Making Montreal, pt. 2 by Andrew Dacey

This is part 2 of my how-to series on how I did the post-processing on my Montreal images. If you haven't already read part 1 then I strongly recommend starting there first.

Camera Raw

As mentioned in part 1, the first piece of flexibility you get with this workflow is in being able to re-visit your raw developing settings after you see the effect. This first image shows what the initial effect looked like for this particular image. In this case, I was very happy with the black and white image but I wanted to adjust things after I saw the effect. In this case, I liked what I was seeing in the mix of cold and warm light from taking this shot relatively early in the morning and I wanted to emphasize that further.

Since I was working with a smart object, this is a simple matter of opening the smart object from the layers palette which puts you back into Adobe Camera Raw. The one downside I found with this workflow is that I much prefer working in Lightroom and while the adjustments in Camera Raw are the same the interface isn't so I do find I'm not as efficient working in Camera Raw. In this case though, I simply made some modifications to the saturation for the blues and the yellows.

This produced the second image shown here. Overall, I was happy with the look but I found that in some specific areas things had gotten a little too blue and I wanted to tone that down. Again, I was able to go into Camera Raw and make some adjustments, this time, I used an adjustment brush to reduce the saturation in the areas I wasn't happy with.

While not shown here, I also tried further adjustments to the saturation, vibrance and  colour temperature before arriving at the settings used in this case.  The point is that you still have all of your raw developing tools  available to you. The one caveat is that the preview in Camera Raw will  only show its effects, it won't show the effect of the filter. This  means that sometimes you have to make a change and then hit okay in  order to see what it will look like with the smart filter applied. Once  you get more familiar with what you're trying to achieve and how the  colour and black and white are interacting this will get easier.

Silver Efex Pro 2

For this second image I was happy with the colour in the image but there were some things I wanted to tweak in the black and white conversion after I saw the effect. Again, this is where working with smart filters really comes in handy as you can always get back into the settings and adjust. I find this is much easier than having to undo the filter and then re-apply it, especially if you want to work iteratively by making small changes and seeing the effect. Once you get the feel for the image and how the black and white effect is working with the image you can start targeting the shortcomings more precisely and you may not have to move back and forth as often.

In the case of this image, I was relatively happy with parts of the image but I wasn't happy with the snow in the sky looking too dark (in several spots they were dark grey blobs instead of white flakes) and I felt that the top of the skyscraper was too faded out. In this case, I used Silver Efex Pro's "U-Point" technology to add several control points to adjust this. First, I brought down the flakes in the sky so that they faded away more. After that I darkened the top of the building to make it more prominent. This also had the fortunate side effect of isolating the top of the building from the effect in the sky. After that I worked on adjusting the church to even out the exposures so that it was neither too dark nor too light. I also made some adjustments in the tree on the right side of the image as I felt it was blending in too much with the church and getting lost. Adjusting the black and white conversion helped give the separation I was looking for.

As you can see from the screenshot in Silver Efex, I made significant use of the control points to get to the final image. What's nice is that all of these can be tweaked either in groups or independently. I can also turn off any of the points at any time or delete them entirely. That's definitely one of the huge perks to working with a plug-in that gives this much versatility and control.

As I made such an extensive use of control points in this image I've decided not to include images from every step. Since this is a 3rd party plug-in I also didn't want to get too bogged down in the specifics of using this one plug-in. The point though is that you can adjust the black and white conversion to suit your purposes. In some cases you need to get past the fact that the goal is not necessarily to produce a pleasing black and white image, the goal is to produce a pleasing effect with the colour. In some cases this means making changes to the black and white that don't work for that but do work once the colour is added.

Final Notes

One final note about this if you're working with Lightroom, I highly recommend not making further adjustments in Lightroom after applying this effect. The reason for this is that if you want to go back into Photoshop to adjust your effect later then you won't be able to take these Lightroom edits with you. The reason for this is that if you chose to edit in Photoshop with the Lightroom adjustments then you'll get a brand new image created (as either a TIFF or PSD file, depending on your preferences) which will not retain the smart objects or smart filters from before. Instead, you need to use "edit original" if you want to get back to your original PSD document with these still available. This is a little counter-intuitive and not how you would normally edit images from Lightroom so I wanted to make sure to mention it here.

Making Montreal, pt. 1 by Andrew Dacey

A little later than I'd hoped but here's part one of my promised how-to on how I achieved the "edgy" look I was so pleased with in my Montreal shots. I'm not claiming to have hit on anything new here, but it was something new for me and it really helped achieve my vision for these shots and I felt like I hit on some good workflow items as well in trying to make this process non-destructive. This becomes important because it lets you come back to the image and make adjustments over and over again until you get things just right. In this first image that wasn't as important but in other images I made use of this in order to tweak the look of the effect after I saw the initial result. I hope to cover more of this in a follow-up to this initial post..

I shoot in Raw and it was important that I be able to adjust the Raw development settings after I saw the effect. This meant using smart objects was the way to go. In Lightroom, you can edit an image in Photoshop as a smart object so that's the root that I chose to go. Not only does this allow me to adjust the development settings later (using Adobe Camera Raw in Photoshop) but it also allows me to use smart filters, which as we'll see are another important part of making this a truly non-destructive workflow. If you're not working with a Raw image and will be applying the effect with an adjustment layer (see below) then there's no need to conver the layer to a smart object.

