Old Orchard Beach boardwalk before and after-
Hey there folksters- figured I'd do a before and after of the Old Orchard Beach boardwalk shot and talk a little bit about my workflow regarding making a black and white picture. Oh boy! Grab some knockwurst and 3 beers and put some Bjork on the Itunes and we'll get right down to the nitty gritzorz! The focus of this will be the post process stuff using Lightroom 4 and Nik Silver Efex and just a touch of Photoshop, I'll talk a little about the capture (making the picture), but this isn't meant to be a long exposure tutorial- that should be a separate affair that I'll get into at some other point in our long-lived lives to come. Sweet!
Right then- here we go! So I've been wanting to shoot the boardwalk at Old Orchard Beach down in Saco Maine for a while now, it's about 3.5 hours from me and where I'll fairly regularly go to the Boston area and the Cape to visit family, I rarely want to stop halfway there because I usually like to just get the horrible driving and traffic etc behind me, but this time on the way back home I decided to take an hour or so off and give it a go. Sunday at about noontime I pulled up to the pier in Saco and found a parking spot right off the beach now that it's the off season- good start! I pulled on my Muck Boots and started setting up the kit in the parking lot and right away this beach creature with a beer-in-public approached me and started talking my ear off explaining how bad his hangover was today etc- which was weird and kind of off putting and he wanted to be my best friend so that was tough to let him down gently but whatever- I have enough friends. So, it was high noon, it was bright, it was windy, and the bums were out- all my least favorite things when it comes to photography. The sun was shining on the storefront side of the boardwalk and the opposite side which is the rear of the boardwalk but has almost nicer lines and details, was in deep contasty shadow. The cloud cover that day was real sparse but not too bad- ideally there would have been low and quick moving cloudlets that would make a fanning motion pattern in the long exposure, or fog, but that wasn't about to happen for at least a few hours and I didn't have the time or patience to wait so I had to make do with what there was. The shot that I have seen of the OOB boardwalk that I like the most is one from the backside of it putting the pier at an oblique angle and minimizing the background to just mainly the sea, but this side was in too deep of a shadow in the current light conditions to consider starting there- I did make some shots from that side of the pier that I like enough but this bright side was the one that I chose as my pick and my focus. I shot the sunny side of the pier up and down the beach from a variety of angles and it was only the last few exposures that I made where I found the nice ripples in the foreground in the sand to balance the composition. And it was the arrayed pattern of the ripples that seemed to compliment the shapes in the clouds in the sky above the boardwalk that attracted me to this scene. So that's the composition side of things, we're good there- the next things to consider were the exposure and camera settings.
I use a dedicated black and white mode on my 5D MKII often to help with visualization, I keep that in my C3 custom functions settings on the mode dial and I have that setting tuned to +2 contrast with a white balance shift to blue and a digital red filter applied that will make nice and dark and dramatic blue skies. I don't always use this b+w mode but it sure helps with inspiration sometimes when checking your reviews screen. The exposure problem here that day was that there was direct sun shining on the white painted surfaces of the boardwalk store fronts- sure it was low angle winter sun but it was still mighty brightly lit in the area of brightness- and that was my foremost concern for setting my exposures. I usually use matrix metering for the most part as the my light meter but I'm going to go to spot metering from now on (I used to only spot meter a few years ago but I figured the newer metering technologies must be better, forget it- I always think: where is the exposure most crucial and check it there but might as well just use the spot meter right off to get it.) As far as my exposure preference sensibilities are concerned (because everybody's different, this is just me): I don't ever want any "pure paper" in my images, which is to say that I never really want hardly any true whites- I like just a hair backed off from there- and that's the way I ultimately think about my images exposures: I think about them as potential prints. So the brightest part of the image was going to be the last building on the boardwalk as well as some of the painted white trim along the railing of some of the other structures. So I exposed for them and let them clip just by a teeny bit- I use the Highlight Warning setting on the Canon's review function which in combination with checking the histogram gave me the confidence that in post they would be bright but not actually blown out. You can allow a fair amount of "blinkies", which is what we call the Highlight Warning feature, in your exposure safely. Lightroom 4 does a genius job of recovering those seemingly blown out areas without you doing any work on the image- often times what is blinking on the cameras review screen will not be "blinking" in Lr4. Which is good. Just a couple more details about the capture and we'll get to the development- so I wanted to make a long exposure to work with the water under the piers and the few clouds that were in the sky above the boardwalk- I did end up waiting for 10 or 15 minutes to let a bank of clouds climb up over the roof but then in order to have a sufficiently long enough exposure using my 10 stop ND filter I was forced to stop down to f/18 and use ISO 50 to get 37 seconds of open shutter- that's how bright it was. F/18 is not my favorite aperture so this was a consideration that would need to be looked at in post. So lets go to Lightroom!
