#CreativeFriday – Creative Decisions – Chernobyl – Part I

I had the opportunity earlier this year to visit the abandoned town of Pripyat near Chernobyl. The town of Pripyat was abandoned 27 years ago, due to a nuclear accident.

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I decided to go with a Leica Monochrom Camera with just a 35MM Summicron F2 lens. My vision was to create a story on how Pripyat looks now, 27 years later. The Monochrome style of this camera adds a creative restriction, and from this can make highly creative work. The Monochrome style enables you too think about the world differently, rather than seeing colours, it’s more about looking at the world in continuous tones of Black and White. There is also a tendency to think about how the tones work together to create the picture and focus on the end result of having a story/body of work as well as a narrative to hold things together. I am a firm believer that a story needs to have a start, middle and and end, and a common theme through the work. The Chernobyl project was an ideal way to practise this.

In order to put a story in place, i needed to think about the whole experience of the journey. The main feature being theChernobyl nuclear power plant itself and the cover that is currently holding the radiation in situ. The second are the components that held the town together during the night of the accident, then supported by the places that were used when the town was active.

My vision for the story of this trip was to have the same look and feel, size and shape, texture and tone for each image. The Leica Monochrom certainly aided me in achieving this and to create this story that i was after.

For this post i wanted to walk through the processing that i used in Lightroom to enable me to create my vision and the steps that i took to create the style for the whole series.

The Leica Monochrom’s images are Black and White straight out of the camera. When in the camera that added a few challenges and a few benefits. Firstly as the Sensor in the Monochrom has no RGB pattern on the CCD sensor, which means there is no colour noise, just great texture even at high ISO. The maximum ISO on this camera also helps in low light (of where there are a lot of places in Pripyat), is 10,000 and can add fantastic texture to the image.

The problem comes to the highlight clipping, the way that Ligthroom 4 was engineered with the enhancements to the new highlight/shadow recovery  was to fetch information from all of the colour channels (RGB) and find additional highlight values. The Monochrom does not have any colour information, so if the highlights are clipped they are unrecoverable, therefore a careful approch to exposure is always in the back of the mind when making a picture.

The following picture is straight out of the camera and is already great. But i wanted to give the images a certain look that would compliment the scene and give a style to the story.

This blog will cover the thoughts and creative decisions that that was made in Lightroom to create the final series.

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If within the Development module, we turn on the clipping warnings for Shadows and Highlights (in the histogram box) we can see there isn’t a lot of over or under exposure within the base image, therefore we have a lot of tones to work with, we just need to extract information from what’s there.

We can turn on highlight and shadow clipping by using the key board shortcut key “J”. The Shadow and Highlight clipping are active when the white outlines are around the up arrows in the histogram (Red).

The shadow is clipping into Black as show in in Blue in the white box.

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The image is a little dark, so we can increase the mid tone of the image by using the Tone Curve. I have grabbed the mid point in the Tone Curve and pushed up until the overall Brightness has increased. notice that the shadow and highlight values have not changed, therefore no clipping has been introduced,

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The next element we will work on, is opening up the highlights and shadows, using the Highlight and Shadows sliders. The Highlight and Shadow sliders were introduced in Lightroom 4 and enable the image maker to work on each of these areas independently, in order extract tones within these areas. This was hard to achieve before Lightroom 4.

I would like to the get the Highlights to about 90% if possible, to reveal a little greyness of the sky, this will add a little mood to the picture. The highlight slider (Yellow) is moved to the left to achieve this. You can see that in the highlight area within the histogram, they are not snug to the right of the histogram box, we will fix this later.

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Next we move the Shadows slider to the right in order to open up the shadow tones. This is harder to judge what is correct, but as long as you have a calibrated screen and in combination with the histogram you are able to see the difference that open the shadows makes. Also notice, that by doing this, the Black point has moved and the histogram is no longer snug to the left of the histogram box (Red).

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By adjusting the White point slider to the right will set the white point, also the moving the Black point to the left will set the blank point. You can see the results in the histogram (Yellow), but will allow us to have a snug fitting histogram, and overall will increase the contrast of the image (or punch).

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The image is still a little flat, so we are able to add a little contrast by adding some clarity. This will increase the difference between the light and dark areas. It can look as though we are sharpening the image, but no sharpening is applied.

