Quick and dirty HDR shadow control

Its winter in the southern hemisphere. For my bread and butter, that means lots shots of houses with lots of contrast and heavy shadows. This one taken at 11am is typical. Now I usually bracket everything but sometimes – especially when shooting on my painters pole – the camera has moved too much for HDR to work – and sometimes it just doesn’t cut the mustard, or produces a result too different to the rest of the photos in the set. (See the very end for HDR output from my favourite HDR software – Oloneo).

This is how it looks in lightroom with no develop settings. Theres a lot of dynamic range to deal with and those shadows are blue – because the fill light is the sky.
1st stage in my workflow is to saturate everything and fill light those shadows in lightroom. Then apply a warm tone to the shadows.

So now you’ve got this:

Which is getting there, but those shadows are still distracting. Create a virtual copy and make the whole thing warmer. Get a good level of contrast in the shadows, the export both images to photoshop as layers…

Stack the lighter layer on the darker. Now you can use your blend-if sliders and layer mask to control where the new exposure should be seen:

(Double click on a layer in the layers pallette to access these). You can split the arrows by click alt/option and dragging.

This is telling that layer to make everything lighter than 196 completely transparent, and everything below 159 completely visible. (Where the numbers are the tonal value of the pixels ranging from 0 – black to 255 – white).

That gives us this

Which has warmed up the shadows. Its also not wanted in the rest of the image so create a layer mask and paint over:

To give this:

Now I want to apply extra lightening to the shadow area only. If I apply a curves adjustment layer and apply it only to this layer, it will alter the blend if parameters. A quick solution is to make a new layer, select it and layer 1, and then stamp to a new layer (ctrl+alt+E).

Which gives you this

This new layer combines the output of the blend-if sliders with the layer mask, but note: this is a quick and dirty process, its destructive – meaning that you cant go back and change the blend-if values later, you’ll have to recreate those steps and any others you’ve made after.

Now you can apply adjustment layers as clipping layers with gay abandon:

Finally a curves layer on top just to brighten the postbox area.

Now the concrete path looks flat, but you really want to draw the eye away from this anyway. Bokeh (or CS6’s focus blur) is your friend:

Total process time – about 5 minutes in photoshop, 5 minutes in lightroom.

And from Oloneo:

Which in this case has done well: There are no alignment problems in the 2 source pics, the tone of the green can be warmed and lightened using its hue controls:

However it still needs work in photoshop. You can ad an extra 5-10 minutes for processing – or about an hour per job.

The final shot: Its not art, but it pays the bills:

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