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.

Cheers,
Enrico

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