After and Before Forum; 6 Month Anniversary Special

The After and Before forum is organised by Stacy Fischer, it is a place where amateurs as well as seasoned photographers explain the wow and how about their photo and editing decision.You can read more here about how to take part.

This week the After and Before forum is 6 months old. To celebrate over the last couple of weeks we had a poll on Stacy’s blog for you to choose one image we will all edit. The most voted for image was Karen’s landscape taken along the Arno River in Florence.
It was really strange to edit someone else’s photograph and it is something that I don’t do very often. The only time I have another person’s image on my screen is when I am creating a composite and it is a stock image or a friend wants me to make picture look “amazing”.


There were some areas that I felt needed to be worked on; first was the sky and second was the strange colour cast in the water. The original file was also a jpeg, a departure from my usual starting point.

ab-forum-wk25 a

First I opened the jpeg in ACR (Adobe Camera Raw) from Bridge, made sure all the settings were default and opened the image as a smart object, this became my background layer.
Once in Photoshop I opened the smart object background layer again in ACR and reduced the exposure by -2 and then duplicated the layer. The duplicated layer was then rasterized, I went back to my smart object background layer and back to ACR; this time setting the exposure to -2. Again I duplicated the layer and rasterized the duplication. One final time I opened the original background layer in ACR and rest the settings. Using layer masks on the – and +2 layers I used a manual HDR technique to recover some shadow and highlight details.

When I had finished with the HDR toning I grouped the layers, duplicated and merged the duplicated group. I chose the Magic Wand Selection tool and selected the highlight area in the sky. With the selection active I went Edit-Fill and then chose content aware. The fill wasn’t perfect and I used the clone tool to blend the edges.


Selecting all the layers I turned them into a smart object. I applied ACR as a smart filter to adjust the exposure, black and white point, clarity and vibrance.


The sky was still looking a bit strange, I created a new layer and used for some more cloning of the sky.


I now wanted to concentrate on colour. In the shadow of the building the water had a green/yellow colour cast. I added a hue and saturation adjustment layer, first adjusting the hue to correct the cast and then the saturation and lightness to match the rest of the picture. I selectively applied the adjustment using the layer mask.


I wanted a stronger reflection in the water. To create this I duplicated my background layer, rasterized and flipped it. Using transform tools I placed the layer and lowered the opacity until it looked natural. I then used a layer mask to blend in the new reflection. To be certain the colours matched I added a hue and saturation layer clipped to the reflection and adjusted the yellow tones.


I added a warm photo filter adjustment layer and applied it selectively to the sky and areas of the river.


With the colours now set I moved on to lighting.
I filled a new layer with black and set the blending to multiply.  After creating a layer mask, I used a large brush set to black to reveal the areas of the building and bridge. I reduced the opacity of the layer, duplicated it and set the blending of the duplicated layer to overlay.


In my head I split the picture into three areas; sky, buildings and river and used curve adjustment layers selectively to adjust the contrast.


The final tweaking was to control some colours that had gone crazy like the blue in the sky, which was too strong and the yellow in the buildings that was not strong enough. I made these adjustments with two hue and saturation layers.


When I had finished editing I saved the file and didn’t look at it for a few days. At first I wasn’t pleased with what I had done; I think this was because I had spent a long time editing  the picture. Coming back with fresh eyes the final image was strong and the colours were great. I did tweak some settings (these are the ones you see in the screen shots) to tone down some stronger adjustments.

I would really like to know what you think about the image, let me know in the comment box below.

Also please head over to Stacy’s blog to see the other participant’s version of the image.

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30 thoughts on “After and Before Forum; 6 Month Anniversary Special

  1. Nice work Ben. At first look I thought that you had swapped parts of the sky, but see now that you have “filled” it. It looks great, I really like your detailed explanations, some intelligent choices. A nice striking image. 🙂

    • Hi Katie, I was tempted to change the sky but got lazy when I realised how much work it would be with the buildings. Filling the sky was the easier option.
      Thanks for commenting.

    • Jpegs are not as versitle as raw files but with the duplication and stacking at the beginning of the process gave me a bit more leeway. The golden hour feel is what I also got, that is a mixture of the photo filter adjustment and the final hue and sat adjustment.
      Thanks for popping over Andrew.

