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Trinity Cathedral TowerI didn’t expect to be doing a series on the Trinity Cathedral, but I got so many great images I must share more of them.  I love it when I go to a location and get inspired to take so many images, as I did here.  I shot an entire 2GB card at this location.  As is always the case when I take so many photos, some are keepers and some are duds.  They don’t always turn out the way I wanted them to, but I got many good shots at this location, and this is another of my favorites.  If you have been following my blog for a while, you’ll know that I love taking extreme angles of my subjects.  I think that gives my photos an interesting look to them.  I love looking at things that people see everyday and shooting them in ways that they wouldn’t ordinarily view them.  Such is the case with this photo.

After taking a fairly standard shot of the gates and church entrance, as seen in the last post, I wandered around the church grounds for a while before taking this shot.  I wanted to emphasize the size of this church and isolate one of its most prominent elements – the immense towers that flank the church on either end of its façade.  It was later in the night, and the blue hour was in full swing.  This is one of my favorite times to shoot, as there is enough light to illuminate the subject as well as bringing depth to the sky.  I set up my tripod and captured 9 brackets (exposures) to make this image.  I must have looked like an interesting subject to talk to that night, as the painter who worked on the church stopped to talk, as did some paranormal investigators.  After talking for a while and proving that I was not a spirit, they moved on, and so did I.

I am now going to give you some insight on how I make these images look the way they do in post process.  This is not a full-on HDR tutorial, but an insight into my workflow after the image is processed in Photomatix.  For those interested in how my HDR is done, read on.

Post Processing of an HDR (Photo Nerd Alert)

This semi-tutorial is going to assume that you know and love Photomatix or whatever HDR software that you prefer, and also that you have some grasp of how to make a proper HDR using multiple exposures.  If you don’t have this knowledge, I WILL post an HDR tutorial when I get a chance, so please don’t think that I’m leaving my readers hanging.  I have a day job where I can’t work on my personal photography and I have a family to tend to when I get home, so for right now this is still a hobby for me.  Hopefully this will change soon, as THIS is what I really want to do. Processing in Photomatix is really the easiest part of creating an HDR image; it’s the post processing after that which can be very labor intensive.  Anyway, enough of that.  Let’s get processing!  You will need Lightroom 3, Photoshop, and OnOne Phototools to achieve this result.

1. Export your HDR that you processed in Photomatix from Lightroom into Photoshop.  I generally don’t make many Lightroom adjustments other than color balance and eliminating any sharpening that Lightroom has applied, as we will add sharpening back in a later step.  HDRs right out of Photomatix are generally dull and flat, and I use OnOne Phototools to cure that.

2. OnOne Phototools is a software program that uses various Photoshop actions to apply different effects to the image.  It does NOT come with Photoshop, but can be purchased at OnOne’s web store at http://www.ononesoftware.com. It is set up in a manner that I find very pleasing, as well as being easy to learn and navigate to find the effects you’re looking for.  Open Phototools, which can be found under File >Automate>Phototools 2.6.  Once Phototools is open, I use a variety of filters to create depth and contrast.  After a general application of Auto Tone, which I use on almost everything, I give the image some bite.  One of the best filters that I have found is called Grunge.  This gives the image contrast and a grittiness that I really like.  Using Phototools’ masking feature, I brush out the grunge effect in areas that don’t benefit from it, as in the sky in this image.  I use a Wacom tablet for this as it gives me so much more control than a mouse.  I can’t even edit images anymore without a tablet, it’s just so frustrating.  Get one if you don’t have one.  I got an Intuos 3 refurbished for $90, so you don’t need to spend a lot of money.  It’s a great investment if you plan on doing a lot of photo editing.

3. After applying Grunge, I wanted to deepen the blue in the sky, so I added Daily Multivitamins A2 to the stack.  This saturates colors, especially blue skies.  It was too overdone on the church, so I painted that area out.

4. These were all of the adjustments that I made to the tone, so now I wanted to sharpen.  There’s a really great sharpening tool in Phototools called Smarter Sharp A2.  It only sharpens the edges, so flat areas like the sky are left untouched, which is a good thing because sharpening these areas could make them look noisy.  One thing I haven’t mentioned about Phototools thus far is that you can control the strength of any filter with a slider, so you can adjust the effects to get just the right amount.  It’s a really great feature of Phototools, as it makes the effects infinitely adjustable.

5. These were all the enhancements I made with OnOne Phototools.  Click “Apply” in the Phototools dialog to process the image with the filters you used.  The image will open up again in Photoshop with a duplicate of the background layer with the OnOne enhancements.  Sometimes the effect seems stronger than they appeared in Phototools, so I will just decrease the opacity of the Phototools layer to blend some of the original image back in.  That was not the case with this image though, as I liked how the final result looked.

6. Save the photo, and reopen in Lightroom.  Here I usually increase the blacks just a bit to give the image more resonance at the low end, but this isn’t always necessary.  I usually always increase the Clarity slider to really define the edges in the image.  A little goes a long way, though so, be careful with this. Too much looks really bad.  I sometimes apply a Vignette in Lightroom, but not always.  These adjustments can also be made in Camera Raw, but I don’t have the latest version of Photoshop so I use Lightroom instead.  Lightroom 3 has the same Camera Raw engine used in PS CS5 so If you have CS5 you can skip this last part in Lightroom and do the adjustments from Photoshop.

7. Stand back and admire your HDR, full of intensity and vibrance!!  I hope this tutorial was somewhat helpful and informative to those of you looking to get a firmer grasp on how to add depth to a flat, lifeless HDR image.