Well, I wanted to do something a little different today. So after some thought and some reworking of the earlier files (I was halfway done by the time I decided to do this)…. I figured I would put together a work flow example from today’s addition to my “Cairo, IL Decay” series.

So anyway, long story short… below you will find a series of images and comments, giving you an insight into one of the more time consuming post-procedures I am willing to do.

I personally find merging bracketed images (hdr technique, if you will) the best for detail, exposure, and to be honest… the most pleasing overall feel in the end. Now on the flip side, I adore Black and White photography. Its dramatic, direct and alleviates the distraction caused by layers of color. The result of combining these techniques (when it comes to post-production) is, simply put … more time consuming. But worth it.

Here we have the three bracketed shots, straight from the camera:
Exp: -2
Exp: 0 (normal)
Exp: +2

So there you have the group of images that we will be working with. First things first, I’ll be pulling up Photoshop to access my HDR Efex Pro plugin (or for some of you Photomatix). This also works directly out of Lightroom as well, but hey we all have our path chosen how best we wish to proceed solo.

Anyway, once I have my images merged and staring at me from within HDR Efex Pro, I begin my tweaks. I have a series of various presets that I have saved over time. At this point, its merely trial and error. Be sure to choose a good starting point and Nik software (all of their applications) have some great pre-installed templates that you can use to get an early foothold. Or simply Google “HDR Efex Pro, presets. There are many available online. The key here is to find a beginning, that gives a rough “feel” for what your looking for. I suggest never clicking a preset and being “done” with it. There will be a rare time this is the case, but always remember. It can be better.

STOP: Sorry but this is important and a common mistake made by yours truly here. Make SURE there are no Vignette or Curve adjustments in place, before you begin ANY tweaking of the sliders. This is key and will GREATLY effect your image editing. Especially when many presets have these items added right out of the gate. You don’t want to carry out your adjustments, only to hit the end and realize you weren’t in fact crazy, and your exposure was much better at first when you began. It was just the damn vignette that made you carry out the over compensation. Which at this point, you now realize, you must start all over. Check this before proceeding, please. You’ll save yourself many a wasted curse word down the line.

So that said, I will move on. Since I like stay in the “Sharp” technique often when working with my decay photos, I pull up one of the presets that I know has this applied already. Then I start tweaking the sliders, generally focusing on structure, contrast, saturation, blacks/whites, exposure (if the merging went to dark or light) and then just play with the others. Pull each to both sides of the extreme. This way you can get an idea of the effect it will give.

Now here I would like to state, I am a tinkerer. I will probably adjust each and every slider before I finish. I may not keep many, but you never know if a particular setting will give you that extra “Omph” you were looking for, but never could attain. In the end, I could tell you numbers over numbers, but playing is what we’re doing here anyway, so enjoy it. Don’t let any purists or elitists tell you, “oh, don’t adjust this or that”… It’s your artwork, do whatever the hell you want. ;^)

Also, if you are using HDR Efex Pro, USE the Control Points. This is the Primary reason I prefer Nik software over Photomatix. While Photomatix is a wonderful application, it simply does not give me the control I desire. At least for my style. Which is a detail freak and love getting down deep into my photos. You never know when a one inch portion is simply “not to your liking. Sometimes a downfall, neglecting the forest for the trees.

So here we have the image, post-HDR Efex Pro. I do love the colors and contrasts I was able to get out of the three images. I got to admit, for a ran down, decaying building, the missile blast in the front gave some great lighting.

But there was something I did not like. The angle of the image. It was … just off. I think I may have had a friendly dose of asbestos, mold, aged crack residue and whatever other particle floated through the air. Most of these possibilities, I only prayed to Sheba would not be true. But alas, its time for some cropping to fix my listing equilibrium. For this need, I turn to Lightroom. I am absolutely obsessed with the cropping tool in Lightroom. The angle rotation, scaling and general overall effectiveness keeps me coming back.

So I go in, give it a slight nudge clockwise, and pulled in the right side a little, to get rid of the small piece of wood peeking in on the upper right corner.

There you have it after the cropping. Not to bad, but I’m going for a more chaotic, dramatic feeling here. So back ctrl-E to Photoshop we skip along and now its time for me to wake up Silver Efex Pro with a long poky stick. Same concepts apply here in Silver Efex Pro as it does in HDR Efex Pro (another great benefit of sticking with Nik software). Anyway, the concept is, there are no rules. To speak of at least.

Use your presets as jumping points, CHECK Vignette, Edge Burn, Borders and tone before any adjustments. Play with the sliders, the same as you did in HDR Efex Pro. It truly is a matter of trial and error to get the hang of it. Again, here I focus on structure, black/whites (here I rarely go with the “contrast” slider), sometimes a touch of brightness to bring up the appeal and to settle some of the grays.

As for the Color Filter (Nik)… TRY IT. I remained leery of this feature early on, because I wasn’t exactly sure what it did. But after I toyed with it, I fell in love. The amount of fine tuning you can do is wonderful. Now do not stop at just hitting the little easy buttons here. Go in, get your hands dirty.

Now I generally do use the “film type” filters while in Silver Efex. Personally I prefer Tri-X 400 or the Delta 100. I’m not trying to match some old childhood memory of what film grain and such looked like. I just like the way they look. And being able to further fine tune is well, hard to beat. Be careful of noise in the film types though. Some will make your picture looki like an old Seurat painting. But hey, if that’s your thing. Don’t hesitate.

And there you have it. I added a touch of copper toning to bring a small hue to the eye and that’s it. The tone, optional as always. :^)

Hope this rambling blog and general typing of thoughts, was of some use to you. Or maybe I just wasted about 20 minutes of your time and for that, I do apologize. I think. ;^)