A fire engine boat was spewing water in the Hudson near downtown the other day. I thought it made for a good scene and took some pictures. Here is what I ended up with. However, it wasn't quite as simple as just clicking the photo as it never is these days. Looking back I am surprised at everything that I had to do. I am sure there are a million other, perhaps much simpler ways, to get to where I got or to get to a completely different but a better place. However, this is what I did.
Since I barely ever remember what I do in post-processing, here are some notes I thought I'd jot down as a reminder mostly for myself what it took for me to get a rather boring dull hazy photos (originals are at the bottom of the post) to a respectable looking shot above. It seems both very complicated and pretty straightforward.
- I spotted the fire engine boat spewing water from my apartment around 9am. It was one of those extremely hazy, sunny days with super high contrast further muddled by the harsh reflections from the water in the river and the buildings of downtown New York City.
- The scene was quite far away and there was enough light (too much actually) so I pulled out the 70-200 mm lens which, while not quite as long on the full-frame 5d2 is the longest I've got.
- I took several shots through a glass window and then some via the balcony. Too hazy. There were barely any colors or any detail. Just dull washed-out greys.
- After being lazy and wondering how long the engine will go on for a while, I decided to go up the apartment building's top floor hoping to get a better aerial view.
- I took several shots and bracketed all of them given the harsh light. Bracketing is taking multiple shots at different exposure of the same scene. This helps in compensating for the camera's low dynamic range that was further compromised by the harsh light in this case.
- Unfortunately I didn't have time to set up a tripod. I had no idea how quickly the boat would stop spurting water. So all shots were handheld. Not a great idea when bracketing. Shots taken even in a split second are somewhat not exactly aligned. I am just not that stable.
- So I load about 40 shots in Aperture and import them without any additional processing after the RAW conversion.
- Crap. They all look like crap. Dull, grey, washed-out, colorless crap. I promptly forgot about them. Another set of useless shots in my ever expanding Aperture library.
- This morning I decided to give it one last quick shot. The following is a series of edits I did to the three images below to get the image above.
- Levels. I adjusted levels of all the three in Aperture. This is generally my first weapon against haze. Sadly, it barely made a difference.
- HDR Efex Pro. I combined all the three images into a single images with best exposures from each using HDR Efex Pro plugin from Nik Software. I used the most basic settings as nothing more dramatic was working. The photo still left much to be desired as there were no real colors and way too few details.
- Noise Reduction. I took the photo to photoshop and used Noiseware plugin by Imagenomic. Choose low noise setting because the image didn't really have that much noise and was getting soft under normal reduction.
- Topaz Adjust. I opened the photo next in Topaz Adjust 5, another plugin available for photoshop. I tried various different options and finally settled for 'Bold' under the 'Vibrant' settings group. This brought out quite nice details in steel gray color. Wasn't quite happy with the color still but overall I had a decent look.
- Silver Efex Pro. So, since the color wasn't appealing, the only option left was to go for Black and White. I used another Nik plugin for this. It is quite awesome. I went for the highly structured or detailed view with high contrast and dynamic range.
- Soft Light Layer. I added a soft light Photoshop layer at about 40% to just add a bit more contrast and life to the photo.
- Unsharp Mask. Finally, an unsharp mask in Photoshop but only over certain building to further enhance details and lines.
- White Balance. One final really small tweak of white balance in Aperture to get a very slightly warmer look than what I had.