Photo of the Day: Big Boy Locomotive

The Union Pacific "Big Boy" locomotive 4005 at the Forney Museum of Transportation, Denver, Colorado. I used several different editing applications and techniques to produce the final image.
The Union Pacific “Big Boy” locomotive 4005 at the Forney Museum of Transportation, Denver, Colorado. I used several different editing applications and techniques to produce the final image. Click to enlarge (it looks much better when viewed big).

This is the Union Pacific “Big Boy” 4005 at the Forney Museum of Transportation in Denver. The shooting conditions in the museum, especially of this train, are extremely difficult. First, you have extreme backlighting due to the large window. Second, the train is black and lit only with incandescent lamps. That means you have a difficult exposure and also mixed lighting. I decided this situation called for some creative processing.

Read on to learn the steps I used to create this interesting image, using multiple tools and the Google Nik Collection.

Initial Capture

First, I shot the train with the intent of creating a HDR image. I captured 5 shots, each 2 EV apart with my Nikon D4 and 24-70mm Nikkor lens, mounted on a tripod for maximum stability. Even at ISO 800, the longest exposure was 15 seconds!

The original capture of five images 2EV apart needed adjustment in RAW.
The original capture of five images 2EV apart needed adjustment in RAW.

RAW Processing

I next brought the images into Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4.4. Lightroom makes it really easy to process HDR image sequences, because you can automatically sync changes across all the files in any selected sequence in real time. To do this, I selected all five shots and enabled “Auto Sync” in the Develop module. I made changes to WB and contrast on the base (0 EV) exposure, but as I did so all the other images in the sequence were updated in concert.

I used the "Auto Sync" feature in Lightroom's Develop module to process all five images simultaneously.
I used the “Auto Sync” feature in Lightroom’s Develop module to process all five images simultaneously.

HDR Tone-Mapping

I then exported the images to HDR Efex Pro 2. To create the stylized look, I started with one of the “Soft” presets from The Photographer’s Guide to HDR Efex Pro 2. The biggest challenge with this image was the significant blue lens flare. Rather then try to correct it here, I chose to go further with other software applications.

After I processed the image in HDR Efex Pro 2, I still had to contend with a nasty blue lens flare. However, I did like the overall effect of the HDR tone-map.
After I processed the image in HDR Efex Pro 2, I still had to contend with a nasty blue lens flare. However, I did like the overall effect of the HDR tone-map.

Monochrome Conversion

After creating the base HDR image, I then sent the resulting TIFF file to Photoshop CS6. I figured the best way to eliminate the blue lens flare across the frame would be to convert the image to monochrome. I used Silver Efex Pro 2 to do the conversion. By using Silver Efex, I not only got rid of the blue streak in the shot, but I was able to further refine the textures in the image with the Structure controls. While HDR Efex Pro 2 has a Structure slider, I can go even further with the fine-tuning controls in Silver Efex Pro 2.

I used Silver Efex Pro 2 on the HDR image to convert to monochrome and enhance textures.
I used Silver Efex Pro 2 on the HDR image to convert to monochrome and enhance textures.

Texture Blending

For the final step, I decided to use textures to make the image even more interesting. I added two Flypaper textures; the first was from the new “Tintype Edges” pack, and the other was from the Autumn Painterly pack. The second texture added just a touch of color to the monochrome image. I used “Hard Light” blending on the first texture, and “Overlay” blending on the second. I added Curves and Vibrance adjustment layers to tweak the brightness, contrast, and color in the image. What I liked about these textures is the effect they created in the nearly white window at left. At this point, I saved the image, returned to Lightroom 4, and used the Develop module to crop and fine-tune the image contrast further.

I added a "Tintype" texture from Flypaper textures in a Photoshop layer.
I added a “Tintype” texture from Flypaper textures in a Photoshop layer.
I added a second Flypaper Texture to give a slight color tint to the image.
I added a second Flypaper Texture to give a slight color tint to the image.

What’s the Point?

The take-home message here is that not only do your tools help you to be creative in challenging conditions, but you should look upon your various plug-ins as being components of a larger process. Had I limited myself to only using HDR Efex Pro 2, I wouldn’t have had the same control over local contrast as I did by following up with Silver Efex Pro 2. And even after I’d done the texture blending steps in Photoshop CS6, I still found it quite useful to do the final tweaks in Lightroom. Start viewing your individual plug-ins not as stand-alone editors, but as part of a larger process.

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4 thoughts on “Photo of the Day: Big Boy Locomotive”

  1. I also enjoyed this post. 2 Questions. Do you still use Photo Mechanic to transfer and review images from your camera? How often do you use Capture NX2 versus LR/ACR for raw conversion?

  2. I usually use Photo Mechanic to do my initial file transfer and review. It speeds up the process of reviewing large files at 100%. That way I don’t need to import reject images into LR up front.

    As for your second question, I’m no longer using Capture NX2 on a regular basis. I use LR4 almost exclusively. However, I will always have CNX2 around as long as Nikon continues to update it for new cameras.

  3. Jason, thank-you for the answers. I am in the process of making the switch to LR but having difficulty getting the results I enjoyed from NX2. Is there a source for NX2 like presets for LR? If you have developed your own have you considered selling them in your store?

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