After days of extensive research and preparation, I traveled to Frankfurt with a list of architectural images that I wanted to capture. Much to my surprise, my favorite and most successful photo on that trip was one I never planned to take.
I have wanted to make a black and white architectural image in the style of photographer Joel Tjintjelaar for a long time. One of the best cities in Europe to attempt this challenge is Frankfurt, Germany, with its many skyscrapers and famous modern architecture. After days of extensive research and preparation, I traveled to Frankfurt knowing exactly what I wanted to photograph.
I started in the morning taking long exposure images in the underground stations, and I ended the day photographing many skyscrapers when the sun was at a more suitable angle. While walking near the landmark MesseTurm, the third tallest building in the European Union, I stumbled across this streetlight completely by accident. I looked up and noticed that it perfectly bisected two amazing skyscrapers, and immediately I decided to take this picture.
"I was there between Christmas and New Year's Eve and there was very little traffic — fortunate for me because I had to lie down on my back, mostly in the street, in order to center the streetlight between the buildings."
As I began setting up, I realized it would be nearly impossible to achieve this shot on a normal business day. I was there between Christmas and New Year's Eve and there was very little traffic — fortunate for me because I had to lie down on my back, mostly in the street, in order to center the streetlight between the buildings. In this awkward position I was unable to use a tripod, but the available light allowed me to set the ISO to 100, the shutter speed to 1/30 second and to handhold the camera for two shots.
I used a polarizing filter, which is mandatory in sunny conditions. It minimizes glare bouncing off metal and glass surfaces, reduces reflections in the windows and it creates a darker, more dramatic sky. My biggest challenge when composing this shot was keeping the streetlight in the middle while, to the best of my ability, aligning both buildings with the sides and corners of the frame. I always do this as best I can when taking the photo to avoid any extraneous transformations or cropping in post-processing.
I use Adobe Lightroom to catalog my RAW images and to make basic adjustments. Final adjustments are made in Photoshop CC. For this image I also used Nik Software's plugins Silver Efex Pro 2 and Sharpener Pro 3.
In Lightroom, it is important to first open the Lens Corrections panel and, under the Basic tab, select Enable Profile Corrections as well as Remove Chromatic Aberrations. This will remove lens distortions and color shifts.
This is the full-frame image. Very little cropping was required.
1) In Lightroom I made the following adjustments:
- Highlights: +9
- Shadows: +1
- Whites: +3
- Blacks: +3
- Clarity: +20
- Dynamics: +11
- Sharpness: 41
- Noise Reduction: 26
- Blue: +6 Saturation and +12 Luminance
2) Next, I exported the photo as a 32-bit uncompressed TIFF file to Photoshop.
3) To correct the perspective, I copied the original layer, enabled Guides to assist me and then used the Transform Distort tool (Edit > Transform > Distort) to make the streetlight exactly vertical. I also removed spots from this layer using the Clone Stamp tool.
4) I exported the image to Nik Silver Efex Pro 2 plugin and converted it to black and white using the default settings. Returning to Photoshop, I then applied the Blur filter with a high value to blur the sky on the upper right side.
5) The Quick Selection tool was not precise enough, so I used the Polygonal Lasso to manually create separate masks for the building on the left, the streetlight, the building on the right and the sky.
I made Groups for each of these four masks and then created sub-masks for the same four areas.
By creating the masks, I could apply precise adjustments, such as Dodge and Burn, luminosity masks and Joel Tjintjelaar’s Selective Gradient Masking technique, to specific areas of the photo. These adjustments defined edges and created a better balance between the lights and darks. For more information on luminosity masks, I highly recommend Tony Kuyper's tutorials.
Below are the four separate versions of group adjustments and the final version with all of them combined:
Building on the left
Building on the right
All four combined
6) I then created a new 50% grey layer set to Soft Light in order to Dodge and Burn the overall lights and darks. I used the Brush set to 5-10% Opacity and 10% Flow to paint with white and black.
7) Sharpening is always one of the last steps. I first used Nik Sharpener Pro 3 plugin with the following parameters:
And then back in Photoshop, I added a special High Pass filter layer to highlight the edges (Filter > Other > High Pass).
The trick here is to create two identical copies of all the layers (two identical merged layers). I then changed the upper layer to Linear Light mode, inverted it and decreased the layer Opacity to 50%. A Surface Blur filter was applied to this layer to find the edges (Filter > Blur > Surface Blur).
Afterward, I merged the upper and lower layers and changed the blending mode to Overlay. This prevented halos from appearing around the edges of the buildings and streetlight.
8) At the very end, I decided that the image was a bit too dim, so I added a Brightness/Contrast adjustment layer and slightly increased Brightness.
1) Make a plan: Always know what you will photograph ahead of time. That said, once you are on location, be flexible and aware of your surroundings in order to use the unexpected to your advantage.
2) Use a polarizing filter to manage reflections and glare.
3) Research your location in advance. Use online resources to find weather forecasts and lighting conditions, the angle of the sun throughout the day and the buildings in the area.
I live in Gelsenkirchen, centrally located in the northern part of the Ruhr area in Germany. I have been extremely enthusiastic about photography since early 2012. I specialize in landscape, architecture and night photography.