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Retouching for Exterior Architectural Photography

Lesson 2 of 3

Live Edit 1: Compositing Motion and People

Mike Kelley

Retouching for Exterior Architectural Photography

Mike Kelley

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Lesson Info

2. Live Edit 1: Compositing Motion and People

Lesson Info

Live Edit 1: Compositing Motion and People

Let's jump into some post-production. I'm gonna do two photos here. My first one is the Salt Shed. Very, very cool piece of architecture in Manhattan, by Dattner Architecture. And I'm gonna show you how I sort of expand the temporal, expand the decisive moment and create, like I said, one of those temporally expanded composite images. So, what I end up doing here, I'll kind of walk you through my process. I have the camera on a tripod, scouted my angle, I'm sitting there for 20 minutes, half an hour or so. I bracket my exposures to get the range of dark to light, and then I'll leave the camera there and I'll just capture city life. In this case, this is, you know, sharp, sharp action that may be one twentieth of a second, but I think I like, I want to capture how it feels to be there. I want the cars sort of whizzing past. So I bring my shutter speed down to maybe one fortieth of a second or so, let's see what I'm at. One twentieth, F twenty, and you can see things are a little bit ove...

rexposed, but we're gonna fix that before we go into Photoshop. We can adjust the exposure in Lightroom before I composite them together. So I'm just taking pictures over and over and over of different city life here. There's a guy walking across the street. To answer your question, I don't think he's recognizable. And I don't think if he saw himself, he'd even know. So I'm not too worried about that, he's so far away. We've got some cabs, we've got all kinds of different motion here and I'm gonna sort of go through and find what I consider to be the best pieces of each photo. Here's a guy on a bike. I might use him. Sort of build this piece. So the first thing that I need to do is find my base exposure, which is this single exposure that I'm going to build the entire photograph off of. And I'll go, I'll jump back to my bracketed exposures from earlier. And obviously, this is a little bit too dark. I mean, I have it if I need it. This is also too dark, but it's there in case I need some highlights. I think these are a little bit too bright, so I think in this case I will use this middle exposure. If I need the other ones, I'll jump back into Lightroom and grab them. But I'm going to use this middle exposure here. And like I said, I didn't really like these sharp cabs. I liked the feeling of the city being alive and the motion blur that comes with being close to the highway here as the cars, you know, sort of, careen past you so I'm gonna pull out some of these blurry cabs. Maybe this guy. And start building a scene. So what I'll do is I've gone ahead and marked these in Lightroom with a red filter here, the ones that I'm going to use. And I want to make sure that my exposure matches before I go into Photoshop. So I have my original, let's see, where's my base image here? Maybe this one. One of these will be my base image. Okay, where did this guy? And this will be the image upon which I build everything. It's properly exposed, there's detail in the shadow, detail in the highlights, nothing is super blown out. You can see the histogram over here. Looks pretty good to me in terms of shadow and highlight detail. But obviously my, my city life images are a bit overexposed. Everything's bunched up to the right on the histogram. So what I'm going to do is I'm going to adjust these until they match exposure wise my base image. So I'm going to go to the develop module in Lightroom, hit D, jump over here and all I need to do is I'm gonna bring the exposure down by one stop and see if that works. And now if you look, almost there, I'd say maybe like one point, one and a third stop, so like minus one or something, that could do it. That looks pretty good, right? The histogram matches. Doesn't have to be perfect, but it's in the same ballpark exposure wise, that way when I mask things together the exposure matches, I don't have highlights against, you know, the properly exposed photo. And I'm just gonna sync that with all of the rest of those city life shots. So now I have everything matching exposure wise and I'm going to select those four images. Gonna right click, edit in, open as layers in Photoshop. Okay, so, here are my layers all stacked up. As always, I'm going to rename them by double clicking, and I'll call this the base layer just so I don't get confused. Drag that to the bottom. And one by one, I'll name the rest of these. So, I'm gonna walk through and sort of tell you what I like about all of these images and how I'm gonna pull them out. First of all, it's New York City. Taxi Cab School, alright? I love the yellow contrast against the blue and I want to show a lot of motion, so I'm gonna attempt to use more of the cabs to kind of pop off that blue background and give this picture some real interesting contrast and color. Not only like photographic contrast of dark and light, but color contrast as well. Yellow and blue tend to set each other off very, very well. So I'm going to go ahead and name this Cabs In The Middle. Turn that off. And I love the motion in the foreground, it's super dynamic. So I'm gonna use the cabs in the bottom right and this black car as well. So I'll double click and name that Bottom Right. This one, I like this yellow cab over here and these guys. I don't like these cabs, obviously, not the cabs, but the truck right in the middle is blocking our subject and not, like I don't care about the Mercato Elevator Company, I don't need them in my photo, we're gonna take them out. So Cabs On The Left. And I might need to pull from some other frames to figure this out, but I might jump back to them, I might not. We'll see what happens. So, anyway. Here's our base layer. We were on a tripod. Everything should be perfectly aligned at the pixel level. I have the camera weighted down with some sandbags so it didn't blow in the wind and hopefully we're good. So I'm gonna go full screen here. And what I'm gonna do is I'm gonna use a layer mask to hide and reveal certain parts of this image. Now if