Tremezzo Treasure with HDR and Processing Insights

| December 12, 2010

Church in Tremezzo, Italy along the banks of Lake Como

I love churches, especially Italy’s. Like a gift, you rarely know what’s inside, and without exception they are beautifully unique. I spent some time on this image trying to focus on what I wanted to say. We all see things differently and this is how I see this place. It was a venerable feast for the eyes comprised of an ensemble of tantalizing visual elements that create an impressive whole. As I have said in prior posts, I never quite know the path to my destination. Sure I have a few tried and true methods that I often revisit – but in the end – the image speaks to me and sets its own direction. I admit that I often wonder if I am leaving something on the table when I am finished. What lurks beyond the the final touch? It’s a paranoia that plagues many artists I guess.

Tremezzo Treasure Shot Data

For those interested, I thought I would include a discussion on what I used to make this image. Above, you can see three shots that make up the data I used to create the final piece. Dark interiors with bright windows can rarely be exposed to their full potential in a single image without modified light. So, since I was shooting on a tripod, I had the camera take three auto-bracketed RAW images back-to-back.

Looking at the reference image above, you can see I have minus two stops (-2EV) on the left, a “normal” (0EV) exposure in the middle, and plus two stops (+2EV) on the right. Now look at the histograms, they tell us about the quality of each exposure. Lumps on the left mean darks and lumps on the right mean lights. In retrospect, I should have shot an additional minus three stop (-3EV) exposure on the left. That way I would have not have had the subtle blow-out in the clear windows. If you click the reference image you can see a bit of a spike at the far right of the first histogram. That spike says the highlights are blowing in the window. I was able to work around the problem in post processing but it would have been nice to have the full data set to work with when I got home. Live and learn! If you look at the histogram for the image on the far right, you can see that there is no spike on the left, meaning I was able to capture all the detail in the shadows at +2EV. It is really important to make sure you get the shadows right. You will never get them back if you don’t capture them. Even in a RAW image file.

The rest of the process is quite complicated but here is the basic workflow I followed once I downloaded the bracketed images.

  1. DeNoise the three base images with Topaz DeNoise
  2. Merge and process base images into a single high dynamic range image with Photomatix Pro
  3. Open in Photoshop CS5
  4. Sharpen overall image with Topaz InFocus
  5. Apply OnOne Angel Glow to create window light glow effect
  6. Create a duplicate layer of the Photomatix processed image on top of layer stack
  7. Convert top layer to black and white with Nik Silver EFX Pro
  8. Copy Silver EFX Pro layer and paste to Lightness Channel while in Lab Color Mode for enhanced contrast
  9. Go back to the standard layer stack and adjust opacities as necessary
  10. Create a “reveal all” layer mask on Silver EFX Pro layer
  11. Using varying brush opacities, spend several hours hours revealing color back into final image using Wacom tablet
  12. Create artificial light with two layers – one for sunlight color and one using additional color and Photoshop cloud rendering effect

Here is what the final Photoshop layer stack looked like.

Tremezzo Photoshop Layer Stack

If you look at the Silver EFX Pro layer, you can see the mask layer linked to the right that I used to reveal the color back into the black and white image. Below is what that mask painting looks like. Keep in mind that where you see black, Photoshop is allowing the color from the base layer to be seen. How much color gets through is determined by the darkness of the brush stroke. Darker means more color will come through. It is all a matter of personal taste at this point.

Tremezzo color painting with Wacom tablet on mask layer

For the cloudy sunlit atmosphere, I generated it in Photoshop with feathered selections filled with color. The effect was created with two layers. You can see them in the layer stack above called “Atmosphere” and “Sunlight”. I used a cloud render feature in Photoshop to create the misty look. Of course the opacity of each layer was adjusted to my liking to get the final look. Below is what the Sunlight and Atmosphere layers looked like together.

Tremezzo Sunlight and Atmosphere layers

I hope this helps you see how an image like this is created. A lot of it is trial and error but the whole process is fun and the results can be quite rewarding. Just email me me if I can make any part of this discussion more clear for you.

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Category: Italy, Photography, Travel

Comments (1)

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  1. Nice image and interesting to read about how you did the processing. Not that dissimilar to the way I do my images.

    I’ve not come across the Angel Glow filter so will have to check that out when I return to my ‘proper’ PC.

    keep up the good work!