A Color Efex Pro Recipe to send your Photographs back in time

Very easy technique to create that vintage look

When I go out and shoot landscapes or cityscapes, my goal is not always to create a realistic looking image, sometimes I want to create a piece of art that could resemble a real scenery but at a different location or time.

Flo's Cafe Cars Land at Disneyland Anaheim in HDR

My intention with this photograph of Flo's Cafe in Cars Land at Disneyland Anaheim was to make it look like an old gas-station from the 50's or 60's, somewhere along Route 66, in a town named Radiator Springs.

The biggest challenge was to get rid of the Disney crowds. As you can imagine, this area of Disney's California Adventure Park is very crowded but there are certain dates and times of the day plus some photography techniques that you can use to your advantage. 

First of all, we went there on a weekday in February and I shot this while the evening parade took place to limit the crowds to an absolute minimum. 

In order to capture all details in the shadows and highlights, I shot 3 different exposures and I've used shutter-speeds between 30 seconds and 2 minutes to make all moving subjects disappear. My remaining issues were a guy leaning onto the pole on the left and the official Disney photographer that wouldn't move an inch to take pictures of tourists in front of the cafe but I got rid of both thanks to Photoshop's Content-Aware feature. 

I really love Nik's Color Efex Pro 4 and I'm using it a lot. Color Efex Pro provides dozens of filters that you can mix and save as recipes. You can download the recipe that I've used for this image. I named it Cars Land VintageHave fun.

Is something wrong with 500px?

I've been a big fan of 500px ever since I found them on the Internets a few years ago. Browsing through their Popular Pages has always been a big source of inspiration for my own photography. For me, they were the standard for high-quality photographs. Were? 

Well, here is the thing: I've noticed lately that the number of "mediocre" images on the first few Popular pages have started to increase and 500px seemed to have detected that problem some time ago as they blogged about it in 2011. 

I think the problem are a group of "vote-collectors". These are users that found other users who help them casting Votes and Favorites in return for votes and faves on their own pictures.

I therefore decided to conduct a little test. I created a new 500px user-account with a fake name and uploaded a picture of a pelican and marked it as nude plus tagged it with keywords like Birds, girl, naked, lady, nude.
At the same time, I posted that picture on my "real" 500px page, too where I have 600+ followers. I didn't mark it as nude and I've used regular keywords that fit the photograph.

With the new fake user, I started commenting and voting on pictures of users that I suspected were part of the "vote-collecting" mafia, sorry community. I very quickly noticed that most pictures I commented and voted on had the same comments from the same users all over the place.

After like 35 minutes, my nude pelican was viewed 27 times with 22 votes and 23 comments, became popular and reached a pulse of almost 90. Besides that, nobody complained about it not being an Adult Content picture so I don't think anybody who commented really looked at the picture itself.

At the same time, the picture on my real account got 6 views, 2 votes and 2 comments reaching a pulse of 52.6 and was far away from getting popular

There was a recent forum post in Early March 2013 in the 500px Support Center named "500px going downhill" in which another user brought up the exact same topic. It was an interesting discussion but got stopped after 25 comments.

The 500px agent that responded to the forum thread said: 

You'll see a whole new voting, scoring and commenting system this spring. We're getting rid of the Dislike button and making commenting an important part of participating on 500px. Comment quality will be far more important than quantity.

Summer starts in 2 weeks so I guess we should see a big update, very soon. 


Based on what I found with my quick test is that there seems to be just a very small group of "cheaters" that could be quite easily detected with a proper "Report This User - Cheater" button right next to a users's profile. 500px has a "Report This User" function but unless you are a computer forensic specialist, you won't be able to find it. 

Here is how: You have to browse to the users profile page and in the top section you can find a tiny little arrow that you need to click to make the "Report this user" link visible with the drop-down list of why to report that user. I couldn't find a proper entry for cheating, though. 

Screen Shot 2013-06-05 at 1.30.22 PM.png

So please, 500px, give us your awesome picture gallery back with Popular photos that are in that section because they are awesome and not because they have been up-voted some cheaters. Get rid of them or let us at least help you to find them.

If anybody at 500px is listening, I collected a list of those (suspected) cheaters and I'm absolutely willing to share that with you. 


