Christmas 2011Christmas 2011

05 Dec
Posted Mon, 12/05/2011 - 21:46
How I created our Christmas Card image

final image of Holiday Home with lights

There's No Place Like Home for the Holidays.
Merry Christmas from our Home to yours.

The Chrismtas image of our home was digitally painted from a series of photographs taken over a two-hour period of time. I set up my camera about half an hour before sunset, while there was still plenty of daylight to compose and focus my image. Once my camera was set in place, I only touched it to change the shutter speed for exposure.

CAPTURING THE PHOTOGRAPHIC CONTENT

Daylight to Night Light

I captured a full range of exposures from daylight to night light. At times I bracketed the shot by capturing three exposures at one time, normal exposure, +2 over, and -2 under. Other times I manually adjusted the exposure to capture either the detail of the lights or the detail of the shadows.

Here is a sampling of these images.

original bracketed images of Holiday Lights home

Light Painting

After sunset, I turned off all the lights and captured some light-painted images using a flashlight. I painted light on the poinsettias, wreath and bells, each in a separate exposure.

These are the light painted images.

original light painted images of Holiday home

Interior Lighting

Next, I lit the interior of our home with a studio strobe. I turned off all the exterior lights and had my husband flash the strobe through the windows while I opened the camera shutter. This created a bright interior glow that would help give the final image a warm, inviting feeling.

These are the window images

original light painted windows of Holiday home

The Sky

The first set of images were taken on a perfectly still evening, without the slightest breeze. This meant nothing moved, not even a frond on the palm tree. These are perfect conditions for stacking or exposure blending in Photoshop, because each image registers perfectly with the previous one.

The downside was there was not even a hint of setting sun color in the sky. I hoped that sunrise the next day might offer an exciting sky. I marked the sidewalk where my tripod sat and carried my camera in without adjusting the tripod legs or the camera lens focal length. The next morning I got up before sunrise and set my camera back in the same spot on the sidewalk. Unfortunately the next day sunrise was just as boring as the preceding sunset, so I returned with my camera that evening and captured this.

original sky image with color

With a little editing I pulled out enough color to make it interesting.

DIGITAL EDITING

HDR Starting Canvas

I began with Photomatix Pro to create an HDR image of these three brackets.

image of HDR brackets

The blended HDR image served as my starting point. It was like having a sketched canvas to paint on.

HDR image of Holiday Home with lights

I spent the next three evenings, about six hours total, painting the image in Photoshop with pieces of content from all of the photographs I had captured. I worked in small areas at a time, selectively building up the light and contrast.

Selective Content Blending

The basic blending process is to open a photo containing some light detail that can be used to enhance the starting canvas. The detail photo is duplicated to a layer on top of the working canvas. A black mask is added to completely block out the new layer content. The black mask is then painted with a soft white brush, selectively revealing the new details.

image of Photoshop layer blending technique

This image shows the light painted wreath and door image selectively painted into the HDR starting cavas.

Blend Modes

I used layer blend modes to create different kinds of effects. Most often I used the "Lighter Color” blend mode, which selectively adds only the lighter pixels from the new layer. I used the “Soft Light” blend mode when I wanted to add both light and contrast. Sometimes I used a percentage of the new content by adjusting the layer opacity.

When the new content created the effect I wanted, I merged the layers together and moved on to another area of the picture.

I cannot create a step-by-step accounting of how the image developed. Imagine asking a painter to explain every brush stroke, and paint color used to create an oil painting. The process of creating a digital painting is exactly the same.

Final Thoughts

I set out to create a warm, inviting picture of our home, decorated to celebrate the Holidays. The mood was clear in my mind, but I didn’t have a clear picture of what the final image would look like. Sometimes my feelings can be more real than what I see, and especially more real than what the camera sees. This image is a perfect example of the mood being different than what a camera can capture in a single exposure.

I hope your own home is warm and inviting for the Holidays and constantly filled with people you love.

 

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