  2. Oh my, compared to your work, mine looks like a kid had fun with it for maybe 5 minutes. I am amazed at how much time you invested and what you did to get to that final result. The sky and the water are really beautiful, especially the reflection of the buildings, that is a nice touch. Buildings I don’t like that much, I think softer colors would look better, but that is a personal preference. Bottom line – amazing work!!!

    • Originally they the buildings were soft and got lost in the picture that is why at the end I boosted their saturation, but as you said it is all personal taste.
      In the original you can see the buildings in the water they are just not as strong and as you said they add a nice touch.
      I haven’t seen the other edits yet but I am surw your’s doesn’t look like a childs played around.

  3. Very nice work, Ben. You surely put a lot of time into it, but there was a high payoff at the end. It is cool to see what everyone else is doing, and quite instructive. Taking an HDR approach, for example, did not occur to me. All in all, it demonstrates there are a lot of creative ways to work with an image. Thanks for the detailed explanation.

    • The HDR is not a true HDR but was the best I could do. Needing to fill in the sky I wanted some HDR tones to give me more texture to work with. There are many ways to edit and image and no way is right as long as the image is strong.

  4. Wow Ben, you have shown us again what good strong editing skills are worth cultivating, you were able to develop this image as a wonderful photo. With your blog post we are all able to learn, step by step how to do this. Thanks for sharing with us, it is wonderful to “watch you work”

    • Glad you like my process, it is great to be able to share what I know with the photo community. This image was a challenge because it was not mine and I felt the pressure was on.

  5. If I used Photoshop I’m sure I would have understood your explanation. But as so many have said to me when I describe lightroom, it’s like a foreign language. That doesn’t really matter. The work stands on its own. I don’t have to understand exactly how you achieved something to appreciate it. This is some beautiful work with the reflection and especially the sky, which had me floored. There didn’t seem to be much I could do with it in lightroom. Now, I see I should have tried cloning some of the clouds to cover the blown out areas. Basically that’s what I did in Perfect Effects 8. But I did the entire sky. Anyway, I love your work! As always!

    • For me the language of Lightroom is similar to Adobe Camera Raw but Photoshop is a different world. I don’t think Lightroom would be able to replace the sky.
      If i have to clone large areas Photoshop is my go to answer.
      I wish lightroom had individual saturation adjustment in the adjustment brush, if it did I could have done most of this in lightroom.

      • I’m sure down the line I’ll want and need Photoshop but right now it scares me. I was also afraid of lightroom before I got it, now that I think about it!

      • When I started with digital there was no Lightroom and Photoshop was really the only option and I had to learn and learn is the word as it can be a steep learning curve in places.

    • I have never thought of myself as a wizz of photoshop but I will now add that to my credentials.
      I am a strong advocate for shooting raw because the benefits are huge.
      I would say that photoshop is a huge program but really Lightroom is sufficient for most editing needs unless you need to do something more advanced.

  6. Great Job Ben.I find as I talk to people about photography the conversation always comes around to” What brand of camera do you use”.I always tell them a Mac Book Pro and software has become my go to piece of equipment.Your example here shows that even with a flat image jpeg you can work wonders.

  7. Ben, Loré wins the prize for removing the crane, but you win the prize for the sheer number of post-processing steps you applied 🙂 Absolutely unbelievable what you were able to accomplish. And it was very instructive to read about your approach – first using ACR, then on to colors, followed by lighting. Each step a necessary one before moving on to the other. What you did with the colors and how you created the reflection are simply fantastic. And I was actually proud of myself for understanding what you did (much attributed to your clear and detailed writing). But then I totally lost you on how you achieved the lighting. That will take re-reading quite a lot for me to fully grasp, but I so appreciate you taking the time to spell it all out!

    Beautiful final image. I, too, thought of the golden hour effect – despite the sun’s rays being in the opposite direction 😉 Thanks so much for participating!

    • The lighting effect is basically a layer filled with black darkening the layer with the blending mode multiply. Then on the mask you can selectively lighten certain areas.
      I generally work on colours first and then light in photoshop and the other way around in Lightroom, not sure why.
      I tried to remove the light rays but it didn’t look right and I didn’t think people would really notice.

      • Thanks for the further explanation, Ben. Interesting that you reverse workflow in the different applications. I have to get more organized in my processes. I jump around alot, which probably isn’t the most efficient or most effective way to work. Sorry for noticing the rays – they were something I tried to work my cloning around too, so that’s why I did.

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