you haven't used a layer mask before, what it is is essentially a way to non-destructively edit multiple layers together without using your eraser tool, which is non-destructive. I can always go back to my layer mask and reveal or hide my previous work. So, what I'm going to do here is I'm going to click on the Add Layer Mask button down here, just like my interior class, I use layer masks in every single photo. It's so critical to what I do. Add layer mask, and I'm gonna select my brush using B or I'm going to click over on my left hand side and make sure my brush tool is selected. If I click and hold, I just come right up. You can change the size of your brush using this sort of drop-down box up here. I find it's much faster to use the brackets on your keyboard. Bracket left or bracket right. And I can change the softness of the brush by using the shift bracket function. If I go shift left, they get softer, shift right it gets harder. And Photoshop sort of shows a general outline of your brush size on the screen for you. So we have my layer mask added. Remember, all I want is this cab, right? So I'm gonna select black. Black will hide anything on that layer that is painted over. So if I have this white mask and paint black on it, it's hiding that, it's temporarily erasing that, so to say. And if I paint white, it's revealed. So if I paint black, right, my cab is hidden and the layer below is revealed. But I don't want to hide everything. That's obviously too far, I just want the cab to show up. So I'm gonna switch my foreground color to white. I can hit X or use these little 90 degree arrows down here. Switch the foreground color to white. And I'm just gonna paint in that cab, alright, and I'll put that black car in, too. It's kind of a, not the most amazing car, but hey. And we'll just keep building from here. So I have one cab. Alright, now in the bottom right, I'll do this. This time I'm going to alt-click on the Add Layer Mask button so that my layer mask is filled with black rather than having to paint out everything except the cab, I can now just paint in the area that I want. I'll make my brush a little bigger, keep it soft, switch the foreground color to white this time to reveal what's below and I'm going to paint in all those cabs in motion. What I like here is that they sort of frame the building nicely. It's like this nice sort of leading line into our subject. It keeps it open down there. So I think that's a good spot for those guys. And I'll switch my color to black. As you can see, as I paint in, I accidentally sort of revealed that Ford truck in the background, which I don't want, 'cause it's covering up the other car behind. So I will hide that by switching my foreground color to black by hitting the X key and just painting out anything that I don't want in the frame. And that is hidden. It's there if I need it, but again, it's non-destructive and I'm hiding if for the time being. Now we're starting to get somewhere. I do think I should, how about this guy, I don't know? We'll paint him in for some scale. And cabs in the middle here, I'm gonna add these two yellow cabs again as one more sort of pop of yellow against everything else. And I'll zoom right in using my foreground color as white. I alt-click to add a layer mask filled with black and there's my yellow cabs in the background. So that's painted in. Kind of built my scene. I really like where we are. I've got some action in the foreground. It feels like New York. We've got some cabs, we've got a, I'm gonna fix that, there's no motion in it, it looks, for some reason like that car is stopped in the middle of the freeway and everyone else is zooming past him. I know he's turning left, but the viewer might not know that, so we'll take care of him in a minute. We'll make him move. I got the person for scale. I think it works. It kind of shows you how big this freaking thing is, which is really cool. And it's not like there's traffic that's gonna hit him, which makes sense. I always have to make sure that if you're compositing people and cars in the same frame that it doesn't look like the people are gonna get hit. He's obviously, I'm serious right? People have said that before. It looks like he's gonna get hit, even though he's in the crosswalk. Well, there's a road coming out here, I think it's okay. I think it makes sense. But I like him there for scale. But I do, it does annoy me that this car here is frozen. I know he's probably turning left and waiting, but I would like to add some motion to him so what I'm gonna do is I'm going to paint him out of this layer with my black brush and remove him and I'm going to duplicate this layer, delete the layer mask, put it up on top, and I'm going to rename this Rusted Hood That Needs Motion. Okay, I'm going to alt-click out of black layer mask to hide that 'cause if I reveal everything, all I want is this black car, right? Gonna hide that and I'm gonna paint in just that black Honda, making sure I'm on the mask when I paint. And I'm going to, I think we have enough cab action, so I'm gonna paint out these guys back here. Doesn't need to be perfect because, again, I'm going to make it blurry. It's okay, it doesn't need to be totally sharp. What I'm going to do is select my layer again, rather than the mask, select the layer. I'm gonna go to Filter, Blur, Motion Blur, and I'm gonna just make this guy move a little bit. I'm going to, so I can adjust the distance of the blur. Like here it looks like he's moving at light speed. You don't need him that fast. But I want to kind of match him to the rest of the cars here. So like, maybe like a, that looks pretty good, maybe. Or is that a bit much? That's a bit much. Zoom out, see the big picture. Maybe it's like an 80. Alright. And the problem is that my mask wasn't perfect, so it's also blurring like the signs and the streets. That's fine, I'll hit okay. Oops, I made a mistake. I'm gonna back it up. I'm gonna go back to my filter, motion blur. I noticed this kind of immediately but the angle of the blur is a little bit off, so I'm just gonna give that, I can blur him up and down, right? Looks like he's falling out of the sky. But a little angle to sort of match the street I think will really sell this. Alright. So now, he's blurred, it looks like he's driving, but I gotta get in there and make this perfect. So I'm gonna just go refine my