First I had to drive home. Then I had a beer. Then for safety sake I had another, so in post when I develop an image I do a number of things the same almost regardless of what it is that's in the picture- but then again I only shoot a few different things-? Anyways the first thing I do is judge the Exposure- this is an arbitrary thing. Everybody has their own idea of a good exposure even though for the most part usually a good exposure has a good true white (remember what I said about that earlier) and a true black and those 2 places are empirically visible on the tool that is the Histogram which in, Lightroom's Develop module, is the graph on the top of the tool workspace. The far right is pure white and the far left is the pure black and everywhere in between is all the colors of the black and white rainbow! Romantic isn't it? So with that in mind- all of my Histograms have a little space at the far right to keep that pure paper white out of my prints. The first thing I did to the image was to make a global Exposure adjustment of +90 for the right overall feeling for the scene- because of the bright areas on the storefronts I was apparently being extremely cautious about blowing the exposure out there, after all that's where the heart of the details lay in this composition. The good thing is that the sensor, (the film), in my camera is pretty excellent, so to make an exposure attenuation of almost a whole stop doesn't introduce any palpable noise at all and I probably could have pushed it almost 2 stops without having to deal with noise issues much- not to say that you shouldn't try your hardest to make a proper in-camera exposure, just showing you the possibilities. Then I made a Highlight adjustment of -36 to bring back those storefronts to a normal brightness, then a Shadow adjustment of +22 to bring some detail back into the areas under the pier. I routinely zoom in to a 100 percent loupe view to check for noise and check how detail is rendering and to check edges for halo's of any kind. I also routinely evaluate the thumbnail image while making changes to see how the feel of the scene is from "far away", it's always useful to like step-back from what you're working on to get a better idea of what you're looking at or get a better overall perspective. Lightroom 4 has a sweet Chromatic Aberration removal tool in the Lens Profile dialog that works a treat for your edges- there'll almost always be some amount of magenta or green tinge to high contrast edges that this tool will fix and help with the detail definition, so hit that check box. Allright now I'm kind of forgetting my place here but herein is a point: you don't necessarily have to do any of these adjustments in any kind of order although it helps to do certain things before other things because making one adjustment will have ramifications on other aspects of the image. And the way Lightroom is laid out is to move down through the tools throughout the Develop module making one adjustment before the other. But I've developed my own approach that I feel most comfortable with and you may find your own approach is more comfortable, anyways... So before this point I did Sharpening. And here is a point of contention for some as some people only sharpen as the very last step and then only depending on the ultimate choice of application (whether or not it's meant for the web or for a print and if it's a print is it a big print or a little print, etc.) But I like to sharpen fairly early on as I can't hope to see the scene unless it's happy on my eye's! And all digital image files need a fair amount of sharpening to look correct. So I'll do sharpening right after global exposure adjustments and after adding a teaspoon of Clarity (+22 here). I'll often only use a sharpening amount of @+45~55 but this time with this particular distant details subject i used an amount of +92 (I know, seems like alot!) also it's that f/18 that caused that desire!- with a radius of 0.9, detail left on 25 and I always add a Sharpening Mask whereby while holding down the Option (alt) key you slide the mask amount to the right while watching where the actual mask is being applied- don't sharpen skies or open field, just sharpen edges- but then watch for haloing in the image in 100% loupe view to make sure the amount of masking is correct. Sharpening is crucial for digital images and a correct amount of sharpening will make the image pop and have the correct amount of microcontrast. Too much sharpening has a garish result and not only will introduce noise but will make an image ugly and angry like it's tearing out of the paper or the screen (PG13 warning: cover your kids eyes and ears!!!) wanting to wrip your throat out with it's stinky breath and fingernails jagged claws!!- it's an arbitrary thing like so many other things but approach sharpening with restraint: less is better than too much if you ask me. Now we move to global Contrast adaptations. Here's another case of an arbitrary consideration. I like a fair amount of contrast and for some images I want more and for others less goes a long way. Also consider that negative contrast will help bring out shadow detail- and any global adjustment can be fine tuned as a local adjustment using the Adjustment Brush and painted anywhere in the image that is necessary. So in this case of the Old Orchard Beach boardwalk there was already a fairly strong presence of contrast because of the lighting conditions so adding a little bit more would be suitable and natural for the feel of the scene as well as it stretches the Histogram to either end helping with the exposure. In this case I added a Contrast amount of +40. And that's about it for the Lightroom stuff, this image was pretty straight forward for me to approach. I will more often then not usually use the white point and black point sliders in the Develop module and often make some tone curve adjustments and occasionally when necessary make adjustments to the color channels in the HSL dialog of the color channels part of the Develop module, and I'll almost always add a graduated filter of either exposure or clarity or contrast or all of the above to the sky, but this time those weren't necessary and I went right from here to Nik Silver Efex.
