before & after: sky and concrete.


In my desire to create some new and better content for the blog, I’ve decided to start some new sections. One of those sections is the Vinyl Wednesdays. Another recent idea of mine was to show some of my workflow, from start all the way through to the finish. The first phase of this is showing some photography work of mine and how I “make” an image.

First off, it’s somewhat funny that I chose the phrase “make an image” because I’ve seen a few blog posts lately covering just that topic. One article I recently read (that I cannot find at this time) was trying to show a distinction between “taking” pictures and “making” pictures. “Taking” photos would be how some people like to go out, shoot photos and never edit them or even publish them. “Making” photos would then be the act of editing them or even just immediately publishing them for others to see, it could even be as simple as showing someone the back of your camera and allowing them a view of the image you just took. In the simplest of terms it’s not a photograph until other people can see it. It could also be referencing a great many other concepts within photography and how people use photography but for now I am going to just take it to mean the editing process that will reveal the image to a viewer as to how your mind’s eye remembers or imagines it. That, to me, is “making” an image.

Whether or not you agree with the above stance is irrelevant for this, I just pointed it out because I truly felt I had to “make” this photo.


Above is the original shot. I actually never had any intention of doing any editing of this photo. I took it on a day that Nancy and I were just out wandering the city. I think we were trying to score some tickets at the House of Blues but the show was sold out so we were bummed and just kind of hanging around doing a bunch of aimless walking. I looked up as we were leaving the HoB area and snapped a few shots. When I finally got home and began the process of uploading and reviewing the images from the day I truly just left this photo to rust in the digital wasteland. I believe it was only once I realized I needed some fodder for Empty Seats that I decided to have a stab at making this shot look decent.

The day wasn’t really exciting. It appears somewhat cloudy or overcast, I think it was about noon or 1pm and it’s just an overall dull shot. With a little bit of work that will all appear to change.


The first step in my editing of this photo was to see about getting that sky to a better level. Something worth really using. I first played with the white balance (as I usually do) and then I went to my exposure and contrast sliders.

* I suppose it’s worth noting that I used Lightroom 4 exclusively for all the editing of this image. I never took it into Photoshop, I never used any filters or presets from any third-party suppliers. For about two years now I’ve been working with Lightroom and I’ve found it to be an incredibly versatile program for my uses.

Anyway, I obviously pulled the exposure back quite a bit to create quite the silhouetted shape framing the sky. I don’t exactly remember but I would think it’s safe to say I probably thought it would be a quick edit and I’d just do a silhouetted image, although that thought process would rapidly change.


The next step was to adjust the sliders for the Highlight, Shadow, White and Black levels. As I tweaked these sliders I noticed that there was more to this image than I previously thought. I began to see some detail come out in the buildings and that the highlights along the Marina City structure were very interesting and that I wanted to highlight them a bit more.


Clarity and Vibrance came next. I boosted the Clarity settings to give more defined edges and to further boost the contrast a bit. I then pulled up the vibrance levels to create a bit more saturation and color in everything. The photo is really starting to come together at this point for me and I am starting to see where this image is headed.


The next step in the processing was to edit the curves a bit. I added some more blacks while boosting the white/brighter areas more. The blue-hue in the sky probably benefited most from this adjustment.


The photo appears to be taking some steps backward at this point. It’s getting darker and darker and a bit muddy in areas. Well, that was just a necessity for this shot in the end. For this particular step I edited the Saturation and Luminance levels. It was mostly boosting the Blues while also tweaking the Yellow/Orange/Reds as well. You can see how the sky is really becoming quite blue at this point and that the buildings are now slightly cooler in their temperature as well.


I don’t know if it’s especially noticeable in this small image but this step was me adjusting the sharpness and noise levels of the image. It was just a general sharpening and noise control for this image. It was already relatively sharp and I’m not a big fan of over-sharpening images anyway so I like to keep those settings relatively simple for photos like this.


The next, and final steps, was using the adjustment brush. Normally this is the type of thing I’d want to do in Photoshop since there is so much more control in that program versus Lightroom, but because I was just editing this image for the photo blog I really didn’t want to go through all of those steps. In the adjustment brush settings I played around with different settings but it was mostly a combination of exposure, contrast and brightness to really bring out the detail and color in the buildings. Up until this point the photo was still lacking the punch that draws a viewer in and this is just the type of adjustment it needed. As you can see, I brushed over a large area to start and worked on getting my settings where I wanted them and then I finally took the time to zoom in and do all the fine-tuning with the brush.


The end result is the image above.The texture in the building on the left helps to balance the insane texture of the building on the right and the bright and colorful sky plays well with the warmth of the buildings.

For a shot that I really had no intentions of ever editing I’d say it came out better than I could have imagined. I suppose this just goes to show that sometimes that photo you thought was crap could just need a little lovin’ to help it reach the full potential you originally hoped it would have.

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One Response to “before & after: sky and concrete.”

  1. David Wilson Says:

    Diggin this! Would love to see it the segment return weekly or monthy, etc.

    Nice work!

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