Cityscapes, or urban landscapes, can easily be just as beautiful as a photo of rolling hills or snowy mountains. The drama forced upon the skyline by skilled architects… the juxtaposition of man and nature… the drama of steel and glass… it’s all so exciting!!
Having made a photo or two in my life, one certainty I have come across is that while the photo you capture may actually accurately represent the scene that existed in front of you, it almost never matches what was in your mind’s eye. As humans we have a remarkable ability to “enhance” a scene when we look at it. The sky becomes bluer, the red bricks richer, the neon lights brighter. The trash on the street disappears, the busy cars become a blur, and we see pure beauty.
Unfortunately, our camera is not so forgiving. It tells the truth. It does not care about our fantasies, our visions, or the lies we told ourself about the scene we photographed. So it’s often disappointing to sit down at the computer and realize that the image in our head is only that — a fantasy. An illusion! Reality is harsh and sometimes bitter and it can be discouraging to look at a photo that looks so bllllaaaaahhhhhh but which we were SURE was so aaaahhhhhhh!!!!!
Fortunately, this is what software is for. Apps like DxO PhotoLab 2 allow us to recover, uncover, and in some cases create the vision that we remembered!
Let’s get started. Here’s the original photo, shot in New York with the lovely model Kara, straight out of camera.
The scene is set against a dramatic building with a sky that borders on… um… washed out fog. Yay. The building itself is a gorgeous creation, but the lighting is so flat that it has turned largely to mush. Look more closely, and you’ll see that there’s definitely texture in that sky. We can see beautiful lines in the building; we just need to coax them out. And we can!
Step one is to simply open this in DxO PhotoLab 2. By default, PhotoLab applies a the “DxO Standard Preset”, which applies Smart Lighting, noise reduction, a de-vignette, lens distortion correction, and several other enhancements. Right away, the photo looks better.
The next thing I’ll do us turn on DxO ClearView Plus. By just enabling the adjustment, we gain a bit of texture and drama in the sky. But it’s not enough. I want more!! So, I’ll crank the slider up to 100. The sky looks amazing, but the rest of the scene is a little overdone. Here’s a comparison of the default ClearView setting at 50, and with the slider up to 100 (I also cropped out the assistant holding the light on the left side of the frame).
DxO ClearView Plus at 50 vs 100.
100 is definitely too much. Somewhere around 70, the slider adjustment looks good on the buildings though. It’s not as strong as I’d like on the sky, and it’s also made the model a little too-high contrast. But by performing a little highlight recovery using the Selective Tones > Highlights slider, I can bring the detail back into her face. This also removed some of the drama from the sky, but that’s OK — I know how to crank it up to 11! Also, I increased the saturation a little bit, to enhance the color in the buildings and on the model’s face.
Highlight recovery restored detail in her face, and saturation brings out more color.
To finish the sky, I’m going to use Local Adjustments, and selectively apply more DxO ClearView Plus into the sky! And I’ll do it using Auto Mask, making this process incredibly simple.
Once you’ve enabled Local Adjustments, when you right-click on the picture you will see a pop-up menu that lets you select the type of mask you want to make. Auto Mask is a great choice in a scene like this where there’s a very clear difference between the area we want to affect (the sky) and what we don’t (the buildings).
Selecting the Auto Mask tool.
All you have to do is paint over the area that you want to affect — don’t worry that you are brushing over the edge of the building; the software will recognize that and keep the adjustments away from there! (You won’t see the final mask until you start making changes to using the sliders).
Just paint over the area you want to enhance, and it’s OK to be sloppy!
With the area painted over, you can drag sliders in the Equalizer to change what you like. In this case, I’ll take the DxO ClearView Plus up even higher. I also pulled the color temperature towards blue a little bit, to make the sky even cooler.
Now I can add more ClearView, but only to the sky.
And here’s my final image! Nice and dramatic… just the way I remembered it!
Ahh, much better… there’s the drama I had in my mind’s eye!