Author Topic: Model Railroad Photo Manipulation  (Read 2496 times)

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robert3985

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Model Railroad Photo Manipulation
« on: January 15, 2017, 04:38:54 AM »
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I thought it would be interesting to have those of us who like to take photos of model railroad subjects, then modify them for more realism, more DOF, better color, adding details, etc. to have a thread to show off and explain our work and the tools we use.

I'll start off by 'splaining how one photo I've published quite a few times got to its present form.

To give credit where it is due, I have to give recognition to Peter @peteski  for goading me into doing this.   :D

I use two programs 99 percent of the time to work with photos I've taken of model railroad subjects (1) Helicon Focus Pro, and (2) Adobe Photoshop...currently using Adobe Photoshop Creative Cloud 2017.  However, I normally limit the amount of "retouching" so as not to do any enhancing of my model work, but to make the photo more clear, better composed, and/or color corrected. 

However, a few days ago in another thread, Peter "kicked the bear" and asked why I didn't improve some of my unfinished scenery that is very prominent (it's bright pink extruded foam) in several of my photos of my unfinished Echo Curve, and in the process of 'splaining to him why I don't do that, a germ formed in my head to give it a try to see what my efforts would produce.

So, here's how I did it...

Here are the two finished stacks each of which I combined with Helicon Focus.  I wasn't satisfied with either, so I decided to clone from each of them to produce a better view of my son's Lik SP GS-2 rounding Echo Curve on my portable layout.

Photo (1) - This stack had plenty of HF artifacts and blurring.  Also the exposure was too long for the headlight and reflections on the wheel treads, but the pink cliffs, boiler and following cars looked pretty good:


Photo (2) - This one also had a lot of HF artifacts, but the exposure was just right for the headlight and smaller reflections on the wheel treads:


I opened both photos in Photoshop CC and using the cloning tool, I cloned the headlight and smokebox front from photo (2) to photo (1).  I then cloned the drivers from photo (2) to photo (1) also.

I then pulled down the menu under "image" and chose "adjustments" and clicked on "Shadows/Highlights" which opened a window which allows me to fiddle with bringing the detail out of dark areas, and finding details in washed-out areas as well as modifying the color saturation and messing with contrast.  For detail shots of products, I find that a little less contrast is better.  However, that's only for clarity, not for art's sake.

Using the cloning tool I got rid of most of the out-of-focus foreground grass and track by cloning in-focus details from elsewhere in the photo.

I also put some sky in and tinted the distant south Echo Canyon wall with a little violet using both my masking tool and airbrush, feathering the interface between sky and cliff to imply distance.

At this point, I liked what I had, but after looking at it for a couple of minutes, I decided I wanted the engine to stand out more from the cars.

One of the rules in art of implying distance is to lighten things up in the distance, so I masked off the cars that were directly behind the engine, and decreased their contrast, and lightened them up just a bit.

Photo (3) - This is what I've been publishing here and elsewhere:


Then, Peter asked my why I didn't fix the unfinished pink Styrofoam cliffs.

Okay...after thinking about it for a bit after I read his post, I thought it might be a fun project.  What I needed to get rid of the unfinished bit of Echo Cliffs showing in the photo was either to attempt to color it correctly, or to see what cloning from an actual photo of the cliffs would give me.  Luckily, I have hundreds of reference photos of this area I've taken over the years and I decided to use the following photo to clone from.

Photo (4) - The lighting in this photo looked to be somewhat similar to the lighting in my model photo.  However this photo was much smaller than my model photo (3000 pixels across vs 6000 horizontal pixels), so using Photoshop, I increased its size to exactly 6000 pixels horizontally.  The cliffs looked too small after cloning them into my model photo, so I increased the size to 12000 pixels horizontally, and that did the job!


I also matched the sky color in my model photo with the sky color in the prototype photo, changed the background Echo Canyon walls a little, and finally got the cliffs to look "right" after messing with what area to clone from after a couple of failed experiments.  I also cloned some real grass into the foreground just for the helluvit.

After looking at it for a few minutes, I decided that it needed more contrast, so I increased the contrast just a bit to be more artistically pleasing to my eye.  I then modified the cliffs a bit by decreasing their contrast and fiddling with the interface between cliff and sky.

Photo (5) - This is the finished Peteski challenge to fix the pink Styrofoam:


I'm pretty happy with the result, and it wasn't very difficult to do since I have a wealth of references to work from. 

The main result is that now I feel like I need to get off my butt and finish this area, and see if I can make my model cliffs look as good as the cloned prototype ones.  The Evanston Roundhouse Festival is in August, so I'm gonna use that as my main deadline to finish this scene up.

