Tools that I have used in this image:
- Canon 5D Mark II
- Canon 16-35mm f/2.8
- Slik Sprint Pro tripod
- Photomatix Pro 5
- Adobe Photoshop
- Adobe Lightroom
This is my first workflow that I’m going to show you and I’m pretty excited about it! =)
I will show you step by step guide on how I shot and edited this image. I will also try to explain along side my thought process at each step.
This image was taken at Victoria Peak in Hong Kong at night during an autumn day. There was quite a bit of haze in the atmosphere as you see. Victoria Peak is a well know spot in Hong Kong, almost always crowded with tourists because of its high elevation that gives a good bird’s eye view of the island. If you are a cityscape or street photographer, I highly recommend Hong Kong to you because it is paradise for photos.
I knew from the beginning that there was no way I could capture the whole dynamic range with a single RAW image because of the high contrast. Plus, the haze in the atmosphere would be difficult to get rid in post-processing without an additional image at lower exposure value. So, I bracketed my exposures manually and took 4 images at f/8, 25mm and ISO 500, mounted on a tripod. Exposure time were 10s, 5s, 1s and 0.5s. I took a few series of bracketed exposures just in case one of them didn’t turn out well.
I wanted to blend the images with luminosity mask but I wasn’t sure if the haze would cause a problem especially when selecting bright masks to blend. The sky was very bright so any adjustments to the highlights of the buildings might inevitably affect the sky. Because of that reason, I chose to merge them into HDR. Here is the 16-bit HDR created with Photomatix 5 and below are the settings I used.
The image wasn’t very pretty at this point, so let’s open it in Photoshop to apply some adjustments!
The first thing I did in Photoshop was straightening the horizon and perspective with the lens correction from the drop down main menu. I also duplicated the background layer and clone stamp to remove somebody’s lens that was hiding in the shadow on the right of the image (did you see it?). Then, I created brights, darks and midtones luminosity masks and ready for action.
The highlights at the top of some buildings were too bright. I selected the brights 2 mask and applied a curves adjustment layer to bring down the highlights in those areas a little.
The overall contrast of the image wasn’t great. So, I selected the midtones 2 luminosity mask and applied it to a curves adjustment layer to bring up the contrast.
I wanted to create a futuristic look with this image. It is a great cityscape with many skyscrapers so I thought this might be the opportunity to test the effect. Here are the steps I use to add the futuristic look to the image:
- Add a new layer, fill it with 50% grey
- Add a photo filter adjustment layer, select cooling filter (82) and density to 25%
- Clip the photo filter adjustment layer to the 50% grey layer below
- Change blending mode of the 50% grey layer to soft light
This restricts the cooling filter effect to the highlights only.
It definitely looked better, but not quite there yet. There were still a lot of tungsten light in the image and I wanted it to glow in blue instead. I added a hue/saturation adjustment layer but the effect wasn’t good. So I thought I will just paint the highlights blue. Here are the steps.
- Create a new layer, select the brights 3 luminosity mask and fill the selection with blue (randomly picked one)
- Change the blending mode to soft light
- Double-click on the layer to bring out layer style settings
- Check inner glow, set colour to the same blue with opacity of 77%
- Check the box for outer glow, set colour to the same blue with opacity of 36%
Bam! Now it looked much better. The opacity value for the inner and outer glow was the result of trial and error.
I noticed the street lights were still flooded in tungsten light so I wanted to change that too. Because there was only one colour, a hue/saturation adjustment layer could be a simple fix. I added the adjustment layer, used the click and drag to bring the tungsten colour to a more pleasant yellow.
I could have stopped here, but I wanted a little more glow in blue to the buildings especially the ones in the background. I added a new layer, used the brights 3 luminosity mask again and filled it with the same blue as before. This time, I changed the blending mode to saturation.
It was looking great but I wanted the effect in the background a little stronger. I duplicated the last layer and applied a layer mask to mask out everything except the background.
This was how it looked after masking the foreground and the sky.
For the final touch, I added a new layer, filled it with 50% grey and changed the blending mode to vivid light. Then, I added a photo filter adjustment layer, selected the cooling filter (80) with a density of 25% and clipped to the 50% grey layer. This was only applied to the buildings in the foreground by using a layer mask to mask out the background and the sky.
Lastly, I applied a high pass filter for sharpening but masking the sky out with a layer mask, imported it to Lightroom and applied some basic adjustments as below.
That’s it, guys! The main work here is adding colours and experimenting with the blending mode to get the effect I want. I know this style of post-processing may not suit everyone, so I appreciate you reading until the end 🙂
I hope you have picked up something to add to your post-processing workflow. Do leave a comment and thanks for visiting!