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Building A Staircase Step By Step Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

3 June 2015

On a recent walk through the neighborhood, we came across a staircase we've often walk by. We never take a shot of it because it's something of a remodel, a bit Hollywood, rather than genuinely antique, truly grand.

But one day we couldn't help ourselves. We framed it vertically and fired away.

We liked the composition. The daunting ascent is mitigated a bit by the curves and the wide, welcoming first steps.

And, just for a laugh, there's a brown leaf on the pavement right in front of the first step. It's a sort of Masaccio-like Io fui già quel che voi siete e quel ch'io sono voi anco sarete. That's "I once was what now you are and what I am, you shall yet be," engraved above a skeleton.

The stone on the steps have substantial thickness, too, not that thin tile so prevalent these days. It looks the part. Hollywood.

You'd almost think Olivier was about to stroll down them to the street.


When we opened it in Adobe Camera Raw, we made the usual adjustments. We also thought we'd rein in the chromatic aberration in the distance. You can see our edits in the screen shot:

Camera Raw. Our final settings.

We also cropped out the left side a tiny bit so the wall extended out of the frame to, well, infinity. That was a little crop that makes a big difference.

And we warmed the image a bit, moving the Temperature slider toward yellow. That brought out the rosey color of the walls.

Base Image

Just for good measure, we ran it through Piccure+, although a little softness really wouldn't have hurt this image, which was shot with a manual focus 35mm f2.8 Nikkor.

That was our base image. Suitable for framing.


The base image represents pretty much what we had seen when we came across the staircase on the street. If the Hollywood aspect is a bit suppressed, it may be because you can't see the ostentatious building itself.

But we didn't feel we had finished with the image. Where to take it was the question.

Our first thought was that it would be more imposing in monochrome. We were thinking of our image of the broken pot in Half Empty, Half Full. We're still very fond of that image.

Silver Efex. Our final settings.

And we could have return to Google's Nik Collection to once again apply Nik's Silver Efex Pro 2 Antique Plate for the same effect. But we already sang that melody. We wanted a new tune.

Silver Efex Pro 2 has a jukebox of tunes. All you have to do is pick one and make whatever adjustments to the formula you like. So we used it to experiment with a few different looks.

We picked Yellowed 2 to age the monochromed image without bleaching away the shadows. But there were a few things about the preset we didn't like.

The first was the image border. Nothing against the image border (in fact, it's charmingly done) but we thought it would confuse any comparison with the base image. So we turned it off.

The default toning is Sepia, which was fine but if you're going to play around, that's one of the easiest things to play with. We tried a few of the 24 options for toning before settling on a strong coffee color.

We'd gotten rid of the realistic image border but we didn't want a perfect bleed. There should be some imperfection at the edges of the image we thought.

So we set a Vignette (the Off setting of the popup refers to the vignette presets only), moving the Amount slider to lighten the edges.


The most efficient (and fun) way to use any slider, incidentally, is to move it to the extremes, back and forth, bouncing between treatments you do not like until you narrow in on the one that you do. There's no prize for clicking on just one spot on the scale and living with it.

We liked that effect. But the night was young.


So we thought we'd try to do something with the color image. Something dreamy with blur, perhaps. A completely different direction.

Color Efex. Our final settings.

Silver Efex applies its magic to your original Photoshop image by adding a layer to it. We turned that layer off and selected the Background layer, which was our base image. Then we sent that off to Color Efex Pro 4.

First we looked at the Recipes (which are just presets by another name) for a look we liked. We weren't going for high contrast, darkened or monotone (we'd just done that) effects. We wanted a softer color image.

We clicked through four candidates we liked, asking ourselves what it was about each that attracted us. When we pinpointed the attraction (say a Lens Vignette), we looked at the settings for it so we could see how it was done and mix and match the effects.

Soft and Grainy came closest to what we were thinking about, so we started with that. It includes three filters: Film Grain, Glamour Glow and Vignette: Lens. By clicking the checkbox on each we could toggle its effect, seeing what it did before trying to edit it.

We liked Film Grain and left it alone. Same with Glamour Glow but we felt we needed a bit more blur. So we clicked Add Filter and picked Vignette: Blur.

That strongly blurred the edges, leaving the central part of the image sharp, so we did some serious sliding, moving both the Transition and Size to 100 percent, which covered the image. Then we set the Opacity to something we liked for an overall blur.

We weren't done with vignettes, though. And because you can just add another filter, we tacked on the Vignette Filter.

We had lightened the edges on the monochrome image but for the blurred color image, we thought it would better focus attention on the stairs to darken the corners. The default settings were too dark, though. So more sliding was called for.


We tried the various Shapes just by clicking on the popup menu and hovering over each option, which was immediately applied to the image. Very helpful. But we stuck with an oval.

We knocked the effect down substantially before we found something we liked, as you can see in the screen shot of the settings above.


Given the final image, any competent Photoshop practitioner could reproduce it without using Google's Nik Collection. But the destination isn't the issue here.

It's getting there.

And we enjoyed the trip using Silver Efex Pro and Color Efex Pro. But it wasn't about the presets either. They were just starting points, to give us some idea of what could be done with the image.

The real fun was in adding filters and adjusting their parameters to move the image closer to what we liked.

So in addition to the final treatments, our animation at the right shows the development of the color image.

Each of the five frames shows just final settings for each filter, applied in the order we worked on them. You can imagine the various sliders moving around to tweak the settings, first a little too strong, then a little too weak.

Until, finally, we went to bed.


This particular image, as we said, wasn't something that we felt stood on its own. It wasn't a revealing shot itself. It was facade.

In dressing it up as an aged monochrome image and as a more dramatic if dreamy color image, we were using it as a prop.

We checked around though and, it turns out, that's perfectly legal. Good thing because it's a lot of fun, too.

And, like some staircases, you never know where it can lead.

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