A Gothic Revival: Tutorial In B&W

French Colonial Building BW WEB w Sig

A Gothic Revival

Cienfuegos, Cuba

I titled this image A Gothic Revival, because it looks like it could have come right out of eastern Europe in the middle ages—maybe Romania.  I can almost imagine Vlad the Impaler (Dracula) swooping down out of this tower, in the evening hours, to wreak havoc amongst the local peasantry. In point of fact this photo was snapped in Cienfuegos, Cuba, and the only connection to Europe is the building’s design, which is decidedly French in origin.  It just goes to show you what can be accomplished with photography.

Photographer’s note:  I try to be generous with my “limited knowledge,” and to share as much of it as I can whenever possible.  After all, it does little to no good, whatsoever, to take my hard-won lessons to the grave, when just maybe someone else can benefit from a brief tutorial (you never know what might stick).  So I will share with you how this dramatic image came into being—first, the original image was shot at high noon (in bright sunlight) and in vivid color. Really you say?  Really I reply.  It was an okay image, but nothing spectacular—certainly no drama.

First the capture.  This image was recorded as a CameraRAW file using my Canon EOS 5D Mark II digital camera body and Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM zoom lens (my number one “go-to” travel lens).  Camera settings:  1/1600s @ f/4.0, ISO 100, FL/35mm, Natural Light Handheld.

Post-editing:  This image is all about the post-editing, and what my creative, artistic vision was.  I loved the architecture with the 35mm wide-angle perspective, and the dramatic sky with interesting clouds.  I was happy with the in-camera composition that required no additional cropping or trimming.  The vivid color and lack of contrast was distracting, and decidedly lessened the impact of the building itself.  There were also some pesky pigeons and electrical wires complicating the shot.

First, after adjusting the automatic White Balance to a daylight value, I underexposed the image a bit (-50), I converted the CameraRAW file to a JPEG file in Photoshop Essentials 11 (PSE11).  I got rid of those pesky birds and wires at the same time.  I HDR (Hight Dynamic Range) processed this new JPEG file in Photomatix Essentials to even out the exposure range, and to add a bit more drama to the scene.  I can often create and enhance dramatic effect when converting a HDR image to black & white.  

Back in PSE11 I converted the enhanced HDR color image to black & white and added an infrared filter (Enhance > Convert to Black and White > Infrared).  Next I added cooling (80) filter at 25% (Filter > Adjustments > Photo Filters > Cooling Filter No. 80).  I darkened highlights (+25) and bumped overall contrast (+65).  I refined sharpening at 100% (being careful not to over sharpen).  

The result:  was the dark, foreboding, atmospheric, gothic image that I was looking for.  I really like how it turned out, and it was never meant to be an exact representation of an old building in Cienfuegos, Cuba.  Rather, with this particular image, I wanted to create a piece of Fine Art, representing a vision I had (inspired by the building itself).  These are enjoyable exercises, and great learning experiences.  Although it may be a little over the top, nonetheless it helps to form a sound foundation for processing your everyday images—you can never have too much knowledge or experience.  As I get more and more into digital (and its been about six years now), I find that about 30% of the effort goes into capturing the initial image, and about 70% goes into the post-editing process.  A photographer needs to be competent in both areas.  If this tutorial has been helpful at all then I am happy.  Buenas tardes amigos.  SFD



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