“Big Ben Bus Stop” HDR Workflow by Yhun Suarez

This image was taken during the 2nd week of the London Olympics 2012.  As I live in Derbyshire (which is over a hundred miles north from London), I rarely get a chance to visit this city. But whenever I do, I always try and make the most of my time taking as many photos as I can. Lucky for me the good weather was on my side and I had the perfect opportunity to capture this beautiful sunset at the world-famous Big Ben!

So in case you are interested to know how I processed this image, please browse through the work flow that I have laid out step by step below.

Capturing The Image & Composition:

I have taken a shot of this angle a few times before but never during a sunset with less light. My aim was to get some light trails for a change but there was hardly any traffic at the time and most cars & buses didn’t have their lights on. So I thought that the blur from a moving bus is a good alternative if I can get the timing right.

I picked a nice spot with a “bus stop” road sign to add interest to the shot, just so the bottom 3rd of the frame doesn’t look too empty. It also gives that irony of the bus not stopping where it should be. I needed space for the bus motion blur so I deliberately positioned the Big Ben tower to the right side of the frame where the sun is also nicely positioned as it gradually sets.  Got my Nikon D90 with a Tamron 10-24 mm lens secured on a tripod and framed the shot as planned.  Camera was set up on aperture priority mode, auto exposure bracketing (-2, 0, +2) as RAW files, focal length 10 mm, f/22, lowest ISO speed.

With my remote trigger on hand, I just needed the bus to slightly go past the tower before opening the shutter. Of course it took me a few tries until I got satisfied with the result.

These are the 3 bracketted exposures:


Tone mapping Through Photomatix:

The 3 RAW images above were imported to Photomatix and adjusted to these settings.



I always use the sliders for the details enhancer in Photomatix. The values & settings vary depending on the image I have and the effect I would like to create.

If I’m unsure I sometimes start with the default setting and adjust the sliders from there.

My estimated values that I use:

Strength: I like this quite high from 70-100

Color Saturation: Somewhere in the middle. You can always adjust your saturation after.

Luminosity: Somewhere in the middle and to the right.

Microcontrast: I try and keep it at the negatives. Again, you can adjust contrast later.

Smoothing: Between middle and far right.

White point: Around the .60% value.

Black point: Far left.

Gamma: Somewhere in the middle and left.

Colour Settings: Middle.

Miscellaneous Settings: Usually far left apart from micro-smoothing. It sometimes come out too noisy and grungy at far left so I move it to the right to bring it down a notch.


Save file as tif of jpeg. I always save my images as tif for better results in post processing.

The tone mapped image:


 The post Photomatix image is a bit dull and desaturated. This is when I export the tif file to Photoshop for further adjustment.

First thing I decided to sort out was this ghosting on the far right side of the image:


To cover this up, I opened the +2 (overexposed image) as a layer mask on top of it as it doesn’t have the ‘ghost’ (unlike the 0 & -2 exposures). If in case you are not familiar with the layer masking technique, you may want to have a quick stop at a youtube tutorial video regarding this.

Since the overexposed layer is brighter by 2 stops compared to the tone mapped image, I had to decrease the brightness of the layer using (image > adjustments > brightness/contrast) to blend it together.


Note that the pavement looks out of line. As a remedy, the top layer is positioned using the Move Tool until the two layers are both in place.

Still, there is that horrible ghost left at the right side of the image. I thought about covering it up with a clone tool but an easier option is just simply to crop it out of the picture.


 Noise Removal:


Tone mapped images usually get a lot of noise. With the use of noise removal plug ins like Topaz Adjust De Noise, this can be decreased or eliminated.

After noise removal:

  Linear contrast using curves:

I noticed that the sky on the far right side near the tower is slightly over exposed.

Before: Clouds over exposed with no detail.

To balance it out, I used the brightness/contrast layer adjustment (layer > new adjustment layer > brightness/contrast) and decreased the brightness to about -45. I then erased the rest of the image with an eraser tool over a layer mask avoiding the ‘cloud’ area that I darkened.


 After: More details in the clouds

To boost up the saturation I added up a couple of Bi-Color Filters using the plug in Nik Color Efex…



 …brushing off the tint on the road with a 75% eraser brush to keep its natural tarmac colour.


 Using a healing brush tool and clone stamp tool, I cleaned up spots on details that don’t look right.

 After applying healing brush tool:

I also added a lens flare (filter > render > lens flare) on the right side of the tower to add a little spark to the image.

To sharpen the image I either use the Unsharp Mask (filter > sharpen> unsharp mask) or High Pass Filter (filter > other > high pass – then choose overlay). With this image, I used the Unsharp Mask with the Amount 100%, Radius 4.0 pixels & Threshold of 0.

Similarly, I also apply a lower radius value for the High Pass Filter and use the outline of the image as a guide as to how much sharpening I would like to add.

The sky (and other areas that don’t need sharpening) was erased using a layer mask as some noise appeared during sharpening.

So that is it. I do hope I was able to share something new or different to all of you. I would love to hear your feedback and your thoughts so please feel free to comment. Cheers!

Yhun Suarez is an amateur photographer based in Derby, England. His passion for HDR photography started in 2010 and has been obsessed about it since. Favorite subjects include landscapes, waterscapes, architecture, transportation & people. He is also a keen portrait photographer covering various genres such as fashion, beauty, glamour and fitness.

Galleries of his works are displayed online via http://yhun-suarez.artistwebsites.com/ where they can be purchased as various prints. Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/YhunSuarezPhotography