How to HDR: Vintage Cab at Times Sq

Vintage Cab at Times Sq, originally uploaded by eterniti.

I have been playing with HDRs and Photoshop for a significant time now and yet, I keep discovering something novel on the power of digital enhancement. And I suppose that is why I love this picture I created so much. It is a reasonably good shot of Times Square but accentuating the old fashioned yellow cab in middle of the frame gives it a totally surreal feel. I had to spend few hours on this one. The actual process went something like this-

  1. Pick the right RAW shot.
  2. Create few HDRs with different level of smoothness and luminosity. I picked two: one with plastic and animated feel for the cab, second with more realistic blending and less contrast.
  3. De-noise both HDRs in Photoshop.
  4. Desaturate the more realistic HDR on bottom and mask the full comic book layer on top except the portion displaying the cab.

And, voila!

To heck with any modesty, it almost felt like I turned a pro with this 🙂

The real trick here lies in the effort to make the cab stand out by using a subdued background. If I had just desaturated the rest of the dynamic plastic layer, the whole image would have been loud taking the attention away from the cab. For demoing the difference, here is what I am talking about:

Loud version of vintage cab
A simpler effort would have resulted in this.

Now, I know some people overdo HDRs and the resulting pictures look oversaturated artificial posters. I like HDRs to be vibrant and wider in range but not overbaked. I think its a subtle yet make or break step. And if you start playing with HDRs, don’t forget to retouch in Photoshop esp removing noise. Lastly, try out some new experiment – the ultimate beauty of a picture or painting lies as much in knowing what to and not to highlight as it does in the original composition.

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