Milan cityscape: Before and After

This post is a both a tutorial and a story behind the shot
As for the tutorial part, have a look at the before and after below and, if you want to learn about my workflow in Adobe Lightroom, watch the video I linked further down the page or visit my YouTube channel

Torri Richard and the San Cristoforo area in Milan - single exposure version


I captured this image at sunrise in Milan, Italy, on the 24th December 2016.
Milan is my hometown, but I have lived abroad for over a decade and the day before Christmas I was staying at a friend's place.
My attention was drawn to the colorful sunrise and I rushed out on the balcony, armed with my camera and tripod.

The light being so warm and pleasing, I decided to underexpose my shot so that I could capture all the details in the sky: tones, colours and texture of the clouds. Knowing my camera inside out, I had no doubts I could fully recover the shadows in post-production. 

This is actually my fancy version of the story. I am not saying it is a fake one, just incomplete.
The whole story is that I bracketed 3 shots, 2 stops apart from each other (-2, 0, +2).
I then merged those 3 shots using Lightroom's HDR engine, producing a super RAW file with a much higher dynamic range, which I do prefer to the single shot version. 

Torri Richard and the San Cristoforo area in Milan - HDR version (3 exposures)

I thought the HDR version would lend itself to a more effective post-processing, in terms of contrast and colour grading. I first used Lightroom and then Photoshop.
As a bonus, by including the 0 and + 2 stops  exposures I got the Italian flag (which you can see in the centre of the frame) slightly flapping in the wind - a feature that was lacking in the underexposed photograph.

To keep things simple in the tutorial, I will only be using the underexposed image to produce what I reckon is still a very acceptable result. I hope you will enjoy the video. 

Believe it or not, when I took this photo I did not know the name of the towers, let alone their history.
In the morning light - a truly beautiful golden hour - I even thought they were modern and very recently built, but I was wrong.

It turns out that the Torri Richard (named after Via Richard - i.e. Richard Street) - also known as Torri del Naviglio - were built in the '80s and, since their very beginnings they become the subject of a big controversy in relation to how, where and on top of what they were built. 
Furthermore, most people find them ugly.

It is not my intention to go into any of these arguments. As a photographer, that morning, I simply thought they had an element of beauty and interest, nicely complemented by the grungy railway and nearby buildings.

For living things as well as cities, I believe scars are no less part of history than are beautiful highlights.

Over time, I got to learn how hard it is to judge what is beautiful and what is ugly when reality goes through the process of being painted with light, a process we more commonly call photography.


My Grand Teton shot exhibited and featured in an article

I visited Grand Teton National Park (Wyoming, USA) in 2011 and, not surprisingly, I was absolutely blown away by its beauty. Unfortunately, at that time I did not know anything about photography and the very few nice shots I got were the result of pure luck.

The picture below is one of the lucky survivors of that trip.

Grand Teton National Park
Click the image to access my Portfolio website

After returning from Grand Teton, I looked at the picture and felt there was something special about it, although I did not know what that was.

Now the reason is pretty obvious to me: the composition is pleasant and the photo is well exposed. Once again, that was very fortunate, as back in 2011 I had no idea what composition and exposure were about.

I should call this shot "The sum of all lucks" and the result of that sum was me being able to post-process the file later on and produce a very decent final image. 

Look at the Before and After:


Don't get me wrong. If I go back tomorrow, I am sure I will get a much better shot. In particular, this is what I would do differently:

  1. Shoot RAW rather than JPEG.
  2. Use my Sony A77ii, rather than the old Nikon D200 I had in 2011 (the former has  much better dynamic range).
  3. Capture the scene during the Golden Hour (sunrise or sunset).
  4. Frame my composition better to avoid cropping in post (something I had to do to produce the image above).

Am I still pleased about the shot? Sure I am.
In December 2016, GuruShots launched its Best of 2016 challenge and my image of Grand Teton National Park was selected to be showcased digitally in an exhibition at the Thessaloniki International Contemporary Art Fair in Greece.

A few days ago, my picture was also selected to feature in the article Take A DEEP Breath And Hold Onto Your Shoes. These 36 Landscape Photos Will Knock Your Socks Off.
I find some of the pictures very inspiring and I hope you will like them too. My Tetons shot is number #35.

I reckon there is an important take-home lesson here: once you become a photographer, you will be able to revisit some of your old shots and turn them into successful images!

For another example of old picture revisitation, read about my Yellowstone Bison calf.

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Somebody ripped my picture

Camera: Sony A77ii - 1/125s, F/4.5, ISO 100, 120mm
Lens: Tamron AF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 Di VC USD

Truth be told, I cannot blame anybody but myself. While it looks like somebody ripped my picture, the effect merely derives from a choice I made while shooting the scene, as I decided to underexpose my image by 3 full stops to avoid clipping the highlights in the sky. 

The part of the picture you do not see was neither ripped nor deleted. Rather, the lava rock of Capelinhos Volcano (Faial, Azores, Portugal) sucks light like crazy, to the extent that it appears almost completely black in my underexposed, backlit and only partially post-processed image.

Photographers know that the shadows in a picture are sometimes so dark that opening them up in post-production is equivalent to opening a noise-filled Vase of Pandora, with very little details. 

It is exactly what I expected with this photograph. However, much to my surprise, when I opened the shadows by 100% in Adobe Lightroom, I found out that my camera had actually captured a fair amount of details in the very dark part of the image.

Non-photographers would probably simply look at the picture and delete it right away. That is unfortunate! Nowadays, consumer and prosumer cameras are often just as capable as the so-called professional ones. Result? They will throw away potentially great shots just because they do not know how to edit them. 

Check the before and after below and feel free to use the slider. 

If you are a photographer, I am pretty sure you have been looking for strong halos in the 'After'. 
There aren't any, right? Pretty remarkable for such a high contrast scene!

To be honest, I actually did get some halos, but I fixed them in Photoshop using the absolutely best technique currently available for this purpose. I will write a post about it in the very near future.
This is the most extreme case of successful shadow recovery I stumbled upon so far and that's why I am sharing it with you.
To see my very best image of Capelinhos Volcano, click here.

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