The Fine Art of Digital File Processing

One of the things that keeps me interested in photography is just how difficult it is to master. There are all of the technical issues to overcome, like aperture and exposure and keeping things sharp. Then a slew of artistic concerns like composition, color, harmony and design. All of this comes to play, in the field, when you are out there with your camera in hand(or on tripod). But, where it can get really interesting is what happens later, when the files get processed.

 one of many files used to create the final image, this one  captures the exterior lights over the garage bays. As you can see the colors very different between the inside and out. In person it doesn't look this strange, so it is my job to make the colors match and look natural.

one of many files used to create the final image, this one  captures the exterior lights over the garage bays. As you can see the colors very different between the inside and out. In person it doesn't look this strange, so it is my job to make the colors match and look natural.

In architectural photography it is not uncommon for photographers to take advantage of the fact that buildings don't move, which puts all sorts of creative possibilities on the table. The reason that an unmoving subject can make things more interesting is that the photographer can put their camera on a steady tripod and if things stay absolutely still between shots they can combine multiple exposures. The different exposures can each provide a function, one image might capture the perfect sky exposure, another might get the lights just right. An exposure can be made using a large black sheet to block reflections from glass or metal in the shot. As long as you are careful to only include the best parts, you can literraly be in the shot, and removed later. As you can imagine, things get complicated quickly and require excellent photoshop skills to massage everything into a usable image.

 This image is another of the many used to create the final composite. This image catches the interior lights, but another exposure was needed to light the fronts of the trucks. By adjusting the length of exposure every element can be exposed properly.

This image is another of the many used to create the final composite. This image catches the interior lights, but another exposure was needed to light the fronts of the trucks. By adjusting the length of exposure every element can be exposed properly.

The way files are added together and constructed into a final image is learned through experience and reflects the "eye" of the artist. Over time, I get better and better at compositing and often wonder just how different my images would be if I were to re-process the same project a few years later. I do this from time to time to perfect different techniques and compare the results to an earlier image constructed from the exact same set of photos. It seems strange that the exact same set of images can get such different results but it's true. Photoshop is such a vast program with so many methods to achieve similar results that it behaves like more organic media, like clay or paint than what we expect from digital media.

Which brings me to the last two images in this post. They are the result of revisiting an image that I was quite happy with. This image is in my portfolio so it represents some of my best work at the time. The first of the two was processed about two and a half years ago and the other was processed today. I am happy with the results, I feel like I am progressing well. I think the color is a little more complex or rich in the new version. The new version has a nice snap to it without so much data lost in the lights and darks. I was happy with the roof since I was able to get a lot more detail and color out of the same images. Over the years I have collected techniques to get the most out of my files, of course this could be in part due to improved raw processing with newer software, but it is a fairly significant change.

 This image was composited two years ago. I am still quite fond of the results. Simple bright colors, it almost looks like a 4th of July image.

This image was composited two years ago. I am still quite fond of the results. Simple bright colors, it almost looks like a 4th of July image.

In the end I am not 100% sure which version is the best, but it doesn't matter much since these pictures bring back such good memories of spending the day at the firehouse. Luckily, no alarms happened to sound during this final image and the whole thing went off without a hitch. I probably spent about 2 hours in post processing for each version. I think of post-production sort of like the darkroom of the digital artist and just another tool in the arsenal of the professional architectural photographer.

 This is the version from today. I opted for a new sky, the sky in other version was such a long exposure it was noisy and lacked something. This sky works well with the shape of the building and feels more alive.

This is the version from today. I opted for a new sky, the sky in other version was such a long exposure it was noisy and lacked something. This sky works well with the shape of the building and feels more alive.

Thanks for reading. If you are interested in commissioning architectural photography of your latest project I would be glad to answer any questions you might have or provide a free quote. To see examples of my work head on over to my portfolio.