Graffiti Artists

Brian Auer | 03/08/2008 | Venice Beach, CA | 105mm * f/2.8 * 1/1000s * ISO200
[See it at Flickr]

I’ve been so tied up with film lately, so I wanted to take a look back at a digital photo that had quite a bit of post-processing done to it. This photo was taken at the graffiti walls in Venice Beach, California. I’ve always been attracted to graffiti as an art form, and being able to capture one of these artists at work was a treat. This area is designated for graffiti artists, so there’s no vandalism happening here.

Graffiti Artists Post-Processing

I wanted this image to really pop with color and intensity, while having an “edgy” look to enhance the mood. The photo was shot in RAW and processed entirely through the Adobe Camera Raw software (so no Photoshop). Here’s the process:

  1. Unprocessed RAW
    The RAW file looks pretty bad. It’s too cold, the contrast sucks, and the colors are dull.
  2. White Balance
    First things first, I corrected the white balance issue. The camera was set to “Auto WB”, but it made a really bad decision. So I bumped the temperature from 5500 to 7500 and the tint from +3 to +10 by setting the image to the “Shade” preset (since this was taken in the shade).
  3. Exposure
    I set the exposure to -.20, recovery to 36, fill light to 24, blacks to 17, brightness to +59, and contrast to +34. Not a huge change in the appearance of the photo, but it got my tones and histogram where I wanted them.
  4. Saturation
    I set the clarity to +85, vibrance to +33, and saturation to +11. Again, not a huge difference in the appearance of the photo, but these changes would be amplified in the next step.
  5. Curves
    I set the point curve to “strong contrast” and the values of the parametric curve as: highlights +32, lights +43, darks -49, and shadows -8. This really super-saturated the image and boosted the contrast way up. This wasn’t a linear one shot adjustment either — there was a lot of back and forth between the curves and the exposure/saturation values.
  6. Vignette
    I added some lens vignette with an amount of -75 and a midpoint of 60. This darkened the near and far edges while toning down the super-saturation — which helps to draw attention to the center portion of the photo.

This may be a bit extreme for your tastes, but I wanted to push the photo until it was alive with color.

9 responses


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Despite my film obsession, I actually found myself missing this section, cruising through some of your archives.

It’s interesting how digital shots can be pulled back from such drab beginnings into such a great feeling shot.

August 21, 2008 5:33 am

I do love graffiti and the artists, too. Great capture.
And as a photographer with a lot to learn, I so appreciate these posts. Noting each individual step is such a great teaching tool. Thanks.

August 21, 2008 5:11 pm

I think you achieved your goal, the colors definitely pop, especially his blue hat! Very nice!

August 27, 2008 10:16 pm

Grafitti can sometimes look nice. I just don’t to live anywhere it’s a common sight.

September 15, 2008 10:25 am

Artwork using compressed air… beautiful thing

October 9, 2008 1:27 pm

The colours definately look very vibrant, definately an improve from the original

December 29, 2008 2:35 pm

I personally admire good artistic graffiti and your photo has really captured that aspect. Graffiti needs to be recognized as the special art form that it is, and I hope photos like yours can help in that endeavour.

January 13, 2009 12:51 am

Thanks for showing the step-by-step photos – the original, when compared to the finished photo looks rather dull!

April 5, 2009 9:38 pm

Very saturated colours – but it works well in this shot. A lot of paint in that one can!

April 6, 2009 11:52 pm

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