Thanks Peter!  :)

Cheerio!
Bob Gilmore
« Last Edit: January 15, 2017, 05:06:05 AM by robert3985 »

tom mann

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Re: Model Railroad Photo Manipulation
« Reply #1 on: January 15, 2017, 09:11:06 AM »
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First, thanks for this type of content.

Second, could your further improve the composition by adding some contrast and detail into the rolling hills?  Something like this:



wcfn100

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Re: Model Railroad Photo Manipulation
« Reply #2 on: January 15, 2017, 01:17:13 PM »
+1
Nice write up Bob.  If I could make a suggestion, use layer masks, particularly in place of some of the cloning.

Here's the banner image I did of my dad's layout and Nn3 stuff.  This shot was focus stacked in one of the first versions of Helicon Focus.



First I cloned out some of the dust on the locomotive.



Next, I created a layer mask to remove the sky.  This is one place where a layer masks are awesome, as you don't actually remove the sky but just mask it away.  It doesn't delete anything from the picture and can be adjusted as many times as needed.



Then I did another layer mask and used the burn tool to tone down the image in a few places an adjustment layer and used the brush to tone down the picture in a few places.  Again, with a layer mask, this Adjustment layers can be adjusted as many times as needed without actually effecting the original picture.



Back the the sky.  With the layer mask in place, any number of backdrops can be inserted without any more work.







Then to finish it with the obligatory Photoshopped smoke and steam.



Jason


edited to add - 'adjustment layer' where appropriate.






« Last Edit: January 15, 2017, 10:26:36 PM by wcfn100 »

wazzou

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Re: Model Railroad Photo Manipulation
« Reply #3 on: January 15, 2017, 02:15:24 PM »
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Nice work Jason, but if I may ask, why didn't you address the wall/cliff transition above the sand dome at the same time?
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wcfn100

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Re: Model Railroad Photo Manipulation
« Reply #4 on: January 15, 2017, 02:20:31 PM »
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Nice work Jason, but if I may ask, why didn't you address the wall/cliff transition above the sand dome at the same time?

Yeah I know that looks awkward, but that's just how the layout is.  Not really sure how I would address it anyway.  It's a retaining wall/abutment for the upper level bridge.




Jason
« Last Edit: January 15, 2017, 02:24:27 PM by wcfn100 »

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Re: Model Railroad Photo Manipulation
« Reply #5 on: January 15, 2017, 03:01:53 PM »
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Jason, while to you that smooth wall probably looks ok (because you see the layout-in person and you are used to seeing it), to others (um, me) it looks really awkward.

When I started reading this thread (about manipulating photos) and saw the first photos, I thought the rock was actually Photoshopped in, and that was the first step of your photo manipulation. In that particular photo even the rock doesn't look realistic to me. In the wider shot showing the full scene the rock looks ok, but the abutment (even though now there is a reference to what that gray slab is) looks like you just masked that area and filled that area with solid gray fill. The abutment is way too smooth, even-colored, and devoid of any texture.

But going back to the earlier part your write-up, I next thought that you were going to replace the entire background with sky.  The sky you Photoshopped in makes that photo look better, but the concrete slab looks like it is unfinished. Add some texture  and weathering, or even better, replace it with more rock and the photo will look finished to me.
--- Peteski de Snarkski

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peteski

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Re: Model Railroad Photo Manipulation
« Reply #6 on: January 15, 2017, 03:03:55 PM »
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Bob - thanks for the wonderful write-up of your technique.  I'm glad that I kicked  the bear.  :)

See, Polish people have enough ballz to walk up right to the sleeping bear and kick it!  we don't need no stinkin' prods.  ;)
--- Peteski de Snarkski

-"Look at me, I'm satirical!!!"
-"Look at me, I'm anal retentive!!!"
-"Look at me, I have the most posts evahhhh!!!"
-"Look at me, I'm snarky!!!!"
-"Look at me, I have OCD!!!"
-"Look at me, I'm a curmudgeon!!!!"

robert3985

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Re: Model Railroad Photo Manipulation
« Reply #7 on: January 15, 2017, 06:02:50 PM »
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First, thanks for this type of content.

Second, could your further improve the composition by adding some contrast and detail into the rolling hills?  Something like this:



Tom, @tom mann  I've been curious as to how some modelers/photographers get the effects they use in their finished photos.  As for myself, I just experiment around when I have time, and sometimes the tools work, sometimes they don't.  I'm not an "expert" by any definition using Photoshop as I tend to stick with the tools and techniques that fit my limited needs and artistic requirements the vast majority of times.

