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Old Feb 2, 2012, 11:14 AM   #1
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Default Nighttime New York City HDRs

You don’t have to wait until very late at night to take nighttime shots of New York City. When Daylight Savings Time ends in the fall, it’ll be completely dark by rush hour when most people get out of work at 5pm.

I've been meaning to take advantage of the early sunsets in the wintertime and take pictures of NYC skyscrapers with windows aglow. I think they’re perfect for HDR (“high dynamic range” -- a digital technique for balancing lighting in a high contrast scene) because detail can be seen through windows -- or at least the ceiling lights inside brightly-lit rooms -- as opposed to the usual blown-out windows in traditional long exposure night shots.

However, each time I came out of my building I came up with excuses not to pull my camera out of my bag. Too cold. No clouds. Dull sunset. Too cold. I think part of the reason also is I just wanted to get home. In other words, I get lazy all of a sudden. As a result, we’re already halfway through winter, the sun is setting later and the evening getting brighter, and all I've managed are a paltry handful of shots. Soon it will be spring and shooting nighttime scenes will be over for me.

At least I have these photos enough to maybe satisfy my voyeuristic tendencies. New York City is the perfect place for that. I mean, try pointing your camera at homes at night in the suburbs and you will likely be greeted by cops.

Voyeurism and laziness. They’re traits I’m not particularly proud of. But that I’m afraid is the back story. So I’m rather hoping you don’t read my narrative, bask instead in the glory and wonder of my New York City nighttime HDRs, and satisfy your voyeuristic tendencies all from the lazy confines of your comfy couch.

#1)


#2)


#3)


Thank you for looking. C&C welcome.

Last edited by vvcarpio; Feb 2, 2012 at 1:26 PM.
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Old Feb 2, 2012, 12:14 PM   #2
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Thanks for braving the weather to capture these neat shots.
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Old Feb 2, 2012, 2:35 PM   #3
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they are all great but the first takes the tin from the biscuit .... very nice indeed
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Old Feb 2, 2012, 10:41 PM   #4
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SO cool! Or rather, SO good! Thanks for posting these.

I do know what you mean about being able to see into windows and all - I once took some HDR photos of a building at some distance from me, using a fairly long lens and long shutter speeds to try to get traffic light streaks. They weren't entirely successful, but I found out that one floor above ground level has a gym/fitness center in it, you can see the treadmills in the picture. Never knew that.

And I agree - while all are excellent, the first one is definitely my favorite.
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Old Feb 3, 2012, 10:35 AM   #5
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Thank you, Walter, simple, mtngal.

mtngal, yes I get kicks, too, out of seeing through windows in HDR-edited photos taken at night.

I see many great, non-HDR city night shots that the photographer would rightfully be proud of, but sometimes I wonder if it can even be made better if some detail showed in those sun-bright, featureless windows.

So I'm thinking, since the photographer is already using a tripod to take the timed exposure, why not take a second shot this time metering for the windows? The two images -- one bright and one dark but with details visible inside the windows -- can then be combined even without the use of HDR with little work. The first image's windows can be replaced with the second image's detail-rich windows using Photoshop's built-in masking tools.

Below is not meant to be a tutorial but I thought I'd post my experiment (to sort of give back to the community that help me greatly to improve my photographing and post-processing skills...).

#1) In the first image below, many of the windows are too bright or "blownout".


#2) So I'd like to replace the blownout windows above with the better exposed windows from the second (darker) image below.


#3) Using Photoshop's Color Range Masking tool, I cut holes in the first image's blownout windows. (Google for "color range masking in photoshop" for tutorials. It's really easy.) The grey-and-white checkered patterns inside the windows show what was cut out.


#4) I then created a layer of the second (darker) image and pasted it into the first image, positioning it under the layer with the cut holes.


You might (or might not) notice the dark edges around the window frames above. That's because my cut holes aren't perfect -- the color range masking tool cut holes that are slightly bigger than the windows so the darker window frames from the second image show through the holes.

#5) The solution is easy, I used Photoshop CS5's shadows/highlights tool with its default values to lighten up the layer from second (darker) image. The final version is shown below. Now there's more detail in the windows as opposed to being blownout in this night scene. Compare it with the first image above to see the difference.

Last edited by vvcarpio; Feb 3, 2012 at 10:56 AM.
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Old Feb 3, 2012, 3:47 PM   #6
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Neat idea! I'll have to check it out, I had forgotten about being able to select a range of color/lightness (haven't used that process/select similar in a very long time). Are you using a layer mask or are you making a separate layer without the windows? If a layer mask, you could always adjust it, though with that many windows it would be too tedious and your way (lightening the shadows on the darker frame) makes far more sense. Oh well, some general thoughts. Thanks very much for the idea!
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Old Feb 3, 2012, 4:51 PM   #7
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Yes, I use layer masks although CS5 automatically creates it for me.

In CS5 (Windows version), I have Window->Masks checked, so the "Masks" window is always open. On the image, I simply click ctrl-J which is the same as New Layer Via Copy (duplicates the background layer). When I click the "Pixel Mask" button on the "Masks" window (the button with the circle and plus sign), it creates a layer mask. So yes, I use the layer mask that CS5 created.

The "Pixel Mask" button actually makes short work of the tedious work. By clicking on the colors I want eliminated (or included depending on whether I have the + or - radio button selected) CS5 globally selects all pixels with the same colors. Since all the windows have the same colors (bright white to bright yellow) I don't have to do it for each window. I just do the color selection on one window and CS5 selects all windows because they all have the same color (including any other object that might have same colors).

I hope my explanation is somewhat clear.

I remember reading online this powerful mask selection technique (Pixel Mask) is new to CS5 (or is it CS4?) and the writer was excited because she didn't think Adobe will include it in the cheaper Photoshop Elements but it did in PSE version 10 (or is it version 9? I can't remember.)

As an aside, for everyone to hopefully better appreciate the edit, I thought I'd give the final version in step #5 above a bit of pop by processing it using Topaz Adjust and Topaz DeNoise then adding a slight vignette:
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Old Feb 4, 2012, 10:24 PM   #8
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very nice photos. Loved every single one of them. Makes me want to visit NYC.

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Old Feb 5, 2012, 5:22 PM   #9
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Hi,

This series of images are as impeccable as the others you've posted.

A few weeks ago there was a thread in the general discussion section regarding
"manipulating" photos as not photography at all. I'm not here to start that mess all over again. However, when I see your work and the works of Bynx, Walter, Mtngal and many other fine photogs that frequent this forum, I'm convinced that the "minds eye" and how we all see things differently make this hobby so much fun to be immersed in.

Thanks for sharing your beautiful work.
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Old Feb 6, 2012, 8:56 AM   #10
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Thank you, Dave, Zig.

#4) The night sky is really getting brighter.


#5) But sometimes I get lucky when heavy clouds darken the sky early.
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