Thursday, March 3, 2011

Photo Thoughts – Beezerker Overhead (Background Replacement)

Mouse over to see before, mouse out to see after Copyright © Ron Martinsen – ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Mouse over (or click on iOS) to see the before shot

I was recently doing a shot for a client where I wasn’t charging full price because they agreed to use one of my reject photos. I told them I could clean it up a bit and they could use it at a reduced rate because it wasn’t one I was going to be selling regularly like the others in the same series. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but sometimes we bite off more than we can chew!

The problem with this shot was that I had bumped the rotating knob on my 5D Mark II from manual to Aperture priority so the camera was taking shots at f/5.0 for 1/30 sec on ISO 100. Fortunately I was using my 16-35mm lens at 23mm so they came out clear, but the depth of field was terrible and the shot honestly was rather boring and unoriginal. That said, it did show of some important features of the product so it served a purpose and was still worth a sale.

When you hover over the original it seems pretty simple – just clean up the floor, give the color a little oomph and sharpen and voilà done. Well perhaps, but I’m a bit obsessive compulsive at times so I had to do more to make something I was happy with (and I’m not easy to please).

Here’s a look at my layers palette (after some work in Lightroom 3) after 8 hours of photo editing in the evenings over the last few days:

My Photoshop file after other Lightroom enhancements

Oops – so much for a quick sale on an okay shot! Smile with tongue out

So here’s what I did in Lightroom:

  1. First boosted the exposure (+1.25) and enabled the camera profile for my lens camera combo to get my raw file looking okay. 
  2. Next I enabled lens correction to get rid of distortion caused by my 16-35mm lens.
  3. After checking the clipping regions I decided to add 76 points of highlight recovery and 33 points of fill light.
  4. I tinkered with the white balance but decided I liked the in-camera results best.
  5. While I don’t show it here, I also cropped in closer to cut a seam from the concrete out of the photo.

These changes got me ready for Photoshop, so I exported my photo a Smart Object in case I wanted to make any more changes while in Photoshop. I always export as 16-bit ProPhoto so I have the most colors available while photo editing.

Mouse over to see before, mouse out to see after
Before/After Lightroom Modifications (cropping not shown)

Here’s what I did in Photoshop:

  1. I started off by spending a lot of time cleaning up the floor using Content Aware Fill on my MacBook Pro using Photoshop CS5. I had to do small segments for the best results, so it was a little slow but the results were good. I then used the healing brush (mostly) and the clone stamp tool to finish up the remaining floor flaws and minor issues on the motorcycle.
  2. The floor was looking good but still ugly so I just did a light Gaussian Blur to hide the remaining flaws. Of course to do this I had to create a mask just for the floor, so that’s where the time sync began. It looks simple, but the details around the edge of the motorcycle (including wires and spokes) it took some serious time. Most of it was done with tricks I learned in Scott Kelby’s amazing The Photoshop Channels Book but there were still a few stubborn spots. For those I experimented with Mask Pro and Remask 3 and both helped with some of the tough spots, but neither could fix the most challenging problem – the spokes.

    The reason why the spokes were so hard was because I shot at f/5 so they were blurring out which meant there weren’t strong lines at their edges, so I had to hand paint those parts of the mask. Thank God for the Wacom Tablet as this required me to zoom in to 491% and have a tiny 5 pixel brush so I could get all the fine details masked. In some cases I had to guess because it was hard to tell where the spoke ended and the concrete began. This won’t be a billboard shot, so exact 100% precision isn’t necessary – if it was I’d pick another shot or do a reshoot!

    Masking 90% of the motorcycle took 15 minutes. Masking the spokes and rear kickstand (which was very out of focus) took A LOT of time. Total masking time – 5 hours (estimated)
  3. With a good mask things are easy, so it was all smooth sailing from here right? Uh, well almost! Next up I moved back to my PC and CS4 (where I’m just more comfortable) and used Noiseware (default setting) to get rid of some of the noise caused by a hot sensor from a day of shooting under hot lights and a lot of live view.
  4. With a clean floor and a nice mask I used the most popular filter I know of that is loved by pros everywhere – Nik Software’s Tonal Contrast from Color Efex. This gave the image some oomph, but it wasn’t appropriate for the metal “torso” of the motorcycle because it caused the metal to look like it was tarnishing.
  5. At this point I thought I’d just throw a texture down on the floor and call it a day. Of course, what texture should I use? Fortunately I own the StuckInCustoms Textures Ultimate Package so I had a lot to choose from. I ended up using 4 of them at various opacities (shown above) in a Soft Light blending mode. I also had one of my own that was variant I had created before using other textures from my StuckInCustoms package.

