Anatomy of an Image: Scotts Run WaterFall (Part 2) / by Paul Waldo

20120101_mclean_trip_011_HDR.jpg
20120101_mclean_trip_011_HDR.jpg

In Anatomy of an Image: Scotts Run WaterFall (Part 1), I described how I got the raw material that will eventually become the image above.  My goal was to create a moody, textured image that highlighted the blurred waterfall.  In this post, I'll show how I used HDR Efex Pro from Nik Software to create this image.  In the interests of full disclosure, the walk-through is a recreation of the editing process, so the result will be a bit different.  With that caveat in mind, on with the show!

When we left off, I had chosen this set of images, bracketed 3 EVs apart:

20120101_mclean_trip_011.jpg
20120101_mclean_trip_012.jpg
20120101_mclean_trip_013.jpg

HDR Efex Pro has a large number of parameters you can change.  In order to make the parameters less daunting, there are a number of presets available, the idea being that you choose a preset that looks promising and start working from that point.  Once the bracketed images were loaded into HDR Efex Pro, I quickly scanned the Presets column for something close to what I was looking for.  I chose the Realistic (Strong) preset, as it really brings out the textures in the image.

01 Screen Shot 2012-01-06 at 7.27.03 AM

Note that clicking on these images will show you the full-sized image.

There is a lot going on in this image that distracts from the two subjects I wanted to emphasize: the large foreground rocks and the waterfalls.  Relative brightness is one way you can change the relationship between objects in a scene, so I wanted to make the main subjects brighter than the surroundings.  The first step was to darken the image globally using the Exposure slider.

02 Screen Shot 2012-01-06 at 7.27.46 AM

Now that all elements of the image were subdued, I could start bringing out the subjects from the busy scene.  All of Nik Software's products use what they call Control Points.  A Control Point (CP) can be placed on an image and it will intelligently allow you to alter the image around that point.  It is smart enough to know about object boundaries and blend the effect so as to not look contrived.  The first subject I wanted to liven was the large waterfall.  I placed a control point on the fall and turned the exposure up a bit.

03 Screen Shot 2012-01-06 at 7.28.31 AM

Once the CP is placed, it has sliders that allow you to change parameters for things like Exposure, Contrast and Saturation.  The CP examines the image and applies these changes in an intelligent way  You can see this by examining the mask for the CP.  The mask checkbox (circled in red below) shows the CP's sphere of influence by making the image dark where there is no effect and light where the CP is effecting the image.

04 Screen Shot 2012-01-06 at 7.28.42 AM

Whatever changes were made to the CP, they were made only to the light areas.  How easy was that!  Creating a mask in Photoshop would have been much more tedious.

The next step was to continue tweaking the brightness in both waterfalls.  I added more control points along both falls and adjusted the brightness.

05 Screen Shot 2012-01-06 at 7.38.55 AM

The next step was to work on the foreground rocks.  Lightening them up was a snap with a single control point.  Notice that one of the other parameters you can adjust is Structure.  This parameter increases local contrast to yield more detail and sharpness.

06 Screen Shot 2012-01-06 at 7.40.29 AM

Just for fun, lets look at the CP masks:

07 Screen Shot 2012-01-06 at 7.41.02 AM

So far, so good, but it still needed some work.  As-is, the edits to the subjects looked a bit obvious and ham-handed.  I wanted to add some interest to the background so I globally boosted the Structure and Saturation.  This brought out the color of the fallen leaves a bit.

08 Screen Shot 2012-01-06 at 7.41.55 AM

It was looking pretty good now, but the area between the two waterfalls was a bit distracting.  I then added a CP on this area to darken it up a bit.

09 Screen Shot 2012-01-06 at 11.46.49 AM

Still looking for a moody feel and needing more focus on the subjects, I added a vignette.  This effect will darken the edges, calling attention to the center of the photograph.

10 Screen Shot 2012-01-06 at 11.48.55 AM

Exactly the look I was shooting for!  Now it was time for tweaking to clean things up. As you can see below, I adjusted the global Stauration, Structure and Warmth.  Also, I added a few more CPs to do some minor adjusting where there were some distracting bright points.

11 Screen Shot 2012-01-06 at 11.56.18 AM

I'm pretty happy with the result now.  The main subjects of the image, the waterfall and the foreground rock, are now obvious, but there is still plenty for the eye to explore.

As I stated before, the steps above are a recreation of the original edits.  Looking at them side by side, original on the left, and the recreated version on the right, I think I might like the recreated version more.  Which one do you like better?

Screen Shot 2012-01-08 at 8.06.35 PM