Steps of the Cathedral

Each time I’m in Barcelona, I roam the gothic section late into the night.

Steps of the Cathedral

Around the main cathedral, there are rich opportunities for taking people photos set against ancient architecture. Once I get going, the hours fly by, and before you know, it’s time to get back to the hotel and crash. Anyway, the lady sitting on the steps is just one example of the Barcelona vibe at night.

AI Sky Replacement in Luminar

Lately, I’ve been using the AI Sky Replacement tool inside Skylum’s Luminar 4.

The idea behind it is to make a scene more engaging by enhancing the sky. It cleverly replaces an uninteresting sky for another of your choosing. Anyone whose done this manually in Photoshop knows it’s a tedious chore to get right.

An image of a harbor entrance light before sky replacement.
The same image after using Luminar’s AI Sky Replacement (click for full size)

Luminar provides several dozen sky images with the tool; all you have to do is try one out. If you don’t like it, try another and keep experimenting until you find one you like.  

In some scenarios, if it doesn’t recognize a sky in your image, the tool becomes disabled. For instance, if you take a picture of your foot, AI Sky Replacement is disabled. But if there is the sky in your image, it works more often than not. I’ve tried cases where I thought it wouldn’t work, and it does.

Here’s an example where Luminar correctly identified the sky through an arch. This surprised me as I thought the software would get confused, but the AI proved me wrong. The photo is of an Instagramer at the Abbey of Montserrat in Catalonia.

Also, there are sliders you can use to tweak the results, but it does the job with or without the sliders. As someone who spends a lot of time looking at details in images, it’s pretty good. 

I won’t go into the arguments of what’s real and what’s fake. I create a lot of images, and I always manipulate them one way or another. I consider photographs straight out of the camera raw material. It is with this resource that I apply post-processing techniques to get the look and tell the story I have in my mind. In that vein, I have no compunction about using software (AI or not) to edit photos. 

Over the years, I’ve taken many thousands of digital images that now sit in a Lightroom library. Less than one percent ever qualify for public consumption. Compositionally, most are just plain bad, but in a few cases, it’s because the sky is too flat.

I’ve started looking at some of these “reject” images with new eyes and asking myself, what if? What if it had a different sky and, perhaps, different lighting? Before I go on, let’s pause here because it’s the second part of this question that I find the most interesting. 

Not only does it (as the name suggests) replace the sky, but it intelligently relights the scene to match the light from the new sky.

Here’s a surreal image of a mountain lake in Oregon after adding a long exposure of the Florida sky? The lighting of the scene below the sky is a result of the AI software.

Think about that for a moment. If your scene was taken in midday, but the sky you’ve chosen as a replacement is from sunset, merely replacing one sky for another might create an unbelievable, if not odd, lighting contrast. As humans, we recognize subtle changes in light, even if we are not always aware of it. But combine a sunset sky with a noontime landscape, and we get a feeling that something is not quite right. 

This is where the AI shines through. Skylums’s software agent works at relighting the non-sky elements with subtle tones of the sky that you selected. If Luminar simply replaced the sky, that would be a cool thing indeed, but Skylum is building upon years of AI experience. They’ve created a machine that combines the expertise of masking (sky replacement) with the techniques of expert toning. That is, given a scene, figure out how to achieve a believable lighting scheme. Of course, the idea of “believability” is subjective, and it depends on your individual preferences. All things considered, it does a pretty good job in a fraction of the time that you could do manually. There are infinite combinations of skies and landscapes, and each result is entirely unique. You could make the argument that it’s not perfect, but then, what or who is? The goal of AI is not perfection, rather accomplishment of things that formerly, only humans could do. In that regard, it’s as good or better and way faster than most humans. 

While we’re on the subject of AI, I just finished Stuart Russell’s book, Human Compatible, Artificial Intelligence and the problem of control.

In it, he explains just how far and fast AI is advancing. Stuart draws the curtain back on the future of our civilization once AI is fully realized. And from the sounds of it, we are much closer to that than most of us wish to believe. I recommend picking it up if you are the least bit interested in what the future holds. 

Skylum’s Luminar is a fascinating tool, and it’s a little uncanny how well of a job it does. But as I’ve come to learn from Russell’s book, this is just the tip of the iceberg, everything is moving in this direction, and we’d all better get used to it. Children born today will never know a world without AI. Any doubts you may have are quickly dispelled the next time you look at your smartphone or ask Google a question. 