    I was happy with my floor but it wasn’t exactly the shade I wanted so I made a gamma adjustment using an Exposure adjustment layer.
  6. I stuck all of these changes in a group (and nested the stock textures in a group for this article) and applied my mask to just apply it to the floor. I then adjusted the opacity of the group to 73% to make it look more like a floor rather than a floating texture.
  7. With the floor done I sent out what I had to some friends to get advice and one pointed out that my floor wasn’t reflecting in the metal – DOH!!!!! What now??? Fortunately the fix wasn’t too hard. I just combined all of my texture layers into their own layer WITHOUT a mask and then showed that layer at a low opacity over the tonal contrast layer. I merged those two and then I created a black mask to hide everything. Next I painted in the areas where I wanted it to reflect (side surfaces, but not top surfaces) using various levels of opacity with my brush while masking. The result was enough to convince a small sample audience that I had shot on a cool painted muslin floor panel so I was happy and moved on.
  8. I used Color Efex to create a vignette around the edges to keep the viewers eye in the image and I used U-Point controls to keep the vignette off the motorcycle (important). It seemed okay so I sharpened the image using Sharpener Pro and called it a day.
  9. Once again I sent the photo out for feedback and the feedback mirrored my own thoughts – it was still a little flat and the eyes wandered around the page. To fix the wandering eyes problem I used Apply Image as shown below to darken the image up:

    Apply Image RGB 80% Soft Light with Mask

    Notice that I applied my layer at the bottom inverted so it just applied to the floor and I used a 80% opacity soft light layer of a RGB image. The net result of this is that it darkens your image by using copies of the RGB channels as a blending mode source. This I pretty complicated but well demonstrated (using the LAB channel) in Scott Kelby’s 7 Point System (a must read).
  10. Now my floor was good but I wanted to give that vignette more oomph. What i really wanted was the “Edge Effects – PC Vignette 2” from Lightroom 3, but I was in Photoshop. So I just saved my file, went to Photoshop and exported my file as a PSD (full size, no sharpening) and moved that layer into my stack. I now had my nice vignette and I used a layer mask to block out the parts I didn’t need.
  11. I placed my logo and lowered its opacity to 37% so it didn’t attract too much attention. I added a drop shadow to make it easier to read against the texture. It’s there, it’s readable (at the intended output sizes) but it isn’t obnoxious.
  12. I dropped in my logo and printed it just so I could get an idea of how it would print (this was for a magazine). The first result was terrible because Relative Colormetric was the wrong rendering intent, but it also pointed out that my image was too dark (oops, forgot to do my mandatory brighten). I saw this on the display, but I was tired and not thinking. I boosted my curves by one square as shown below which is what I always do when I finish editing my photos as I have a tendency to edit too dark (my problem – not my equipment):

    Curves - Brighten by 1 Square

While this shot took me a lot longer to fix than I planned, I’m happy with the result mostly thanks to my textured floor. It gave this image something it was sorely lacking – some color with some oomph. As the person who shot the photo (and you now that you are in my head) I see plenty of flaws, but it’s good enough for the intended purpose.

In case you are wondering, the total file size was 977MB on disk (1.3GB in memory in Photoshop). I rather waste disk space than waste time by having to redo everything if I need or want to make change somewhere in my workflow later, so I keep my layers (and describe them well).

A Word about Sharpening

There are three times that I and many others sharpen their image. The first is pre-sharpening which is what I do in Lightroom (very light), the second is creative sharpening (i.e., getting it to look as sharp as I want it to look for my artistic intent) and I did that above as one of my last steps. It should be my last step, but sometimes shit happens and it just doesn’t work that way. Personally I don’t lose sleep over it, but purist will faint when they see that.

The final sharpening is when you size your image in its final output size and you export it to the web or print it. If I’m exporting to the web I usually just use Lightroom 3 and choose the Sharpen Screen High setting (sometimes I may have to dial this back). If I’m sending I to the printer then I’ll do print sharpening with Nik Software’s Sharpener Pro as shown below:

Print Output Sharpening WILL look ugly on screen but the Nik defaults
for your paper and printer resolution make it idiot proof


I needed to print this image to see how it would look for my client who intends to print it in various magazines and publications. I was pretty happy with the background so I decided to make a nice print for myself to hang in my studio. I did a 16x24” (at 300ppi) for printing on my Canon iPF6300 using Lexjet Sunset Metallic paper.

To start I had to resize my image as shown here:

I trust Perfect Resize 7 for my critical resizing projects

Here’s my printer driver settings for this job (note screen capture software doesn’t portray colors accurately):

Perceptual “Matching Method” using the Lexjet Sunset Metallic Media Type are the way to go!

Borderless looks great and I don’t mind the minor resizing
by the driver to get the bleed necessary to do this


I hope you enjoyed seeing this behind the scenes look of how I edited this photo. The books and tools mentioned in this article were a critical part of the process so I highly recommend them. I really do use the stuff I recommend and here’s proof as to how.

I’d love to see your thought process and learn your tricks. Feel free to post your Photo Thoughts on the forums. If you have any trouble with the forums be sure to mail me using the contact info on this web site.


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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nice work Ron, the before and after are impressive! I also love the detailed notes and analysis you provide in this posting. I know that when you're working hard to work that photo this extra detail is extra work! Thanks for sharing!