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Just these sliders will make a huge difference to the impact of the image, we can see the difference but showing a side by side view.

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The next step is to correct and lens issues, as well as any non straight areas. This can be achieved in the Lens Correction tab. There are two tabs :-

  • The basic tab will enable the Lens Correction “Enable Profile Corrections” (see example below),
  • By applying the upright technology to this image. Upright was introduced in Lightroom 5 and Camera RAW 8 and has been a real saviour for this type of image. When buildings, horizons, trees etc are in the frame, then upright will look at the contents and work out the straight edges and correct them. There are options :-
  • Off – No Upright corrections are applied
  • Auto – Lightroom 5 looks at the image and tries to fix both the vertical, horizontal as well dimensional elements.
  • Level – Will fix just the horizontal and will rotate the canvas for you.
  • Vertical – Will fix the horizontal and verticals.
  • Full – If Auto doesn’t work and get the results you need, it is likely that the image has a lens distortion or some warping that needs fixing. The Full will apply a full 3D warp to the image.

The reason i am applying upright now, before cropping, is that Upright will remove any crop that has been previously applied to work.

Auto was able to fix this and many others in this shoot.

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The next step is to work on the composition, for this i am going to apply a crop factor of 4×3 and apply a modern look to the image.

Once the crop is selected (the first icon under the histogram (looks like a square box with a dotted line outline). The different size bounding boxes are applied to the image and i have turned the lock on in the crop panel (Red). The padlock will lock the aspect ratio, so it won’t matter how i resize the crop, it will keep the 4×3 crop factor, then i can make the whole series have the same aspect ration (this also applies to other formats, even custom).

The image is quite strong from a rule of thirds point of view, i.e. there is the house in the top left, the ferris wheel in the top right, then the chairs in the bottom half.

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I decided with this image to crop tightly to the outer frame and to keep the top, bottom and right of the window frame (Red), I want to make sure that the chair in the foreground (Green) is not falling out of the frame, the clutter on the right hand side is also important for this scene (Yellow).

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The next step is to add a mood to the image, and as i don’t have any colour information to work with (due to the Monochrom sensor), i will need to add a split tone and add some colour to accentuate the mood.

I would like to add some richness to the highlights and to do this i am going to add a hint of Yellow, notice that the saturation is very low (Yellow)

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In the shadows we will add blue and add some richness, again notice the amount of saturation.

We are also able to modify the blend between highlight and shadow by using the balance slider. Moving the balance to the right side will be more highlight biased, in this case more yellowish, to the right will add more blue. I am going to use +15, so a litle bias towards the highlight tone and add a little more yellow into the mid tones.

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The next step is to add sharpness and emphasise important points.

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To add texture to the image and grittiness, i’ll add a small amount of noise, as well as a dark vignette around the edges. By adding subtle dark edges to the image, the viewers eye will stay in the scene and will be hard to move out. This is an old trip that was used in the dark room, it was called an edge burn.

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If we look a bit closer we can see the noise effect

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You can see the final image here

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You can see how just a few simple steps in Lightroom is able to transform my image into my vision. This will give me a foundation for the whole project

The before and after image can been seen here.

Once the adjustments have been made in Lightroom to this image, i’d like to apply them to the rest of  the selection of images that i would like to publish. This automation will not only provide a standard look and feel to my images for this project, but also save me a lot of time, over the 100 or so images that i would like to publish.

To do this, make sure you are in the Development module, then, select the image that has had the adjustments applied, then select the rest of the images. You can do this by using the SHIFT key to select a range, or using the CMD (Mac) or a CTRL (Pc) to select the images that required the adjustments.

Then press the Sync button (Red)

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Once you press the button, the following dialog screen is displayed. I have selected all the areas of the Lightroom adjustments and made sure they are ticked. Then press Synchronize. The adjustments will then be applied to the rest of the selected images. You may need to look at each image and make sure that the effect has been applied as other images may have a different exposure.

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You can see how easy it is to make your images look amazing by just working with the global adjustments on an image to create a style for the series, then apply this style to the rest of the series by using automation inside Lightroom.

 

You can see the final Behance project here.

 

In part II we will look at the more tricker parts of the re-touch in the this Chernobyl series.

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