mask. I'll take a small brush. I'm just gonna paint around the edge of this car so that the trees and these utility boxes and stairs aren't blurred, as they should not be. They should be nice and sharp. Only the car will be blurred. So the front and the back look okay. And I don't think that the concrete should be blurred, either. So I'll paint that out. And again, the better, the more accurate I am here, the better I sell the illusion that this car is moving. It'd be very difficult if this was like, exactly in the foreground, but since he's kind of hidden, I think we can get away with it just fine. So that's looking pretty good there. And it looks totally natural, right? Like they all look like they're moving. I'm just covering my tracks. Things are looking really good. Again, I've kind of built this out of nothing. Now, what I've noticed that is, this picture, I don't know if you guys can see on this screen, but it's a little bit flat. I think the yellow of the cabs is a bit too much, a bit too hot. I want to kind of tone those down. There's some reddish cast in the sky. So I'm just gonna go through and do some finessing here to finish this picture. I think we're shooting in great light. Adds nice dimension to our structure. You kind of see those cubic salt crystals that this building has been modeled after really well. So all I'm gonna do is do some color correction. So like I said, I think the cabs are a bit too yellow. Canon in particular doesn't do so, so hot with reds and yellows. So I'm just gonna de-saturate those a little bit so they're not so screaming yellow. Again, it's just kind of a game of finesse here. And it also de-saturates the trees. So I'm going to take my brush and on that hue and saturation adjustment layer, I'm going to paint out the de-saturated yellow and the trees. So all that's affected are my cabs. Get this bigger. And if I hit backslash, I can actually see what I'm working on as I paint. So red is hidden and white, or the natural color, is revealed. And that will, that's a visual representation of that mask. So I've de-saturated the yellow in the cabs by using an adjustment layer without affecting the rest of the picture. And now I want to kind of add some snap 'cause it is pretty low contrast and there is some reddish that's in the sky. What else do we have? No, I think we're pretty good. So, I'm going to add a curves adjustment layer to add some contrast and color correction here. I'm going to see what Photoshop thinks some nice colors will be. 'Cause I think we're kind of accurate, but it's a little bit off. So I'm just gonna select, let's find a nice white tone. I think that the white of this sign is a nice white and if I zoom back out, I'll find a nice black. Let's see, maybe like, if you hit alt, Photoshop will also kind of preview where it thinks you should be clicking to use this color adjustment tool. Maybe, like somewhere in here should do it. And a little bit of gray now. So what's a good gray? The building is nice and gray. And this is kind of gray over here. No, that's not gonna like that. Let's see. There we go. So, I've kind of, I've added a bit of snap to the image. I think it's gone a little bit too far in the foreground. It seems to have removed some of that red. Again, if I look at this curves tool, you can see it pulled some of the reds out of the shadows, added a little blue. But I think it's a little too dark in the foreground, so I'm just gonna take a brush, paint that out down here. But I love what it did to the building and the sky. And I've never been one for really contrasty black, so we'll see what happens here. Yes. And you can see that it looked kind of fuzzy before I added contrast, but now everything's a bit sharper and cleaner. And the last thing I'm going to do, probably cool that off a little bit. Yeah, add some nice contrast. I'm going to hit command alt shift E to fly everything to a new layer and as always, with all my photos, I'm gonna drag out some ruler lines and make sure that everything is nice and straight. I think I did a pretty good job on location here, but I would like my vertical lines to be perfect. So I'll just find, yep, a little bit of skewing is all we need. So command T, right click, skew, and drag over those vertical lines so that they're nice and straight. And over here, you can zoom right in there. I think we're looking pretty good. Need a little bit over here, too. And hit enter to commit those changes. And there's our final shot. Again, if I turn off all of our work here, and turn the final on and off, you can see a lot subtle movements to create this, again, somewhat temporally expanded architectural photograph. So not a lot of big things, but lots of little things here that come together to make the final shot. So before I move on, any questions on this photo? Just wondering how meticulous you get about ever removing signage or toning down signs or even just those leaves up on the top. Do you tend to just sort of leave that stuff in? Yeah, the leaves up on the top, I could probably take out. The signage, it's a city. I mean, sometimes the client will request that I take certain things out. It just totally depends. A lot of times I'll have clients who want telephone wires and stuff removed, because they're like, blocking the building for whatever reason, that's a pretty common request. In this case, I don't mind the signage. Like I said, it is New York, there's signage. I don't find that they distract from this shot in particular, but if they did I would definitely get in there and see if I could take them out, yeah. So it totally depends, yeah. Kind of along the lines of blurring faces, would you, if you didn't have moving cars, would you blur out license plates or like the cab's advertisements or anything like that? I have, I don't blur out license plates, I rearrange the letters and numbers on them. (laughing) Because the blurred out license plates looks ridiculous, I think, when everything else is sharp. And it's like, oh, you know. So I have literally gone in there and if the license plate is like, whatever numbers, I'll just flip them all around so, I don't think there's any chance of anything ever happening, but just in case, that makes me feel better and helps me sleep at night. I actually copy and paste different letters and numbers just to scramble a little bit. So that's my approach to that, yeah.

