This is the second post in the photography tutorial series. This time I will go over some basic photography techniques and post-processing for a night time urban scene. The image was shot at night (of course!), outside a restaurant, about a year ago in Vigo, Spain.
As always, you can have access to the RAW file and Lightroom presets to help you follow along the tutorial. If you did not subscribe already, I will simply ask you to subscribe to my Newsletter to receive a link to access all the RAW files for all the past and future tutorials. If you have already subscribed, please use the link you have received by email.
Let’s get started…
Bonus! Watch below the video posted on my YouTube channel. This is a fun and fast-paced recording of all the edits corresponding to this tutorial.
About the image
After having a nice dinner in restaurant “Living” in Vigo, Spain, I stepped out of the restaurant and noticed this old bike adorned with nice purple flowers (which I think are anthurium, though I am not 100% sure) inside a wine box. Also, the small windows behind the bike created interesting reflections. I knew there was a potential to make an interesting image out of this bike, with the flowers as focal point. Though the conditions were not favorable because of low light conditions and a relatively busy scene.
I could not use my zoom lens which does not have a large aperture and would hence require a long shutter speed, even with a high ISO. The solution was too use my fast 50 mm lens with a wide aperture and compose the picture so that only the elements of interest are included. I had to exclude part of the bike to achieve this but I think it gives an interesting effect to the image. The original picture, straight out-of-the-camera, looked like this:
Looking at the camera settings, I had to open the aperture of the lens to its maximum (f/1.8) to gather as much light a possible, while bumping the ISO up to 1600. The shutter speed was set to 1/40th of a second which is the longest I could reasonably use to avoid any movement blur. The histogram shows that the image is still significantly under-exposed. This is however not a problem for night photography because the intention is not to increase the luminosity of the shadows (which would reveal large amount of noise!).
After importing the RAW file into Lightroom and switching to the development module, let start with the basic editing panel. One of the key for night time urban scene photography is the white balance setting which affects the “color temperature” of the image. In this particular case, the scene was illuminated by tungsten light which gives a rather warm look to the original picture. To obtain a more natural look, the temperature and tint were decreased significantly (down to 3200 and +10, respectively). The exposure and contrast were slightly increased (+0.24 and +2, respectively). The luminosity of the highlights was also increased (+21) while the luminosity of the shadows was left alone (as mentioned earlier). Whites and blacks luminosities were adjusted (+21 and -17, respectively) to cover the entire tonality range. Finally, the clarity was increased to +100 to emphasize the structure of the bike and the vibrance was increased to +31.
After performing these changes, the image looks much better. Though, decreasing the color temperature has emphasized some blue reflections which we need to take care of next…
In order to remove the blue reflections, we open the “HSL/ Color / B&W” panel by clicking on “HSL and then “Saturation” if not highlighted. In this panel, you can selectively act on the saturation of individual colors. Bring the Blue all the way down (-100) and also the aqua (-33). The blue reflections have now disappeared.
Finally, I went a step further and decided that I could emphasize the flower more by increasing the saturation of the red and green and decreasing the saturation of the yellow. I found this to be a great way to emphasize what you want in an image. Though, the selective saturation adjustment remains subtle to retain a realistic look to the image. A nice benefit of increasing the saturation of the green was also to bring up the wall reflected in the windows.
The next step is to head to the “Detail” panel to use the sharpening and noise reduction tools. Since a high ISO has been used (1600), the image is noisy and quite a lot of noise reduction will be required. I apply sharpening first to about +70 and masked the region with no sharp edges (Masking +12). The noise reduction was applied by increasing the Luminance slider to +31. Some noise remains but a compromise needs to be made no too loose to much sharpness. The before/after images are shown below and a clear improvement can be observed.
At this point the image is nearly complete, though some final adjustments can still be made…
Lens corrections and Effects
Going next to to the “Lens Corrections” panel, the lens profile correction was applied along with removing chromatic aberration. Typically for a fast lens, these correction are minimal. I thought the image could be improved further by using the “Transform” sliders under the “Manual” tab.The reason is that I did not take the shot while directly facing the restaurant, which resulted in an unfavorable “tilt” to the image. In Lightroom, this can be corrected (to some extent) by using the “Horizontal” slider (-5). I also played with the distortion slider and an adjustment of +14 gave a better look to the image.
Check the Constrain crop check box and also crop the image to the right (using the crop overlay tool) to remove the edge of the door. The last step consists in using the post-crop vignetting tool (Amount -10) in order to emphasize more the bike and flowers.
Finally, we have our final image, which looks great (I think 🙂 )! By looking at the final histogram, you can see that the image is still under-exposed and the blacks are clipped, but this is perfectly fine for this type of shot! The image retains the feel of a night urban shot but with well balanced colors and a pleasing and interesting focal point.
And now your turn… Download the original RAW file corresponding to this tutorial and make it look as good as you can, by either following exactly the steps I described, if you are a beginner, or use your own creativity to make something new! Alternatively, you can use your own image and apply what you have learned in this tutorial. Either way, I would really appreciate if you could share this tutorial and leave a comment, along with your images, at the end of this post or on my Facebook page.
I hope you liked this tutorial. I will be making more of them in the future addressed to beginners but also to more advanced levels. Please let me know if you have any recommendations to make these tutorials as useful as possible to you.