Long Exposure Photography with the iPhone

A few weeks ago, I discovered a really cool app for the iPhone that lets you do long-exposures during day-time without any filters - well, kind of...

Final Image

The app is called AvgCameraPro and is available for $0.99 in the iTunes App store.

Here is what you need and how it works:

  1. A tripod or some kind of stabilization for the iPhone is a must.
    I use the predecessor of the Joby GripTight GorillaPod for the iPhone and either place it on the ground or bend its arms around the ballhead of my Gitzo tripod.
  2. The app will take multiple pictures (1-128) and blends them together to create that long-exposure effect.
    I pretty much always choose 128 pictures and I wish it would let me shoot even more than that. The 128 picture setting will shoot a picture every ~1.5 seconds so the approximate "exposure time" is at around 3 minutes. In order to get really nice smooth clouds on a not too windy day, a 5-6 minutes exposure would work best.
  3. You can actually see the picture evolve as it blends the individual frames in real-time while shooting - this is really cool
  4. The drawback is that the app shoots the pictures with only 2 Megapixels so you end up with a 1224x1632 pixel image - this is not so cool... 

This is what you get straight out of camera:

Straight Out of Camera iPhone Picture

Long-exposure photography reduced to the max

Fake it if you can't make it

It's usually not my credo but there are certain situations which you cannot bend enough to reach your goal without the help of post-processing.

Final Version

I recently bought a HiTech big-stopper ND filter that blocks 10 stops of light. I originally opted for the Lee version but it seems to be impossible to get a hold of that filter if you don't want to wait for a couple of months - I'm not a very patient guy so I got the cheaper, lower quality HiTech versions for 10 and 6 stops. If you want to create long-exposures with very smooth looking clouds you need at least a 4-5 minute exposure time and on a sunny day, you will have to put 16-stops of ND filters in front of your lens.

That's exactly what I was planning to do the other day. I recently bought Joel Tjintjelaar's new Video Tutorial in which he explains in-depth how he creates his epic black and white long-exposures from shooting to post-processing.

Original RAW file

So, I was setting up my tripod and camera in front of a office-building complex in Zug, Switzerland and I had this great looking streak of clouds just atop that building perfectly aligned. It took me about 5 minutes to align the camera and just about when I pressed the shutter on my remote-release, a car drove by and wasn't able to pass - when I was setting up I didn't realize that cars would drive on that sidewalk but I was wrong. I thought about talking to the driver as I had 4 minutes left for my exposure to finish but when she started honking and waving I thought: "Screw it, let's let her pass!" 

Once she passed, I started again from scratch and a few minutes later I was ready again. BUT, the cloud was gone and all I was left with was deep blue sky. Great!

I decided to move on and find another location but due to the fact that all the clouds have vanished, I called it off.

Fortunately, I shot a few test-shots without the filters on to test the exposure and composition and decided to test a few things with those pictures when I remembered the "Motion Blur" tool in Photoshop.

I will not get into details on how I achieved the black and white final version - consult Joel's linked video tutorial mentioned above. 

Step 1 - Remove the Clutter

remove the leaves in the top corners using Content-Aware Fill.

I tried to avoid the leaves but my first priority was the perfect angle of the building and I knew I could easily get rid of them using Content-Aware Fill.

I've used the Polygonal Lasso Tool to select the areas around the leaves. I then clicked on 'Edit'->'Fill...' to get them removed. It worked perfectly here as expected.

Remove the leaves using Content-Aware Fill

Content-Aware Fill removed the leaves

Motion Blur Tool

Step 2 - Stretch the Clouds:

After I straightened the top of the building, I've used the Rectangular Marquee Tool to only select the sky. While the sky selected I've added a new layer by pressing 'Command'J'.

With the sky still selected (this is important), I chose 'Filter'->'Blur'->'Motion Blur...'. 

I then had to play around with the settings and they will vary based on the kind of clouds you have in your picture. For this particular sky, I selected an angle similar to the alignment of the streak of cloud and a very long distance of '1500' pixels to really stretch it out.

It is important to have your sky selection active as the Motion Blur tool would otherwise blur part of the sky into the building or the other way around and you don't want that.

What followed next was the conversion to black and white and all the other magic Joel teaches in his tutorial.