The Making Of “The Sky Over Berlin”

Many times, when I show a photo, I get asked how I made it, so I decided to share some of my favorite shooting and processing techniques with my readers. This is the first article in a series that I plan to carry on indefinitely and that I am calling “The Making Of”. Each week I hope to be able to write a post every week, detailing location, camera settings and other details about the taking of the image, and post-processing steps.

The Sky Over Berlin

The river Spree and the Reichstag, Berlin, Germany

The river Spree and the Reichstag, Berlin, Germany

Der Himmel über Berlin (“The Sky Over Berlin”) is a 1987 film directed by Wim Wenders. It seems like every time I travel to the capital of Germany, I have the luck to witness amazing skies, so I am constantly reminded of the title of that movie. This time it was no different, so I decided to use the English translation of its title to name my photo. (The title of the English version, however, was “Wings of Desire).

I took this photo from a bridge across the Spree river, looking towards the west and the Reichstag building, which is partially visible slightly left of center. Aside from the great sunset sky, with the contrails criss-crossing it, I was attracted by the was the setting sun reflected off the glass buildings on the left.

Shooting

I set my tripod down halfway across the bridge and locked my Fujifilm X-T2 in portrait orientation (this is why I always use an L-bracket with an Arca-Swiss plate). I set the aperture on my Fujinon XF 16mm F1.4 lens to an aperture of f/8 and focused manually onto a point about one third of the way into the row of buildings, knowing instinctively this would give me enough depth of field to have everything in perfect focus.

The meter gave me a reading of 1/250s, so I set that shutter speed manually. Knowing I was shooting into the sun, I also set the camera to take three bracketed shots at 0EV, -1EV, and +1EV. I could have shot a wider bracket, but I didn’t think it necessary, as the sun was already quite low and partially obscured by the clouds, so I thought a 2-stop range would give me enough dynamic range to capture this scene. The X-T2, with its 14-bits RAW files, is also very good when it comes to recovering both the shadows and the highlights.

I then started shooting left to right, making sure I had about 30% overlap between each pair of consecutive images. I also shot a wider angle than necessary, just to give me freedom to crop later, if I wanted. I ended up triggering the shutter 7 times, each time taking a 3 shots AE bracket, for a total of 21 files.

Here you can see them loaded up in Lightroom.

Post-processing

At the computer, I used my typical Lightroom HDR workflow: I selected each bracket of 3 images and created a 32-bit HDR file from them, simply by pressing Ctrl+Shift+H. Notice that I didn’t do any processing steps before this, as the HDR process in Lightroom creates DNG RAW files that retain all the information of the originals and are amenable to the same processing as those.

Here are the resulting HDR files.

The next step is creating the stitched panorama. Before you do this, it might be better to apply the necessary corrections using the Lens Correction panel in Lightroom’s Develop module, by selecting the correct lens profile. Since the files created by the X-T2, when using Fuji X lenses, are already automatically corrected, I didn’t have to perform this step.

To create the panorama, I selected the 7 HDR files and pressed Ctrl+M. In the windows that opened up to show me the preview, I selected the cylindrical projection, which seemed to give the best results. You never know which projection works best with each panorama, so it’s worth trying them all before choosing one. I also moved the Boundary Warp slider all the way to 100 in order to fill the blank areas at the edges. While this sometimes creates excessive distortion, it worked fine in this case.

Back into the Develop module, I straightened the verticals by using the Vertical slider in the Transform panel, cropped the image to a 16:9 ratio and applied some global tonal adjustments. Of course these are entirely dependent on the particular image and on my personal taste, so it wouldn’t make much sense to list them here.

Finally, I added a gradient filter to the top portion of the image to darken the sky and increase its saturation and contrast a bit and that was all. The final image measures 8282×4659 pixels, corresponding to about 38MP.

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Comments 4

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  1. Good outline, and very effective image, Ugo. Lots of fantastic pointers.

    One thing I was looking for was what you did for the global tonal adjustments. I had to reread before noticing that you quickly said just to adjust to taste.

    However, I see that your tone adjustments for this image are similar to what many landscape images end up with, in line with the following process:

    1. Drop highlights down to rebalance sky and land exposure and to reduce the effect of the camera sensor’s propensity to make images look a bit “washed out”. Your Highlights slider is at -100 which is quite common.

    2. Increase exposure up to look “normal” (assuming you were exposing for highlights when originally shooting). Your Exposure slider is +1.1. This indicates that your HDR exposure was probably exposed to largely avoid clipping the highlights (ie “ETTR”), which is often the best practice.

    3. Hold down “Alt” and slide Whites up until a tiny amount of highlight clipping is shown in some details. Your White slider value is +47.

    4. Hold down “alt” again and drop down blacks until a tiny amount of darks clipping shows. Your Black slider value is -15.

    5. Increase shadows to taste. Often this can go up close to +100. Your Shadow slider is +70.

    6. To add a little “pop”, increase Clarity to taste, being careful not to overdo it and make the image look too “crunchy”. Of course, your Clarity slider value of +30 suits your image perfectly, although often a lower clarity value is used depending on the image.

    7. Increase Vibrance to taste. Another one to be subtle with, to give the colours a little “pop”. Your Vibrance slider is at +11, which is probably just slightly higher than average in my experience, but great for this image to really bring out those sunset colours.

    8. Leave the saturation slider alone. All the other slider adjustments will have pushed the saturation enough already. Your Saturation slider value is 0.

    I figured that you seemed to follow the oft-used practice for landscape images where both the sky and land are prominent in the image, so I might as well outline that process so other readers can see it.

    Of course, all the above steps are just ballpark guidelines and don’t work for every image, but can be handy tips for beginners. I hope you don’t find this post too presumptuous!

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