Sunday, June 2, 2013

Creating 'Stars Over Oakland' Part 2...

Now I'll get into the details of how this image was processed. First of all, the Oakland skyline was not my initial thought. As a matter of fact when I first started off on this adventure, using a skyline wasn't even under consideration. However, after going through the exposures I realized the setting, at least to me, didn't really cut it as far as being something I'd want to present.

Not wanting to let the trip be a waste (and really, how can any road trip involving photography be a waste) I started to ponder what else I could do with it. My first thought was to use the San Francisco skyline I used in the 'San Francisco Moon' image. But, as you might have guessed, I'd already used that so somewhat quickly ruled it out. None of the other SF skylines I'd done in the past really fit, then I remembered I had this really cool shot of the Oakland skyline from across Lake Merritt. It would work perfectly.

And so it begins. I made it home about 7:30 a.m. (I'd stopped along the way to get a sunrise shot, and get some breakfast) and uploaded the image files to Lightroom. For those who care, my workflow for this involves placing the image in a folder located on a remote hard drive, with backup copies on another remote drive. I name my files by the date shot_camera-used_name-of-shoot. So for this the file would be 06012013_7D_EbbettsPassStarTrails. I add keywords specific to this shoot so if I need to find these at some time in the future I can look for 'star trails' or 'Ebbetts Pass' and these will be found.

Anyway, enough of that. Once the files were downloaded the only editing I did in Lightroom was Enable Profile Corrections, which removes the distortion a zoom lens such as a 17-70 will create. Doing this manually with 20 separate images would be a royal pain in the butt. Thankfully, Lightroom allows this to be applied to multiple images. It can be done one of two ways:
  • Tick the box, select "Copy" and apply it to each image individually
  • Select the entire range of images and hit the tick. PR will apply the correction to all the files selected.
    And that's it. Once this is done it's time to move all of them to Photoshop. To get all the files opened and placed as layers in a single PS file, once again select all of the images, then go to 'Photo->Edit In->Open as Layers in Photoshop...'

    Sit back and let Photoshop to the heavy lifting. This is SO much better than having to load each image, then move each one to a single file to create the layers. Photoshop will open each individual file, then will automatically import each into one layered file with which to work.

    Now, I'm using basic Photoshop 6. In PS Extended there's a feature that will merge the layers into a single file and present the finished image as a star trail. In PS 5.5 this is the 'Statistics' option in the File->Automate section. PS 6 basis has no such function but it's not a difficult task to do the same thing. Simply select all the layers, then select 'Lighten' in the blend mode

    You see the result, a somewhat nice star trail image with the silhouetted forest on the right. Not bad, but not what I wanted. So it was now time to get to work.

    I opened the Oakland Skyline image and began to visualize the details before I began. I knew this would be a progressive work, as is almost everything I do. I rarely ever end up with what I initially visualized. So Cary, sorry man, it ain't happenin'. ;)

    So now the trick is how to get the star trails over the city of Oakland and make it look realistic. The first thing was to get the skyline into the star trails image. That is going to need the Quick Selection tool and some patience. Without having really clear and defined contrasts this was going to need a little more work than would be necessary if the scene was a more darker/light combo.

    I had to decide whether or not I wanted to keep the trees in the star image or try to remove them. I decided that having them would give the image a solid foreground, and the trees would appear to be on the shore across from the skyline.

    While Photoshop will create the layered file, the work needs to be done on a merged version, so the first thing is to hit Shift+Alt+CMD+E to create a merged file of all the active layers. You can also select Flatten Image from the Layers menu, but you lose the layers and I don't like doing that. With the merge file layer highlighted, I took the Quick Selection Tool and painted inside the trees. Brush was set at 40 and I did a rough sketch. I did use the Refine Edge tool a bit, but mostly refined the selection with the QST. The image below will give a rough idea of how it went.

    Now to get the Oakland skyline into the game. Once again the Quick Selection Tool gets the job. In the original I wanted to get rid of the sky but keep the lake. So taking the QST inside the skyline that was done. There will be some work to do later in the finishing part but for now this was good.

    So with the skyline image active I simply chose CMD-C, then moved to the star trail image. Since the trees are where the selection is made, and it's the sky I want to paste the skyline into, the selection will need to be inverted (Shift+CMD+I). After that I did a Shift+Alt+CMD+V (Edit->Paste Special->Paste Into). The reason for the Paste Into option is so that I have the flexibility to place the skyline image where I want it. I decided that Polaris should sit at the point of the highest tower just left-of-center.

    The trails were a bit too dark so I added another late with that and used the Screen blend mode to lighten up up, then I copied (CMD+J) the Screen layer four times to really make it pop. I had to do some cleaning up with the eraser tool, then I merged the active layers and put a Brilliance/Warmth filter on it from Color Efex Pro 4, which brought out the colors you see in the final. I put a bit of a curve on it to make it pop just a bit more, then once again merged the layers.

    Since the initial selection wasn't as crisp as it would have been had the contrast been more distinct, there was some overlay, mainly star trails blending into the buildings. So I bought in the original skyline image, and after some fun getting it aligned, I put a mask on it and just painted in the areas of overlap. It took some time but was worth it. Once again I merged the layers and added a copy. It needed some sharpening to I put a High Pass filter (Filter->Other->High Pass) on it, then copied that twice (CMD+F).

    The last thing was to get the color tones to somewhat match. Once again I merged the layers and made a copy. Then, with the top layer selected I added an Average Blur (Blur->Average). Which create a solid brown layer.

    Now I could have left it at that and let you "visualize" the city and stars in the image, but no, then I'd be accused of being an artist. Plus, WTF?? ;)

    So I backed off the opacity to about 20, and the final image emerged. I was really happy with the way it turned out.

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