Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Post-processing: Sam Gandalf

I promised I'd run through how I processed my photo Sam Gandalf, and in particular how I achieved that brown old-photo look of the main characters overlaid against the colourful background of Rochester and its inhabitants. In fact, I want to talk about selective colouring in Lightroom in general so in this post I'll go through the post-processing workflow with this picture and in the next post on this topic I'll cover the subject in more detail, and in particular that type of selective colouring known as 'spot colour', and I'll show how I extended that idea in processing my photo On Piccadilly Circus.

Achieving the kind of selective colouring you see in Sam Gandalf is fairly easy but very time-consuming in Lightroom; it's a job for which Photoshop and Elements are far more suitable. Lightroom gives you quite a bit of control over colours in a picture, giving you the ability to change the hue, the saturation, and the luminosity separately. But it only allows you this degree of control over the entire picture. The only way to change the colour of selected parts of a picture is by using the Adjustment Brush which is limited to altering the saturation of the selected part and the mixing in of one user-specified colour. Also, the only way of selecting which part of the picture to alter in Lightroom is, again, by using the Adjustment Brush. While you can do a fairly good job with this brush, it can be time-consuming and you can cut out a lot of the work by doing the job in PS or PSE instead, using their far more capable selection tools.

What you see above is a version of Sam Gandalf with minimal processing. I can't say "as it came out of the camera" because I shot RAW, and RAW doesn't look like anything until you process it. I simply imported it and Lightroom 2.3 automatically applied a few default settings designed to counter to a small degree the 'flatness' inherent in the way the camera sensor works. These settings increase the blacks level and the brightness, and do a small amount of sharpening. These may not seem like the kind of changes one might make to a photo in the initial stages of post-processing but then that isn't the way Lightroom works. In fact, the changes you make in Lightroom aren't necessarily applied to the picture in the order in which you move the sliders. In any case, the picture you see above was my starting point in post-processing.

I usually start out by cropping and straightening if necessary. Then I go through some of my presets to see if I can speed up the process, just as any practised lazy photographer would. I'm not going to go into the details of what my presets do to the picture as my purpose isn't to teach you how to post-process this particular picture; I'm simply recounting what I did so that you can achieve similar results with your own photos. My strategy was to get the picture the way I wanted it in terms of levels and colours, then to start in on the selective colouring.

My initial intention was to show Rochester as it was on the day of the Sweeps' Festival: lively and colourful. Quite noisy, too, at times, but that's not easy to demonstrate in a photo. Well, not literally, anyway. I wanted to show that not only were the people taking part in the parade lively, colourful and noisy, but so were the onlookers. And while the Festival harks back to the time when chimney sweeps were a common sight, the onlookers were for the most part dressed in bright, modern clothes. So I brought out this colourfulness in post-processing in such a way as to produce the perfect backdrop for the main characters - Gandalf and his boy - a couple of living ghosts in a post-Dickensian town.

So I upped the contrast quite a bit as well as the vibrance. It seems to me that Lightroom understands vibrance to mean "increase the saturation of most of the colours except skin tones, and saturate the blues to a ridiculous degree." So, as I invariably have to when working with vibrance, I decreased the blue saturation as much as the vibrance slider had increased the other colours. The result is as you see below.
I'd previously noticed that the brightness of the sun on that day had blown out some detail on the white shirts. Bringing up the recovery slider had gone some way toward retrieving it, but I wanted to see if I could get more. So I used the Adjustment brush to alter the brightness, contrast, clarity and saturation of both shirts and ended up with this result:
So at this point my subjects were looking good and their context - the colourful streets and people of Rochester - was also looking good. This is the point at which I could have stopped, content in knowing that I'd reproduced what I'd orignally intended to capture, at least as near as is possible given the combination of me plus camera plus Lightroom. But I like to bring out the essence of my subject as I recall seeing it at the time. And while in one way the picture above is what I recall seeing, in another way it isn't. I've described my thinking and feelings as I saw those two coming down the street towards me in a previous article, Anatomy of a picture: Sam Gandalf. What I wanted to bring out was that feeling of the two characters as being Dickensian ghosts from an earlier time, freshly stepped out of some time machine into the modern world. What I wanted to express was that out-of-time-and-placeness.

