Okay, I had a lot of fun with this after seeing the great results everyone else was getting, so I ended up spending way too much time dinking around with this photo. I completed the color one in about 2.5 hours, but I still kept fooling around with different black and white versions using the Silver Efex Pro 2 beta (sneak peek). That app is crazy addicting so I ended up spending three hours experimenting in it.
Here’s my Photoshop CS4 layers palate for the color version:
This kind of destructive workflow drives people like Mac Holbert insane, but the reality is that I generally get one crack at editing a photo and I never go back to unless I print it. When I print I usually make a few modifications to get it just right, but rarely do I find myself going back in time. With that said, I don’t flatten my images to save disk space just in case I do need to revert a change along the way.
So, here’s what I did to this photo:
- I started by getting a decent exposure out of the raw file, fixing the lens distortion and cropping my photo in Lightroom 3.3 on Windows 7 64-bit, then I sent the file to Photoshop CS4 for Windows.
- I got rid of all of the sensor crud that was visible in the sky directly on the background layer and then saved the file.
- I reopened it on my MacBook Pro in Photoshop CS5 for Windows so I could use Content Aware Fill on the power lines, but I later noticed I was a little sloppy here so that wasn’t a perfect fix.
- I brought the file back to my CS4 Windows system for the rest of my edits. Despite being ISO 100 this image still had a reasonable amount of noise probably due to sensor heat as it was a very hot day that day and I had been doing lot so shooting. I didn’t want to do a blanket noise reduction on everything because it would ruin the textures, so I just did a noise reduction on the man and the sky – two important subjects in this photo.
- After I did this I noticed some issues in the sky, so I fixed them on the Sky Fixup layer.
- I love Color Efex’s Tonal Contrast, so I did that and then took the effect off the stucco wall manually because it could hand a quick and sloppy paint so it would be faster than using U-Point controls.
- Next up I used Topaz Adjust 4 to to see what its presets would look like. I settled on the Photo Pop filter and added it, but after I did part of my image got some Halos so I had to fix that using the stamp tool.
- Anytime I have a sky I always check the Color Efex Polarization filter to see if will help, and it did, so I kept it in for this image.
- I still wasn’t happy with the dark face on the man so I used Viveza to fix that. To save disk space I just created a new layer with only the parts I needed from the fix and discarded the layer Nik Software created. I do this a lot as it does appear to reduce file sizes.
- I still wanted those all-important golden towers to pop so I used the Color Efex Skylight Filter, but I limited the change just to the towers.
- After that I wanted more sky oomph so I used a Photoshop cooling filter adjustment layer and chose to put #82 on. I just used the quick selection tool to quickly select and mask everything but the sky. I also set the layer opacity to 19% to keep the sky from looking too unrealistic.
- For this image I felt the Chinese characters on the back right wall were important to tell the story about where this image was taken. When people outside of Asia see these, they immediate think of China despite the fact that they are also used with the Japanese Kanji. To bring more attention to them I used the Indian Summer filter in Color Efex on the entire wall they were on. This made them a bit more red and noticeable.
- At this point I thought the image was getting too yellow, so I created a saturation layer where I just modified the saturation of the yellow. I brought this down –15% and it looked much better. I did exclude the tips of the golden towers so that they retained their harsh golden appearance to capture the viewers eye.
- I was pretty happy at this point so I did one of my final steps I always do – I did the Lab Color trick from Scott Kelby’s 7 Point System book. To keep from losing my adjustment layers I just merge all the layers up into one (i.e., Ctrl/Cmd+Alt+Shfit+E) and the I duplicate that layer into a new file. When I’m done I bring that layer back into my working file and close the other without saving.
- This was good but I still felt like too much detail was being lost in the shadows so I did a Shadows & Highlights layer – again, from 7-Point System.
- Things looked good, but I know from history that I tend to edit my images too dark (especially for print), so I am just in the habit of doing a brightness bump in curves.
- I was happy with the result so my final step was to use Sharpener Pro to give a sharp look optimized for display output. I didn’t want to sharpen the sky as it would just make the image look noisy so I reused my mask from the photo filter layer and inverted it.
Of course I kept tinkering in Photoshop and Lightroom but not on the color image above. Here’s a couple alternate versions I did using Silver Efex Pro 2:
My Favorite Version – Desaturated Look
With a black and white layer on top I lowered its opacity to 75% to let the color bleed through.
I used a light gray brush on the mask to bring more color back to the towers, the man, and the wall as I felt those were key elements that I wanted the users eye to be drawn to.
You can find a full gallery my different images here.