As to your second remark, the answer is both "yes" and "no".  I define "composition" as the relationship of the subject and ancillary details to the overall effect and frame defining the limits of the finished work.  I really like the overall composition of the shot of my son Ben's SP GS-2 at Echo Curve and where the main subject lies within the bounds of the photo edges.  So, "no"...I don't think adding a more detailed background would improve the composition.  However, it might add interest by making the background look much more realistic...which might improve the overall appeal of the photo.  I say "might" because I'd have to do it to be sure.  So, "yes", overall realism would most definitely be improved by shopping in background details...but overall appeal may not be improved.

I should point out that I took this photo specifically as a sales tool when Ben decided to sell this fabulous N-scale engine to post on eBay.  If I would have had a spare $800 bucks in my wallet, I would have bought it from him for sure. I didn't want many details detracting from the subject (the engine), and the fuzzy, impressionistic background "hills" were perfect for the photo's intended purpose.

However, if I can find a photo of the south wall of the mouth of Echo Canyon (this exists as the aisleway on my layout, so I haven't taken any photos specifically of it),  I'll learn how to do "layer masks" in Photoshop as Jason @wcfn100 properly suggests and post the results if they're pleasing.

Cheerio!
Bob Gilmore

wcfn100

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Re: Model Railroad Photo Manipulation
« Reply #8 on: January 15, 2017, 06:52:37 PM »
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Jason, while to you that smooth wall probably looks ok (because you see the layout-in person and you are used to seeing it), to others (um, me) it looks really awkward.

When I started reading this thread (about manipulating photos) and saw the first photos, I thought the rock was actually Photoshopped in, and that was the first step of your photo manipulation. In that particular photo even the rock doesn't look realistic to me. In the wider shot showing the full scene the rock looks ok, but the abutment (even though now there is a reference to what that gray slab is) looks like you just masked that area and filled that area with solid gray fill. The abutment is way too smooth, even-colored, and devoid of any texture.

But going back to the earlier part your write-up, I next thought that you were going to replace the entire background with sky.  The sky you Photoshopped in makes that photo look better, but the concrete slab looks like it is unfinished. Add some texture  and weathering, or even better, replace it with more rock and the photo will look finished to me.

Let's give the layout some context.  It's my dad's layout he built 15-20 years ago.  The yellow rock was a flexible foam product that he was exited about using at the time.  I agree it doesn't look realistic, but 20 years ago, it was equal to or better than anything else anyone was doing.  I assume the reason for such a big concrete wall is that's as far as the rock sheet reached.



Jason



robert3985

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Re: Model Railroad Photo Manipulation
« Reply #9 on: January 15, 2017, 09:27:26 PM »
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Yeah I know that looks awkward, but that's just how the layout is.  Not really sure how I would address it anyway.  It's a retaining wall/abutment for the upper level bridge.




Jason

Thanks Jason for the suggestion to use layer masks in your first post.  I'm not sure how to do it, but I am certain that having that knowledge will come in handy for many of my model train photos...so, I'll make a point of learning how to do it!

As to the concrete wall/rock face/sky problem in your photo...from an artistic standpoint, the overall effect of emphasizing your dad's Nn3 engine and cars would certainly be improved by eliminating all but one of the backgrounds, even if the layout actually has these features.  Like Peter, when I first read your post, I thought you had shopped each background into the photo as an example of what layer masking could do.

As a long-time pro photographer, taking photos of pertinent prototype trains & equipment, photographing my layout and work, and photographing my model railroad friends' and colleagues' layouts,  has been my main model railroad photo purpose.  Like you, when you were taking photos of your father's equipment and layout, I often run into photographic problems with backgrounds, foregrounds and other extraneous intrusions into the overall quality and effects I would ideally want when photographing other people's layouts.

The following is general advice I give to model railroaders who also have an interest in photographing their layout and models:

What looks good and works well in person when viewing and operating a layout often doesn't work well in a photographic environment, which isn't a problem to most model railroaders whose main desire is to get trains up and running, with scenery, backgrounds, fascias, skyboards and lighting being distant and often neglected concerns.

This photographic problem is what photo manipulation software was created for and it works just as well for model railroaders as it does for removing moles from a fashion model's nose.

HOWEVER...and it's a big "however"...if you have a prominent interest in photographing your layout and equipment, it is an excellent idea to build your layout so that it has several...or many...places that are conducive to taking photos.  John Armstrong when talking about designing his own O-scale layout, wrote about a large radius curve he'd designed specifically for taking photos of his trains and called it his "photogenic curve". 