My next thought was to simply desaturate the main characters and their cart. A black and white Gandalf and boy on a coloured background. I've heard some people describe black and white photography as "timeless" but, for me, it's just about the precise opposite of that. For me, black and white photography is forever fixed in time, in an era before the modern age, before technology had advanced enough to allow us to try to reproduce the colours we were seeing, before we could even afford modern cameras with modern sensors. To me, black and white photography always was, is, and always will be old-fashioned. (Go on, call me a philistine. I can take it.)

But old-fashioned isn't what I was after. The fact that the characters are wearing old-fashioned clothes is all but irrelevant. I needed something extra that would bring to life (for me, and hopefully for other viewers) that out-of-time-and-placeness that I was witness to in those few minutes as they passed by. I've explained my thinking about the brownness of the photos in my nan's biscuit tins in the earlier post. What I wanted was to see if Lightroom could duplicate the feeling of that post-Victorian era.

I called up the Adjustment Brush and began to fill in Gandalf, the boy, and the cart. Firstly with a large-sized brush A with no feathering, no masking, and 100% flow, with zoom set at about 2:1 so that I could see enough of the subjects and cover the maximum area without going over the edges (which was a topic of some importance when I was playing with colouring books many years ago). Then I switched to brush B which was set to a fairly small size with feathering set to about 20% of the brush size, with masking on and 100% flow, with zoom set to 1:1 so that I was seeing the actual pixels. I had pressed the 'O' key so that I could see which areas I was painting onto but had the brush set to 100% desaturation with all other settings at zero.
This is the halfway point and below is how it looked when I'd finished this part of the job. As you may be able to tell, it wasn't quite what I was after. But it was almost there. I wanted to tweak a few more things before changing the hue of the main subjects.
I upped the sharpening quite a bit and laid down a couple of graduated filters. I should do a slight detour here and tell you that for me graduated filters aren't just bits of coloured glass you put in front of the camera to ensure that your sky isn't blown out. Lightroom's graduated filters are another tool you can use to enhance your pictures in any way you choose. I like to vignette any picture that has a strong, well-defined subject, so that the eye isn't just drawn to it but finds it difficult to look elsewhere; but the built-in vignetting sometimes isn't enough for my purposes so I use graduated filters to the same end. And in many cases I use them with a graduated change in clarity, contrast or saturation, rather than brightness.
All that was left then was to go back to my brush work with the main subjects and overlay my brown colour on it. I clicked the adjustment brush and moved the pointer over the pins until I found the one that I'd used to desaturate the subjects, then clicked the colour swatch (see above). A minute or so of dragging the pointer around the colour palette and I had my brown. And the result is as you see it at the top of this article.

Done and dusted.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thanks for choosing to comment. I welcome feedback of all kinds, whether it's a comment on an article or a photo, a suggestion for a future article, a suggestion about photographic or post-processing technique, or any other kind of comment.

Keep In Touch

I value feedback of all kinds so please feel free to comment on this blog. If you like an article, or if you don't, let me know. If there's some way I can make it better for your next visit, let me know that too. And if you have a photography blog, do let me know about it because I'd like to check it out.

About This Blog

"It's about capturing the light and making light work for you; and it's about being lazy and making light work of photography."

The Small Print

I make no warranty with respect to the content of this blog. If you try any of the tips herein and something breaks, you get to keep all of the pieces. You may copy all or part of any article as long as you credit me as the author. Any comments posted to this blog may be moderated.

  © Blogger templates The Professional Template by Ourblogtemplates.com 2008

Back to TOP