While I am not a magician, I do create my own tricks, but I'm always recreating them as well. It's an evolution, and it's always changing. The methods I'm showing you right now, will look different the next time I make a tutorial.

I will be adding shadow layer, to add light. I want to create dynamic lighting, as if there were spot lights in only particular spots. I want it to look like that the lantern is lighting the table and the windows are there just as a support.

the actions I provided, hit HDR Shading Dark layer, and use the mask in the dark layer. Your adding light and leaving some shadow. Place light where you think light should be, the lantern, curtains and such.

I removed shadow (showing lighter spots) in the following areas: curtain, table, a bit of the plant (the side near the lantern), chair, table, board, etc. Don't go overboard, and don't worry about how dark everything else looks. I'm pretty satisfied on how the dark layer came out.

Next we continue to use Overlay, using a finer brush. Overlay will brighten but not burn out the color.

Overlay Layer
highlighting with overlay - HDR Tutorial Mike Savad
The differences are subtle in here. Overlay often works well to enhance detail in the highlights for cloth, such as this table cloth. It will also add convincing shadow if you set it to black. If you look carefully, you'll see that the chair is brighter, the curtains, floor, plant, lamp and a few other spots.

The lantern, and curtains, they need a little boost and a bit of glow for realism. Choose the Layer marked Hard light, and choose she shading brush. Very lightly create a soft glow around those objects on the light or near it. I added it a little to the back of the light on the curtain, the light itself, and a little on the curtains. Sometimes Hard light looks too white, if that's the case change the layer to Soft light, and it will simply brighten it up without it being too harsh.

Soft light Layer
the soft glow of a light - HDR Tutorial Mike Savad

This image is small so its hard to see the difference. But the lamp is more even, there's a little bit of glow on plant, the windows are brighter as well.

Vivid Light Layer
adding vivid detail - HDR Tutorial Mike Savad
The Vivid light layer, This layer is designed to add a lot of brightness, it can saturate and add contrast at the samet time. I only use White on this layer, Don't add black or it will be too black. Vivid light will brighten areas to make it look like it's reflecting the light. In this image, I'll add "reflections" to the edge of the chair, lamp, bottle, glass, edges of checker, etc. The radiator will also be edited, the valve handle, the edges, etc. While at the same time, I'll use a larger brush to brighten up areas on the table and floor. This is all detail work, and it's used in everything I create. It takes a long time, and you'll have to zoom in real close. The more detail the image has, the longer this step takes. Sometimes it can take a few hours depending  on what's in the scene. Press lightly on your brush for a fine line use PEN FINE OUTLINE brush, this will give a light edge. Shade the areas you want brighter, push harder and you'll get  fatter darker line.

Vivid Detail
vivid detail up close - HDR Tutorial Mike Savad
The vivid light layer is very important - this step will enhance your image, it will sharpen better - and it will create an oil painting like look.

As you can see there are more details and it's a  little more 3-d looking. I didn't push the highlights I created spots where light would probably be and let it fade off where it shouldn't be. So in this case you can see I enhanced the reflections in the glass and the edges of the glass are more pronounced. The radiator valve and pipe are more shown. Added a little more light on the edges of the fins. The checkers, each edge was added, along with the edges of the books. These examples are at 200% you have to get in real tight to be accurate.

Brighten the image
brighten the hdr image with luminocity - HDR Tutorial Mike Savad
Next step - Brighten the image

For Photoshop CS3 Hold CTRL ALT ~ (tilde) -- and CS4 hold CTRL ALT 2 -  this will highlight the luminosity or the brightness of the scene,  Then press CTRL-J to make that selection into a new layer. Adjust in Curves, contrast, levels, etc.

Now it's a bit brigher, but we still need to do something about the colors. Make a new layer, set it to Selective Color, then slide the bars for each color until you get something you like. Start with the first color - black slider, move it around until you find something that you like. Enhance it as you see fit. As you scroll through the colors you'll come across Whites, Neutrals, Blacks. White will let you tint the highlights and also darken it to reveal more detail. Neutral will allow you to tint it a little, I often warm the image a little. Black is best if you have a tint in shadow areas (often it's blue).

Done with shading
edit the color with selective color - HDR Tutorial Mike Savad
Comparing top to bottom, the image is warmer now. The cloth has more red and yellow in it, the curtains a little more yellow, basically warmer.

All things considered we it's done. However I want to add an antique finish to it. This will spread the light out more and soften the edges to create a painting like feel.

Antique the Surface
adding a grunge antique layer - HDR Tutorial Mike Savad
This step is optional

I called up an image of an old flat stucco wall, though I find paper textures useful as well. Fill the screen with it. I usually start with soft light, Then cycle through the rest of them to see if it looks good on other settings, usually an image like this will look best on both SOFT LIGHT and MULTIPLY.

this one is too dark - HDR Tutorial Mike Savad
Set to multiply, a bit dark, but it has it's appeal in certain spots, maybe a mask will help

Soft Light
this one is too light - HDR Tutorial Mike Savad
Setting it to soft light adds a certain antique charm to it, it's a bit bright by the light and a bit yellow, but that can be fixed.

I'll mix the two of them, parts of one parts of another. Fade this Fade that, adjust each layer with curves and so forth. Just like the first steps I created a mask, and painted out the areas I didn't want shown. I removed some of the grunge layer from the table, lamp, window and plant.

Final Result
and this one is just right - HDR Tutorial Mike Savad
This is the final image, I didn't like the Multiply version, it just looked dirty. I created another Vivid light layer, and enhanced a few more spots. Then use Selective Color, or any other color tool for a final tweak.  The nice thing about these grunge overlays, is that it makes your image really unique, and it adds a sort of dimension and brush stroke to it. It also adds toning.

However Caution must be used. If the image has scratches, or dents - so will your final piece. And if you missed that before you squashed it into one image, you'll have to go back and clone it out.

The final image below, is complete. It takes some time, but almost any image can be enhanced in this manner. But not all images look great. And since it takes time to make these, it encourages you to not only take better pictures, but to be more selective in the ones you create with


Artist - Painter - Assorted Dyes - Gifts - Mike Savad Musician, Pianist - Music It's a long, long way to tipperary - gift - Mike Savad Artist - Creative Pursuits - painter, camera - gifts - Mike Savad Bar - Micro Brewery - Weighing the hops - Gift - Mike Savad Organist - Organ - Skippack Ville Organ 1835 - gift - Mike Savad Hobby - Photographer - The fun starts tonight - gift - Mike Savad

Checkers Anyone? - by Mike Savad
Checker's Anyone? Print - Mike Savad
Can be purchased as a print or a gift

Copyright - Suburban Scenes by Mike Savad 2012

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