The key to this effect is treating the colour of the image separately from the light and dark values of the image (or the luminance). This involves creating a black and white version of the image which will replace the luminance values of the colour image. I think I originally heard of this technique on one of the photography podcasts I listen to, unfortunately I can't remember which one it was as I heard it some time ago but only thought to try it out when I was working on these images. Since you're treating the colour separately, you don't really need to worry about the overall contrast of the colour image, that will come from the black and white version of the image. That said, I think it's best to work with a colour image that doesn't have a lot of contrast so that you can better see the colour you're working with.

In this case, I was trying out a 15 day trial version of Nik Software's Silver Efex Pro 2 Photoshop plug-in so I used that to create the black and white image. Fortunately, Silver Efex will work as a smart filter. This is one reason why using the Photoshop plug-in is preferable to using the Lightroom plug-in. Previously I'd found that I wasn't very happy with my black and white conversions and I'd noticed a lot of other people seemed to be using Silver Efex so I decided to give it a try and I was extremely pleased with the results. I want to point out that I have no relationship with Nik Software and they have in no way compensated me for saying this. I was so pleased with the trial that I have purchased the Complete Collection.

There's no need to use Silver Efex, if you already have another method of producing black and white images that you're happy with then the effect will still work. In this case I'm using a filter which is why I wanted to use smart filters. If you're using layers or adjustment layers instead then you may not have to use a smart object, although I still recommend doing so if working with a Raw image (see above).

Now you simply need to merge the light and dark values (or luminance) of the black and white image with the colour values from the colour image. This may sound complicated but it's actually just a matter of changing the blending mode to luminance. If we were working with a normal layer or adjustment layer this would just require changing the blending mode next to the opacity slider on the layers palette. Unfortunately, for smart filters it's not nearly as obvious that this can be done but there is a little icon next to the filter that will allow you to adjust this (see the screenshot).

If you are going to use a filter to create the black and white image then I highly recommend using smart filters so that you can adjust that black and white image once you see the final effect. I went for a very contrasty black and white image in this series of images and I think that works for these particular images but it might not in all cases. One thing to remember is that you're taking the luminance values from the black and white image, this means that very dark values in the black and white will tend to show very little colour (they'll be so close to black) and lighter parts of the black and white image will tend to make the colours look more washed out. Similarly, a very light colour in the colour image might start to look a little garish if it's mixed with the wrong luminance value. All of this can be fixed, either on a global level or more locally but that's why it's so important to keep as much flexibility as possible in the workflow.

In part 2 of this series I'll go into this tweaking in more detail and show how I used the flexibility to adjust the image after I saw the initial effect.

Workflow: Lightroom to Wordpress by Andrew Dacey

One of the struggles I had with developing my photography website was in getting a really good workflow from Lightroom (my preferred image editing/cataloguing application) to Wordpress (my current content management system for the site). I think I've finally found a good combination of tools that give me a fairly smooth workflow. Lightroom is a great tool for editing and organizing your images. It also has some web export functionality included and LR3 includes publishing services as well. However, I wasn't very happy with the built-in web galleries and I wanted to find something that looked good but didn't rely on Flash.

On the Wordpress side of things, I wanted to find a good way to get my galleries into Wordpress so that I could make use of all the great content management it brings. I've seen plenty of tutorials which simply suggest creating your galleries in Lightroom with the web export functionality and then linking to them from within Wordpress (often while using some type of lightbox effect for the linking). While this does work, your galleries are completely external to Wordpress so you lose a lot of integration.

I began looking into gallery plugins and found that Nextgen Gallery was extremely popular and seemed to offer the features that I wanted. It includes a really nice upload tool and does handle resizing. I played with this for a little while by exporting my images to disk from Lightroom and then using Nextgen's upload functionality to add the images to a gallery, it worked fairly well.

This was a pretty good workflow but I wanted something more automated if possible. With LR3's new publishing services I began to wonder if there was one for wordpress. A search on Adobe's site turned up very new plug-in called Dossier de Presse. What this plug-in adds is an additional set of options to the export command in LR. Wordpress has an XML-RPC funtionality which allows for remote publishing and once enabled, you can use this plug-in to directly publish to Wordpress from within LR. Even better, the plug-in works with either the Wordpress media manager or Nextgen Gallery.

There's still a little bit of manual work at the very end to get things exactly how I like them but it's very smooth. Here's a quick outline of how it works:

  1. Select my images in LR and go to export
  2. Select Dossier de Presse as the destination (I've saved this as a preset)
  3. Rename the gallery name (I usually create a new gallery each time, but you can update an existing gallery as well).
  4. Hit export
  5. In Wordpress, update any details on the page (the plug-in is still very new so there's a few things I still tweak manually after creating the page)
  6. Publish the page
  7. Add the page to my menu (Wordpress 3.0's new menu manager makes this very easy)

I know that probably looks like a lot but in action most of this goes extremely quickly and in the end I have a page and a gallery both within Wordpress itself so then I can manage it from there.

The final tweak I made was to update the effect I was using for Nextgen. After some other experimentation I seem to have settled on the Fancybox for Wordpress plug-in. This worked out of the box with Nextgen but I have adjusted the settings so that Nextgen adds a rel element to gallery images and Fancybox only groups images with the same rel (these are both easily setup in the settings for the plug-ins). I set this up so that I can control when images group if I have multiple images on the same blog post.