So back to the photos, I’ve included some examples of both extreme and subtle applications. In the most extreme case here, the lighting of the ENTIRE scene is changed from daylight to night, as determined by my selection of one of Luminar’s out-of-the-box night skies. I added some additional elements like the light in the lighthouse and some extra toning. But the majority of the scene lighting is done by AI. 

This is how the Oregon coastal scene appears straight out of the camera.
Here, the same image is toned automatically to match the starry sky. (Click for full resolution).

By now, I’ve used it in a lot of different scenarios, some extreme like the previous example, but more often, I use it in subtle ways. Examples of this are where I’m just adding a little bit of texture to a picture where the sky is only a minor background component, not necessarily to be noticed. Here are some examples of that. 

An example of the subtle use of sky replacement on a minor background component of an image
Another example of sky replacement as a minor element to an image.

There’s a lot to like with the combination of replacement and toning, but there’s one more thing that seals it, at least for me. Luminar supplies about thirty skies, from sunrise to the Milkyway galaxy, and everything in-between. So they basically give you enough of a selection for most situations. They also provide addition sky packs from accomplished photographers that you can purchase as plug-ins. But to be frank, I would prefer to use my own skies. And the one feature clinches the deal for me is that Luminar allows you to use your own skies. 

As it happens, I take way too many pictures of the sky. Whenever I’m out shooting landscapes, and I see beautiful clouds, I can’t help but take a picture. By itself, an image of the sky is not that interesting; pretty maybe, but as far as being a complete composition, generally not. 

It’s always been in the back of my mind that one day I’d do something with these images, and that time has come. All those skies I’ve collected can now be used in Luminar AI Sky Replacement. 

I’ve started selecting a few and preparing them for use in the tool. I have morning, daylight, sunrises, and sunsets. I don’t have many night skies, so, for the time being, I’m using nights supplied by Luminar, and truth be told, those are the most fun to try out.

Playing with Luminar’s night skies are perhaps the most fun of all. Here is the silhouette of Mt Tibidabo from Barcelona with one of the out-of-the-box skies supplied by Luminar.

But I’m more of a sunrise and sunset person, so that’s most of what I have. Here’s a snapshot of the ones I’ve prepared so far. 

A snapshot of some of the skies I’ve prepared to be used inside Luminar. Most are from Florida where I live and others are from around the globe.

With my old skies now ready, I’m going back over my archives and revisiting images. Luminar’s AI Sky Replacement is breathing new life into my library. Photos that would never make the cut are being reconsidered with some pleasant results. Anyway, if you’re into post-processing, give it a try. As for me, it’s become a permanent part of my kit. And, like it or not, this is a taste of the future, even as it is upon us now. 

Skyway All Lit Up

Crews recently finished working on the bridge. Only afterward did I realize what they were up to.

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The Sunshine Skyway Bridge over the opening to Tampa Bay

I photographed this from the adjacent south fishing pier. I was here early on a Sunday morning hanging out with some fishermen while I took a bunch of photos.

The colors are always changing, so I’ll probably post another one with a different color. I used Skylum’s Luminar 4 to process this. As part of that, I used the new AI sky replacement tool to add stars. Typically there’s too much light pollution to see the sky in all it’s glory. But in the days of AI, that’s no longer a problem, at least concerning post-processing.

Night Scenes from Lloret de Mar

Here are a few scenes from Lloret de Mar. One of my favorite things to do is walk around and take photos of night scenes. I guess you could call it a type of street photography.

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Lloret de Mar Night Scenes 3

I like capturing people enjoying themselves in cafes. I also love leading lines, and so I look for people walking down alleyways illuminated with overhead lights.

Lloret de Mar Night Scenes 4

These are all from our first night in Spain after landing in Barcelona. Of course, we were tired after the redeye flight. But, because our body clocks were 6 hours earlier, we felt fine. So we walked along the streets and shops, stopping for dessert and coffee.

Spanish Nights

Nevermind it was the end of summer, it was warm, and the cafes were full of people talking and enjoying themselves. It was a happy experience.

Lloret de Mar Night Scenes 1

Anyway, this type of photography wouldn’t be the same without people in it. I enjoy being in places where people are relaxed and having fun milling about, socializing with friends and family. These photos try to capture some of that.