Another layout that has been designed with both operation and photographic goodness from the ground up is Mike Danneman's Moffat Road.  In my layout design using LDE's and large scenes depicting prototype areas between Ogden and Wahsatch Utah, I have designed most of the LDE's and transition sections with taking photos as one of my priorities.  My whole layout will be a photographic "set" when finished, and several scenes that are now somewhat complete dominate what people see when I post photos of my work.

My advice is that if you want good photos of your layout, then design it so that purpose is more easily accomplished. 

Making many points on your layout into photographic "sets" will not detract from its overall operation or appearance, and in most cases will make it both visually and operationally much more appealing.

On my sectional layout which is stuffed into my media room, and represents about 20% of what my finished layout will be, I have at least 15 areas that can be photographed in several ways to depict prototype scenes and operation as it really was in the decade between 1947 and the end of 1956. Since I have also included prototype track plans (shortened), operation will be prototypical also.

Just sayin' that a little planning forward for good photos on your layout is very beneficial if photographing your model trains is of interest to you. 

Cheerio!
Bob Gilmore
« Last Edit: January 15, 2017, 09:37:27 PM by robert3985 »

peteski

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Re: Model Railroad Photo Manipulation
« Reply #10 on: January 15, 2017, 09:27:58 PM »
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Let's give the layout some context.  It's my dad's layout he built 15-20 years ago.  The yellow rock was a flexible foam product that he was exited about using at the time.  I agree it doesn't look realistic, but 20 years ago, it was equal to or better than anything else anyone was doing.  I assume the reason for such a big concrete wall is that's as far as the rock sheet reached.



Jason

I understand.
But if the goal was to make the photo more realistic and digital manipulation is allowed, then additional Photoshopping could have been performed to make the train's background even more realistic. I'm not saying that it should be done - just that it is possible to take it another step further.

The size of that concrete wall is a bit overwhelming but my point was that it was totally smooth and devoid of any texture or weathering.  Like I said, it probably looks fine in-person, but in that close-up photo I couldn't tell what that gray area was (until you showed the wider perspective photo).
--- Peteski de Snarkski

-"Look at me, I'm satirical!!!"
-"Look at me, I'm anal retentive!!!"
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-"Look at me, I'm a curmudgeon!!!!"

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Re: Model Railroad Photo Manipulation
« Reply #11 on: January 15, 2017, 09:34:00 PM »
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Bob, each brand of graphic manipulation software probably used different terminology to describer similar process.  I use Corel PhotoPoaint and I can do all sorts of fancy things with masks. I can even save masks either within the file I'm editing or in an external file. I can also create masks from objects and vice-versa.
--- Peteski de Snarkski

-"Look at me, I'm satirical!!!"
-"Look at me, I'm anal retentive!!!"
-"Look at me, I have the most posts evahhhh!!!"
-"Look at me, I'm snarky!!!!"
-"Look at me, I have OCD!!!"
-"Look at me, I'm a curmudgeon!!!!"

wcfn100

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Re: Model Railroad Photo Manipulation
« Reply #12 on: January 15, 2017, 10:24:22 PM »
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@robert3985, I need to amend my previous posts a bit as I forgot some of the terminology.  In regards to making adjustments to the photos, you want to use 'adjustment layers'.  They allow for adjusting contrast or whatever effect you want with a brush and it happens on a separate layer so you're not modifying the original layer.  The layer masks are still good for bringing in items from other pictures like the rock in your example.  When I taught PS, adjustment layers didn't exist yet and we used to cheat with different layers and masks to make our own.

Adjustment layers are made with the small black/white circle at the bottom of the layers palette.  Layer masks are next to it on the left.

Jason

robert3985

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Re: Model Railroad Photo Manipulation
« Reply #13 on: January 15, 2017, 10:36:19 PM »
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@robert3985, I need to amend my previous posts a bit as I forgot some of the terminology.  In regards to making adjustments to the photos, you want to use 'adjustment layers'.  They allow for adjusting contrast or whatever effect you want with a brush and it happens on a separate layer so you're not modifying the original layer.  The layer masks are still good for bringing in items from other pictures like the rock in your example.  When I taught PS, adjustment layers didn't exist yet and we used to cheat with different layers and masks to make our own.

Adjustment layers are made with the small black/white circle at the bottom of the layers palette.  Layer masks are next to it on the left.

Jason

Thanks Jason!  I'll be trying this out this week!

Cheerio!
Bob Gilmore

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Re: Model Railroad Photo Manipulation
« Reply #14 on: January 16, 2017, 06:19:25 PM »
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@wcfn100  Is that the insanely expensive brass K27 that was made a a few years back ? I thought about getting one , but the price scared me .