Today’s photograph was shot last January in Cuba, near the village of Remedios. Going to the Cuban coutryside is a bit like a time warp experience. So I was not that surprised to hop on that old steam train to go to Remedios, a charming village with a really beautiful church.
Photographing this for stock poses all sorts of small challenges. Time to shoot is extremely restrained and you’re stuck with whatever weather and light condition you get. Then you’re not the only tourist who wishes to photograph this large piece of machinery, so you’re bound to have people running around. There’s also the brand and identifying numbers on the train itself.
Left is the original shot pre photoshop. So how did I get around the difficulties?
1) The light. Overblown sky, little saturation, lack of contrast. For the sky, I quickly shot another still with the right exposure. I did not have time to set-up a tripod, so I had to align both shot in photoshop (copy the sky shot onto the original on a new layer, select both layers and use Edit –>Auto-align layers then crop the image appropriately).
Once aligned, of course, you’ll want to mask the non-sky parts of the image. The best way I found to do so is by: select the Channels tab, copy the blue layer to a new one; darken to black all the non sky stuff by using the Burning tool set to Shadows at about 30% and click repeatedly all over until everything goes deep black – fill in white spots with the brush tool set to black at 100% with a small semi-hard shape. Once done, clear the sky by using the dodge tool set to Highlight at about 20% and click repeatedly all over until the sky area goes pure white. Once done, activate by clicking the RGB channel and select the layers tab. Choose Select –>Load selection and choose the blue channel copy in the Channel drop down menu. Choose Select –>Modify –> expand and enter a low value, such as 1 or 2 pixels. Inverse the selection (Ctrl+Shift+I), activate the sky Layer, and click on the Add Layer Mask icon at the bottom of the Layers box. Select the Mask just created and choose Filters –> Blur –> Gaussian blur with a small value, such as 0,3 pixels. This will smooth the edge. The last step is to adjust opacity of the sky layer to make it slightly paler so that it doesn’t clash with the rest of the photo.
2) The brands and tourists. For the tourists, just clone them out but never use long strokes which would repeat visual elements. Use very short strokes and sample lots of different areas to avoid this. For the brands, in this case, the fastest way was to use the underrated Pattern Maker tool. I chose a patch of gray on the side of the wagon, sampled it twice in the tool, until I had a nice pattern. Once done, I created a black mask all over and painted in the pattern using a 100% soft edged brush over the letters and numbers. Local brightness adjustments were done to match the train perfectly.
3) To correct the overall blandness of the shot, I resorted to the usual cosmetics: added vibrance, my best friend, some Unsharp Mask, a little noise reduction, Brightness and contrast adjustment, and a subtle vignette effect.
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