Nik Silver Efex is de' best, hands-down, program for making black and white conversions- you can do it fine in Lightroom using the black and white mode, you can use Photoshop for black and white, but the luminance magic and silvery goodness that you get from Silver Efex is totally amazing. The trick is you get your file looking as good as you can get it in your RAW developer then send the file over to Silver Efex (I have my Silver Efex functioning as a plug-in to Lightroom) so you just right-click and open with Silver Efex and it gives you the choice of Open as a copy with Lightroom Adjustments or open the original, so you choose open with the Lightroom adjustments and the work you did on the file shows up in scrumptious varieties of presets of black and white. It get's me everytime! I just love it! I still use Silver Efex version original but everyone else has Silver Efex 2 now, which they say is even better, but I'm just so used to version I that I don't even know if I want version 2, anyways you get your image there and you can choose a number of high key or low key or different levels of contrasty amounts of silvery yummyness- I usually start with the Neutral preset or sometimes the underexpose or overexpose or sometimes the pull-process presets, then I'll always go through the digital colored filters- usually going with the red or orange filter, sometimes the green, or sometimes for extreme contrast scenes I'll use the blue filter. Then for this image I added a fair amount of Structure (can't remember how much now but probably around 20-30 (in conjunction with the +22 of clarity I already added to the color image that pops it the right amount)), a little bit more contrast then I did some brush work with Control Points along the boardwalk itself. Silver Efex and all Nik tools have a 'great control point' system that automasks in a real intuitive fashion and I almost always do some "dodging and burning" with the control points. The Nik interface is a slick thing but isn't quite as good or intuitive as working in Lightroom so I always make my adjustments knowing that I will ultimately fine-tune them later over in Lightroom and Photoshop, what I mean by that is i get the image looking as good as I can get it to feel in Silver Efex and then save it and once again and in Lightroom I do final local and maybe even some more global adjustments using the 100 percent loupe and the thumbnail to feel it out. I like to make final tuning by dodging and burning with the brush tool in Lightroom and sometimes if I'm feeling ambitious I'll prefer to do these adjustments in Photoshop where the Dodge and Burn tools are able to be more finessed by selecting on highlights, midtones, or shadows to apply the effect to. Also I'll often either add something of a vignette in Lightroom or for more creative possibilities I'll use Photoshops gradient tool with the round or linear gradient selected to add custom vignetting. And that's what I did here I added two circular gradients- one to the top of the image at the boardwalk and another to the sand ripples in the bottom which gives the overall feel of vignetted edges- that's my favorite kind of vignette approach these days. Well that's about it kids- a pretty basic development with nothing too crazy going on. I probably spent no more than 30 minutes working on this image and considering the image from the other side of the pier- and these days that's pretty much my approach to developing.
I've been shooting a lot more then developing lately, that's not always the case, sometimes I run out of images to work on in the digital darkroom and then I need to get out to make more because I like to always have something to work on. And I didn't talk about one of my favorite tricks which is to make Virtual Copies of the image I'm working on in Lightroom and create different developments and compare them for what I want with the compare tool or the survey view- as well as taking time and coming back the next morning to make sure that I like what I did- some people take a ton of time working on an individual image, don't rush it, you'll probably never go back and fix it the right way.
Well I hope this was somehow useful- thanks for coming by, grab a cookie on the way out- they're fresh, the lady just made a batch, and hope to see you out there sometime! Have a good day -Nate from Maine, Usa!