Lloret de Mar Night Scenes 2

Taller de Tapas

Here are some people in the gothic quarter of Barcelona sitting outside at a tapas bar, talking late into the night.

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Taller de Tapas
A typical night scene in the gothic quarter of Barcelona

Scenes like this occur over and over, and I think, are typical of Catalonian culture. Not that I’m an expert, but it seems quite friendly and puts a lot of value on spending time with family and friends.

more night photography from the gallery

It’s not difficult to see the appeal, especially in places like Barcelona. Sure, every area has its problems, but it’s fun to see different lifestyles and wonder what it would be like to live there, if only for a spell.

Melanie De Biasio

Probably the biggest festival of the year in Barcelona is La Mercè. Of course, we knew nothing about it until we were right in the middle of it.

Checkout Melanie De Baisio
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Melanie De Biasio
A midnight concert in from the Barcelona Cathedral during La Mercè
Here is a perspective with the cathedral that I took with my iPhone

We were walking around and stopped to listen to Melanie De Biasio perform a midnight concert in front of the main cathedral. Her music is a hypnotic jazz fusion that’s right down my alley. Like everything else, I’d never heard of her, but now she’s at the top of my playlist. 

During the La Mercè, many of the major plazas host outdoor free concerts, plus there are fireworks and parades each night. It’s called the festival of festivals for a good reason. In my case, sometimes it’s better to be lucky than smart. 

School Night in Montpellier

In my next life, I’ll be born in France and, when I go to school, it will be in Montpellier. They have by far the best nightlife.

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School Night in Montpellier
Medical students hanging out in Montpellier, France

Not that I am suggesting one should go to school because of the nightlife, but if one did, this might rank high on the shortlist. But to be fair, I’m rating it more on aesthetics than academic qualities. In fact, the medical school is quite good; it’s the oldest in Europe.

more from Europe in the gallery

Anyway, I wandered around the narrow streets shooting scenes on a school night. There were a lot of people out, and I’m sure some of them had to be up for class the next day. But, I suppose that’s just training for the sleep deprivation they’ll experience the first years of residency.

Night Enchantment

You haven’t seen Barcelona until you’ve seen and heard it at night. The combination of light, shadows, and music create an exotic enchantment that keeps me coming back for more.

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Night Enchantment
A busker in Barcelona

The harpist played behind the main Cathedral, and it is here that, over the years, I have heard some of the most talented musicians. The night before, I listened to a couple of tenors belting out arias reverberating as in the best opera venues.

more night photography from the gallery

Here is where the greatest from all over Europe and America come to perform in front of passing nighttime crowds. The echoing acoustics of the gothic cathedral walls remind me of the New York subway; only here they don’t get drowned out by passing trains.

Spanish Nights

This scene is typical among the towns of Spain. In particular, this is in Lloret de Mar along the Catalonian coast.

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Spanish Nights
A night scene in Catalonia

These types of street scenes are a favorite of mine because they convey a nightlife ambiance. I take photos like this by using a high ISO, (in this case, 2000), and a low f-stop, (in this case, 2.8). That combination allows picture taking as though it was daylight. Granted, I do post-processing to get the look I’m after – painterly is a word that describes this type of treatment.

more night photography

We stayed in Lloret de Mar on our first day of vacation. It’s a little over an hour from Barcelona airport and is an excellent way to decompress from an all-night flight. And, because the body clock was on North American time, it was easy to stay up late and get these scenes, despite the lack of sleep.

Skyway Light

There’s a reason they call it the Skyway Bridge. I like to think it has something to do with the sky. I’m just saying.

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Skyway Light
A long exposure image of Sunshine Skyway Bridge

I remember taking this after an afternoon rain. I pointed the camera from a rest stop along the highway facing northwest. I’ve been using different lenses lately, but I think I’ll bring this old 24-240mm along with me more often. By the way, this is a fifteen-second exposure, so it must have been quite dark.

more long exposure images in the gallery

According to the EXIF information on the photo, I took this on July 16th at 8:00 pm. But I think it’s wrong because the sun sets around 8:30 at that time of year. I think the clock in my camera was off by an hour, and it was actually 9:00 pm. Inquiring minds need to know; I’m just saying.