This image of the Collings Foundation B-17 has been one of the most popular in my catalog since I posted a link to it on Facebook and Google+ last week. My initial post contained a brief synopsis of how I did the post processing; some of my followers said this method sounded too difficult, so I thought I’d write this post here with some along the way images to illustrate. I used this image of Tillamook Air Museum’s P-51D Mustang. Admittedly, the effect doesn’t look as great with this Mustang image as it does with the B-17, but it still works great for educational purposes. (Small disclaimer, Copyright notices on in-process images should be on the image, not the interface portion. My portal service places the notice automatically and I can’t control its location on a per image basis.) This is the beginning image with just some basic tweaks in Lightroom 4.
To start I right click on the image go to the Edit In option and choose Adobe Photoshop. Once there, I open Silver Efex Pro2. I apply the High Structure, Harsh preset and then tweak the settings to taste. My primary goals in this tweaking are to create interesting structure in the aircraft and adjust for the fact that shadows tend to block up in the successive steps. One tweak that I almost always do and I did in this image is to apply the yellow color filter, this tends to separate the aircraft from the sky.
After creating the Black and White layer, the next step is to merge this with the original color image. To do this turn the Background layer into a real layer by double clicking on it. Then move it above the Black and White layer and change the blend mode to soft light. (An alternative is to leave the layers in their original order and change the blend mode on the b&w to luminosity. Try both, the luminosity method makes the effect a little less extreme.)
At this point, you will probably notice that some areas need lightening and perhaps some need to be darkened. To do this, stamp the visible layers into a single layer at top; this is the infinitely useful [shift] [ctrl] [alt] [E] shortcut. Personally, I use this so often that I have programmed one of my keys on my Wacom tablet to do it. Change the blend mode on this layer to screen, you’ll see the whole image get much lighter. Create a black mask by holding down the alt key while clicking on the create new mask button. Then paint in the areas with white on the mask that need lightening. Finally, adjust the opacity of the layer to blend in this effect. If anything needs darkening, repeat the process with a layer set to multiply blending mode. The image below shows me painting in the mask, for some reason the brush didn’t capture in the screen capture.
For the next step, stamp the visible layers to the top again. Then open Color Efex Pro4, here we are going to do the method that I detailed in an earlier blog post. Essentially, this is a recipe I created applying Tonal Contrast and Detail Extractor to the image.
After applying the recipe, I click on the Brush button. This opens Nik’s masking app. I paint this effect onto the plane, then adjust the opacity of the layer to taste, I set it to approximately 75% in this case.
Now it’s time for the finishing touches. First off I stamp the visible layers on top again. Then I open Color Efex Pro4 again and apply the Darken/Lighten Center filter. I put the center on top of the plane and adjust the shape and size of the center to taste.
Finally, I clean up dust spots and do any other tweaks that look desirable. In this case it was just the dust.
I would never claim to be able to come up with all of this on my own. Many techniques in this method I learned from NAPP, with some of my own innovations added in. My Google+ friend Monico Havier encouraged me to try this method with the B-17 and now that it worked so well there, I am really watching closely for other places that I might be able to apply it effectively; very anxious to apply it to some air to air images.