Class Description

Making exterior architectural images look great takes special skills, and award-winning photographer Mike Kelley has them. In this class, Mike will share his tried-and-true methods for retouching exterior images of world-class architectural subjects, both for international architecture firms and commercial clients. You’ll learn to navigate your way through complicated retouching situations using a combination of exposure merges, sky replacements, perspective corrections, masking and more. 

Adobe Lightroom CC 2015

Ratings and Reviews

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user 4a6ee8

I think this is a good course to gain a better understanding of how to shoot on-location more efficiently, while learning a few tips and tricks in post-processing to make your image shine. I would have liked to see the edits of the photos be more of a portfolio hero shot rather than a photo in a series of photographs that are delivered to a client. I found that my best learning tool from this course came from how to properly replace a sky without doing damage to the original photograph.

Christian A

A quick course that flows well. Not overly indepth but provides some good tips and some things to think about and be aware of. Good class for anybody who is looking to improve or brush up on their architecture photography. The purists will likely hate it but for the digital artist this will be useful.

Roy Bisschops

It's a nice and clear course, with good explanations from Mike. But at the same time it's aimed at photographers starting in the field of architectural photography. I expected a tutorial with some more challenging situations, but instead it contains two photos dealing with masking out unwanted objects and replacing a sky. So if you're starting out, go ahead and buy the course. If you've got experience with photoshop masks and replacing a sky, don't bother.