Does this image tell a story? Probably not, but it gives you plenty of options to invent your own. Subconsciously this was clear to me when I snapped it: the people vanishing round the corner, the reflections, the shadows, the light, and I intended to heighten the sense of disorientation by again choosing an angle.
Below you see the original as it came from the camera. This is action photography, and you have no choice but taking the image when the main subjects are roughly in the position where you want them to be. Everything else is luck. You may get some unexpected bonus like the surveillance camera, but there may also be a distraction you have to cope with later, like the tiny bit of coat worn by the person coming down the stairs to my right. I had thought I were far enough ahead, but obviously I was not.
When I inspected the image at home, I found it lacking in many ways. Color was only one of them. I won’t explain in detail what I did, but here are the main ingredients of this 20+ layer job:
First I used PTLens to get rid of the barrel distortion of the Tamron at its widest. I don’t correct that all the time, but in architectural shots it is a good idea. Then I rotated the image slightly back. This felt good for the upper and right part of the image, and it got also rid of the person entering the frame from the right. I also cropped the image slightly, in order to make the top-most oblique line run into the top left corner, making sure that the camera is still partly visible. From the bottom I have cropped as well, to make the yellow line run into the bottom-right corner. These two corners, that is where the image is anchored, and they are connected by a zig-zag of lines, giving the image its tension.
I really like to use Topaz Adjust, although it is not exactly a subtle tool by nature. You have to be very careful when you use it in Landscapes (I still do it frequently), but this is the kind of image where subtlety is not what I want. I used “Spicify”, a very interesting preset that tends to greatly exaggerate subtle color nuances, especially in mostly gray scenes.
Next I have adjusted colors and tones, and I did this locally, using masks. From a color point of view I wanted variation, but without making the image gaudy. I wanted warm tones and in the lights a separation between yellow and red. I’ve also added a lot of saturation, but I used more saturation in the reds and yellows than in the blues. I have even driven some of the yellows slightly into the greens. If you look at the original, nothing of that is present. This is pure invention, and so is the changed lighting on the stairs.
In the original, the stairs look flat and the lower left corner has nothing to balance the light from the upper right. I have countered that by generally darkening the lower left corner, but setting two subtle accents of light in the shadowy part of the landing and the stairs, just enough to balance the image. When I do that, I normally use a neutral gray layer in “Soft Light” blending mode, and then I paint in white or black, depending on whether I want to dodge or burn.
In my opinion it works best to use a separate layer for each accent, to use bold touches of the brush (i.e. 100% flow), and then to back off by lowering opacity. That way you have a tremendous amount of flexibility. Just don’t ever flatten your layers 🙂
In the end I have an image that would have been impossible to take, but that pretty much is what I imagined, when I made the exposure.
Here we are. I didn’t intend it to be a Photoshop tutorial, but I was so surprised myself by how well this turned out, that I just wanted to share what I did.