take’n a smoke break

Every Thursday evening rain or shine San Luis Obispo puts together a farmers market to rival all farmers markets. Many of the local businesses come out to advertise and sell their wares. Restaurants assembly outdoor serving areas and large BBQ’s line the curbs with meats and veggies on the grill.  Many of the area farmers bring their latest harvests providing fresh fruits and vegetables for purchase. A nearby fire station will treat the youngsters with their freshly polished bright red fire truck for the evening festivities. Turn the corner and the sounds from the nightly excitement become muted and a tranquil mood begins to surround you. As we walked down the street the lights from the smoke shop and the neon from the next door restaurant immediately caught me eye. I setup my tripod composing the shot to include what first caught my eye and decided I would capture this with 9 sequential exposures. The street was dark but the lights from the smoke shop were very bright. I told myself, take more than you need time is of the essence, make sure you control the light.  The sun had set long ago and the wind had begun blowing earlier in the evening. All I could think about was exposure, 9 shots, 9 different exposures, moving trees, the sign above the door of the smoke shop slapping back and forth, slow shutter speeds, ugh. And then from nowhere a guy walks out to take a smoke break, I thought to myself, how lucky can I be. I quickly set my slowest exposure and managed three 9 shot sequences before the guy disappeared back into the smoke shop. Normally I don’t like people included in my compositions, but in this case I felt it added a strong element of association. I’m sure you long remember the saying, “it’s better to be lucky than good”, well, in photography, it’s a real thrill when you get lucky, but you better be good or your luck will quickly vanish.

As I mentioned I shot a sequence of 9 exposures at 1-stop increments to later merge into my single image. At the start of my workflow I added some clarity and a light sharpening, around 10-20 and then synced my changes to the remaining 8 images images. I then loaded the 9 images into Photomatix, by HDRSoft and began applying my tonemapping. I soon decided that I would load these 9 images into photomatix a few times changing my tonemapping results and then saving each with a different file name. This will allow me the flexibility to stack these individual processed images into Photoshop and apply independent blending modes to each. By applying a hide all layer mask I could then brush in each layer to begin creating the final image. For this image to take on the mood I wanted I need more out of the image so I used Color Efex Pro by Nik Software to apply effects that would soon begin developing my image into what i was in search of. After  see-sawing a few days with my latest results I decided to take one of the heavily tonemapped images and load it into Nik Softwares Silver Efex Pro to transform the image into a high contrast black and white. Once back in Photoshop  I added that image as a top layer in my working image and proceeded to apply blend modes until I reached the result I was happy with. Again I added a hide all layer mask and painted in the areas I wanted to enhance changing brush opacity as I went. After massaging all the different layers and brushing here and there I arrived at what you see here. So, next time you have and image with strong textures and deep shadows with some detail try blending in a black and white image and explore the results, I know I will.


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