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Photoshop San Francisco


In April 2013, Insomniac Studios CEO and all-around head honcho Matt visited beautiful San Francisco, California. The trip included The San Francisco metropolitan area, the Napa and Sonoma wine regions, Monterey Bay and Big Sur. It was an excellent trip and many photos were taken. This is the story of one of those photos.

On the evening of April 14, Matt was photographing the sun as it set behind the Golden Gate bridge. Daylight fading and miles from his hotel, Matt made a serendipitous turn off Marina Boulevard and found himself at the foot of a man-made lagoon. Reflected in its dark waters was a century-old tribute to Roman architecture--San Francisco's Palace of Fine Arts.

However, the building was neither designed nor built to last.

Built in 1915 for the Panama-Pacific Exposition, the Palace of Fine Arts is San Francisco landmark. It was one of ten palaces built for the event; the palaces of education, liberal arts, manufactures, varied industries, agriculture, food products, transportation, mines and metallurgy and machinery comprised the other nine. Originally scheduled to be demolished following the exposition, the Palace of Fine Arts made such an impression on visitors that a preservation society convened to ensure the building's future. However, the building was neither designed nor built to last. Made from wood coated in plaster and burlap, the original structure was demolished in 1964 and replaced with a more permanent steel beams and concrete construction.

The daylight almost completely gone, there was only time for a few photos before night and the building's detailed facade lost to either darkness or washed away in a flood of yellow-orange tungsten light.

The photograph taken that night never did the memory of San Francisco's Palace of Fine Arts justice, even after editing. Five years later, Matt came across the photograph and decided to have another go at editing the original image. The software is new. The skills and techniques are new. The photo is the same. The results, however, are dramatically different.

The photo is the same. The results, however, are dramatically different.

The examples below show the difference between simple Photoshop curves adjustments and more complex luminosity masks. The 2013 image was edited as an 8-bit image, the 2018 edits were done as a 16-bit image. The difference speaks for itself. Some details, however, remain beyond repair. The trees in the foreground are back lit and, as such, contain little to no digital information. There are no highlights to enhance or details to sharpen. Further edits only show amorphous grain and digital noise. The only way to correct for this would be to add a light source near the camera and illuminate the trees from the front or get there earlier when there is more light. Perhaps next time.

The new edits are a result of Insomniac Studios' commitment to its motto: never rest. We are always learning; always trying new ideas. It's part of what we do and the results of the commitment to this principle are visible below.

The new updates to the original Palace of Fine Arts photo taken in April 2103.
The original Palace of Fine Arts photo.
A before and after side-by-side comparison of the two versions of the Palace of Fine Arts photograph.

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The designs presented here are the property of Insomniac Studios. If you like the thinking behind this photography and Photoshop project and would like to put it to work for your company or organization, contact Insomniac Studios.