There Is No Photoshop Easy Button…

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Over the past few weeks you didn’t have to look too far to find an online review claiming how spectacular the new Photoshop CS6 upgrade is and how it’s gonna make everything you photograph so much better…but all I could think was no matter how easy the software engineers at Adobe make image editing by adding fancy new filters, content-aware tools or sexed-up widgets, none of that amounts to beans if you don’t have the smarts to envision the final result in that pile of mush that occupies the space between your ears. And it reminded me how I recently had to put some of my Photoshop smarts to good use and ‘fix’ a less than ideal situation when I was shooting the Annual Report for Philadelphia-based Glenmede…using Photoshop CS3, no less…

I had gone down to Philly a few weeks before the shoot to scout the location…Lenfest Hall at The Curtis Institute of Music…and on the day of the scout it was bright and sunny and would give us the perfect light & airy backdrop for the Management Committee photograph…

Problem was, on the day of the shoot, those 30-foot high windows gave us a view of Philly at it’s darkest and rainiest…

That’s when it became pretty clear I had to figure a way to let Photoshop brighten things up and get me to where I needed to be.

Here is the unretouched original, straight out of the camera…

The first thing I did was slide a new floor under everyone that was shot separately using a 16-second exposure…

For the next step, I figured the hardest thing I would hafta do would be to blow out all the detail in the windows to give the impression of it being a sunny day…but then things even got more interesting…the layout changed! My client wanted to know if it would be possible to give them more space on both sides of the group. Now this wasn’t something I had planned for, but if James Cameron can make the Titanic come to life I guess there had to be a way to generate a whole mess of information that didn’t exist…right?!!

I had some empty frames I shot after everyone had gone that I could use to clone the wood trim under the windows, but the real test would be adding perspective-correct banks of windows on both sides of the frame…that had me working well after midnight. Then I had to fake the entire right side of the piano, remove the rolling wheels under the piano, erase the clock and lighting panels from the back wall, and then turn on the sunbeams, add a little overexposure flare and brighten up those windows…

For the final step, I adjusted the color balance, heightened the Curves and Levels, and amped up the contrast with a High Pass Filter layer…

To see a larger version of the animated GIF at the top of the post that shows all the steps, click HERE


14 thoughts on “There Is No Photoshop Easy Button…

  1. Nice save Brad. Question. Approximately how long did all that post production take?

    I did it over a couple of days, but all-in, prolly 7-8 hours. BT

  2. Can I ask how you lit this sizeable group? 15 umbrella’s in a row right behind camera? Great photoshop work btw. Especially impressed with the floor ‘replacement’!

    The lighting was actually pretty simple…a couple of Octa’s up front, two big umbrellas camera-right for skim and a final Octa hitting the window wall to fill it in…


  3. Great work! You said you the floor was shot separately using a 16-second exposure. Did you keep all the people in place for that shot to maintain their shadows on the floor? If it was shot without people, how did you add the shadows back in?

    Yeah…I knew I was gonna be doing major post work on this shot, so I kept everybody in place after we finished to do a series of extra-long exposures for the floor. The shadows were there, but I had to build them up with a bit of dodging & burning in a separate layer. BT

  4. amazing work as always. A very smart and technical fix to bring a shot to life. I would be interested in answers to some of the above questions. As to lighting, I am thinking a somewhat slow exposure to take advantage of some ambient; perhaps a very large octobank; large V- flats on each side for an even and somewhat diffused light? Perhaps 3/4 more exposure from camera left for some direction of light? Also, a very interesting fix on the “double” frame windows- did perspective transform take care of this? I assume you shot the windows as a plate as well for later compositing? Interesting that you thought about these things WHILE you were shooting, not later, when a fix would have been more difficult. Top notch work. Love it. Thanks for the always interesting blog.

    Actually, it was hardly a ‘somewhat slow exposure’…it was 1 second @ f11. I needed at least f11 to hold focus, even with the 35mm lens. And as you can see, even at 1 second the light coming in from outside is still painfully dark. In fact, the ‘straight out of camera’ shot doesn’t even really show how damned dark it was on that day. I had to go to 8 seconds to mimic the look I had on the scout day, and obviously you can’t shoot people for 8 seconds! As for the windows, I did use an empty frame, but I had to copy the left side, flip it and clone it to the right side because of the piano. Then I had to clone one entire row of windows to make the new ‘middle’ bank. I didn’t have to use the perspective control, but I did have to skew the lines around to get everything to match up. And as I said, we knew going into this that we had to ‘fix’ things in post, so after deciding on our camera position and where everyone would be standing, we locked down everything for the shoot. BT

  5. Wow, respect! I don’t know if I’m more impressed with the floor replacement or the space expansion. Great job retaining perspective on the clone. Cheers!

  6. Wow, really great post production! And big props for the shadows on the floor. Did you say you left everyone in place for the 16 second exposure for the floor? Well played. I bet you were cursing yourself around midnight for cropping the end of that piano… although you maybe could have copied it from your previous set up shot?

  7. Reblogged this on Joe’s Place and commented:
    Ever wonder what happens to a photograph between the time the shutter clicks and you see it published? Check out this post by Brad Trent, from his blog, Damn Ugly Photography, to find out.

  8. You’re kind of preaching to the choir here with regards to the Fantastic Mindblowing and Easy of CS 6. If it wasn’t for the patch tool and text on a path, I’d still be on old PS 7. Very nice work on your images. Changes are much easier if you light things right. Love those Octa units.

  9. These are the kinds of posts that I love reading – what goes on in the mind of a photographer before, during, and after a shoot. It’s just so cool to get a glimpse of your thought processes and I’m completely amazed with what you did here.

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