The Mesmerizing Prague

By PF Staff in Favorite Photos on Dec 14, 2012

I took this photo while on a magical European vacation this summer.  Here is the final product:

The tools I used in the process:

  • Pentax K-7 (on a tripod)
  • Pentax 31mm F1.8
  • F10/ISO200/Shutter: 43 seconds
  • Sigma DG Polarizer
  • Lee Filters - The Big Stopper
  • Lee Filters - 3 Stop ND Soft Grad
  • A generic shutter release cord

The 10 Stop solid ND allowed me smooth out the water ripples and capture the reflections Prague Castle in the river.  The fog is ripples/waves in the water created by a small vertical drop present in the river.  Also, the polarizer and the GradND decreased the contrast between the bright sunset and the dark castle letting me avoid HDR. Since it is a long exposure, Ideally I would have preferred to shoot at ISO100, however I needed the extended dynamic range.  Even with the Grad/Polarizer and additional DR the contrast between the buildings and the sunset behind them was still too great.  This left me with what appeared to be a "unsuccessful" and colorless image (partly due to the blue tone of the LEE 10 stop ND). This is the raw unedited capture:   

Luckily most of the detail was preserved and I was able to pull out quite a lot of color/detail in post using Lightroom 4.  First I tried to recover the highlights (-38) and whites (-31), which brought back most of the sky and the river.  Then I tried to pull detail out of the buildings with Shadows (+50) and Blacks (+19).  This decreased the image contrast, so I corrected with +26 there.  Finally I brought more detail and color with Clarity (+74) and Vibrance (+40).  The clarity made the noise even more apparent.  I finished this step by warming up the image using the temperature slider.  The result was:  

Not a bad start.  Then I proceeded into Photoshop CS6.  First, I removed little metal rods sticking out the river (no Idea what they really are...).  Then and masked out the sky and the river.  I applied a slight magenta photographic filter to each and decreased the opacity of the new layer such that it created a pleasing pinkish effect.  I also masked out the buildings and brought up the exposure level such that even more detail was visible.  Finally, I cropped the image to give it a more balanced composition.  This brought me here:

At this point, there were two problems.  One, the noise was not uniform.  It was only present in the darks (buildings) and not in the river or sky, as seen in this 100% crop here:

The second problem was with the white balance for the buildings.  As seen above, the whites appeared to be too blue.  I went back into Lightroom, created a virtual copy of the already edited image and further adjusted the white balance such that the white in the buildings turned grey.  This made the sky too yellow, but brought me here:

I opened this into a new Photoshop layer and denoised the entire image.  Afterwards I masked the buildings/bridge out of the image and replaced the blue/noisy ones in the picture 2 pictures up (the one where they were too blue), using newly warmed/denoised ones.  This gave me the final result (after a little post-crop vignette in Lightroom):  

I hope this was both informative and enjoyable

- Bogdan (oxidized)

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