Union Station: Before and After

I don’t usually do serious editing for my photosmy philosophy on editing is to keep it as realistic as possible–but every now and then a photo requires post-processing work to compensate for less-than-ideal weather conditions or hasty shooting.

This shot was one of them.

DSC_0004The photo isn’t terrible, but the backlighting makes the exposure imbalanced. If I’d adjusted my camera settings, I could’ve compensated for some of that, but I shot this from my car window as I was doing a 3-point turn in an unfamiliar apartment complex. Not exactly ideal conditions for metering.

I took to Photoshop to see how I could salvage this photo.


The wonkiest Curves layer I have ever applied.

The first course of action was the same as always: Curves. If you’re not familiar with Photoshop, Curves is a function that allows me to adjust the brightness of the photo in pieces; some parts of the photo can get brighter while others get darker.

Layers is also one of my favorite functions, but that makes all the dark tones darker and light tones lighter, which wouldn’t work for this photo as a whole without completely blowing out the sky and turning the train station black.

My Curves layer turned out much more convoluted than usual (a gentle S-shape is ideal for most conditions), but it helped a bit. Overall, not enough of an improvement. I knew I’d have to isolate the station so I could brighten it without destroying the sky.


Please forgive my iPhone shots of my computer screen…

I used the Quick Selection Tool to highlight just the train station, leaving the sky and tree in their original condition.

Now that the dark area was isolated, I used my trusty Layers function to increase its brightness. I also made some of the darkest tones darker to balance it out and give it a nice contrast.

IMG_3858Now appropriately exposed, the beautiful red color of Union Station could actually show. I gave the whole photo the teeniest boost of red using Color Balance, but didn’t mess with the magenta/green or yellow/blue balance.

My next editing mission was to adjust the clock in the tower, which appeared much more grey than both the “Go By Train” sign and the small slice you can see of the clock on the other side. I’m not sure if anyone else would notice, but the difference was distracting me from the rest of the photo, so it had to be fixed.

IMG_3855Again, using the Quick Selection Tool, I isolated the main clock and used Layers to make the white brighter and darken the black.

clock tower

A minor, yet significant, improvement.


With that quick fix complete, I was satisfied. The finished product is definitely an improvement over the original. More importantly, though it’s a good reminder to myself to not be afraid of post-processing. While I don’t want to get lazy and rely on editing software, it can save images that initially seem unusable.

train station

For more before-and-after photography, check out this week’s ABFriday forum at Visual Venturing.

23 thoughts on “Union Station: Before and After

    • Thank you! The building actually IS that red–and that’s my favorite part about it–so when the light deemphasized it, I needed to give it a mini boost in post-processing.


  1. You know that you can just press printscreen on your keyboard/keypad instead of taking a picture of it with your iPhone. Oh well, just some friendly suggestion.

    I fully understand what you mean by editing, I tend to cringe when I have to, especially when you are working with shade and sunlight. The intense amount of detail you will be missing if you change the camera settings.

    It looks like a really cool building and worth getting an image of it.


    • I have a software on my mac that does screenshots, actually, but it won’t work with Photoshop. So the phone was a last resort.
      Definitely worth it! I wanted to go back and do more of the surrounding area but then I was sick/post-surgery and the weather was super rainy. Another time though!


  2. Excellent post You provided a great example of using post-processing to produce an image that represented what you actually saw and also opened up a discussion on the merits of using software to adjust an image. By the way, regarding printscreen as suggested by Amina, the Mac OS shortcut (CMD-Shift-4) should work in PhotoShop. At least it does on mine. Holding down all 3 keys changes the cursor into a crop tool that you drag (holding down the left button) over the area to be captured. When you have the area highlighted, just release the left button and ding! A screen capture should appear on your desktop display. The file type is .png rather than jpeg and the color profile is display rather than sRGB but both can be changed in Photoshop. At any rate, very nicely done. Thanks!


  3. Lovely subtle adjustments have greatly improved this image. Lightening of the clock face was necessary for the overall look too. Personally, I think we should all feel a little less guilty about any post processing. Lets face it, unless you shoot in RAW (and probably even if you do) the computer in the camera is altering the image as soon as you press the shutter anyway. Its as you say, having the skills to take the best shot you can in the first place and knowing how to get the look you want from that image.


    • I don’t feel guilty about a certain amount of post-processing without disclosing it, but beyond subtle edits I usually mention that I’ve altered it. I think serious editing (essentially creating in Photoshop) is amazing and deserves a lot of respect, but the artists can’t and shouldn’t pretend like it’s an accurate representation of the scene they saw. They’re two different skill sets!

      Liked by 1 person

      • It is not really what I would have done instead more a different approach. I would have shadow and highlight as a smart filter to bring out the shadow detail and hue saturation to increase the red saturation instead of colour balance which increases red across the whole image. I would have also used a layer filled with 50% grey set to over lay and a low opacity brush with white to lighten areas.
        Just a different approach ;)


  4. Great job, Sabina! So your philosophy on editing is to keep it as realistic as possible? Mine, of late, is to go the opposite way, at least in these challenges. I enjoy seeing how far I can push something- though the balance of my work leans towards realistic. Maybe I’ll outgrow this phase. Who knows? The future posts I have scheduled are more realistic, I think! Anyway, I love what you did here!


    • Thanks so much! Yes, generally my philosophy is to keep it realistic. A bit of a boost, but I want to do as much of the production WHILE shooting–thinking about color, light, composition instead of relying on cropping and changing exposure after. Recently I’ve been very interested in the “creating in Photoshop” process and would love to learn more ways to do that as a different art form, if that makes sense.


  5. Sabina, I love the discussion you’ve generated in your post, and I absolutely agree that post-processing can be a different art form, one that can end up with absolutely stunning, out-of-the-box photos.

    My usual goal in post-processing is to help direct the viewer’s eye where I want it to go. Good composition is a must and a great beginning, but the ability to tweak the basic settings is invaluable (as you point out). Is it easy to get carried away? Most definitely. Am I still trying to find the balance? Yup :) When I come across an image that requires minimal processing, it’s almost difficult for me to believe, and then I realize, hey, I must be getting better at this ;) But until then, the adjustments I make do serve as a reminder to either the settings mistakes I made or the challenges the photo presented – both great learning tools to have on this artistic journey!

    So now to your photo. I really had to laugh at your not being able to leave the clock face alone, despite realizing only you would notice it. I’m like that too. But in the end it was a great editing choice! As were all your other adjustments. Simple, but with the result of a much stronger image.

    Thanks for showing your curves adjustment – I have yet to master their use, and because of that, I don’t really use them. Seeing how you ended up with a curve not unlike many I have ended up with in the past, I had to smile. Maybe mine were okay to use :)

    So glad to have your submission this week!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve loved the discussion on this post as well! The value of post-processing vs. not, and even some new tools I never thought to use.
      The curves feature is one of my new favorite things. I always used levels before, but curves is so much more specific and controllable that now I always go there first. Sometimes the curves are wonky, like this one, but usually they’re more gentle.
      I’m glad you enjoyed this week–I loved putting it together and will definitely be doing so again sometime in the future!

      Liked by 1 person

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