Al Capone’s Cell – HDR Collaboration

Eastern State Penitentiary is a historic, partially abandoned prison located in Philadelphia, PA.. It is a photographers paradise, attracting thousands of photogs a year from around the country. I thought what better way to brings this HDR collaboration group closer to E.S.P. (except for Mike Criswell, because he was just there in September) than too donate my brackets of the famous, Al Capone’s Cell. For those of you not familiar with our collaborations, one photographer per round donates a set of brackets for the rest of the group to process as they see fit. Without further delay, I present to you a new round of submissions!

Bob Lussier

I know the shot is in the portfolio of every urbex photographer who ever set foot in Eastern States Penitentiary, but I still want to shoot there. I want to put my own take on it. I want to do it even more after spending an hour processing this wonderful! Thanks for sharing the brackets, Scott!

The image stands on its own, well composed and very compelling. I was tempted to do all of the stylizing in Photomatix, but I held back a bit. I brought it into Photoshop and used one curve adjustment layer and a couple of selective masks to enhance the play of warm and cool on the walls. I then used Topaz Detail to bring out some of the finer details.

Mark Garbowski

I wish you all could read the emails among this group when Scott shared these brackets with us — we were that excited.
My biggest issue was that I had so many ideas on how to process it I had trouble deciding which one to choose. I actually generated three plain HDR versions out of Photomatix with different levels of saturation. I blended these, adding the most saturation to the bed and wall hangings, middling amounts to the rugs and other furniture, and heavily desaturated the walls without going all the way to monochrome. I also wanted to get the color in the lamps without also displaying the golden light they were giving off.
Finally, I ended up applying rather light processing using Nik’s new 4.0 version of its Color Efex Suite: a Low Key filter, followed by a pair of filters that would seem co cancel each other out: the Skylight filter and the Colorize filter set to a blue tone. I’m not sure why but the combination worked.
And that was that. I’d almost love to be able to create 17 different versions of this image: saturated, desaturated, colorized, black and white, faded, defocused, everything seems tempting. But having to make a single choice, I opted for something simple.

Mike Criswell (T-Wiz)

Thanks for the great set of brackets Scott, this place is a blast to shoot and I urge anyone, if your near Philadelphia put this place on your list!

Since I have the same set of brackets on my hard drive from this year I could not wait to play with these. I used all 9 brackets, ran them through Photomatix Pro. I wanted a nice creepy warm feel to this, so I used some OnOne, and some NIK to get everything where I wanted it at first. The picture/frame on the left was a bit distracting for me, but as Scott will tell you, this cell is only shot through a small hole in the door, so you normally make a couple tourist’s mad setting up a tripod correctly through the hole in the cell, not to mention brackets, so your pretty much stuck with what the lens grabs through the hole. Cropping the picture frame out was not appealing, so I opted for a more creative approach.

I tweaked the image with a bit of Glamour Glow, Darken Lighten Center and went with a slightly different crop. Thanks again Scott, always a pleasure to work with this group!

Mark “Silent G” Gvazdinskas

I’ll do my best to keep this short… Fat chance. This set of brackets is 100% why I wanted to be a part of this incredible project. I don’t have much access to spots like this and doubt I’ll ever be in a position to tour ESP… so talk about an absolute honor to get to work on such an iconic image. Maybe it’s from watching the Godfather at way too young an age but I’ve always been interested in organized crime and Al Capone is one of the most intriguing historical figures I’ve studied. (Yeah, yeah, bold statement for a history major but I’d read 100 stories about Capone before I would Napoleon) I made sure to have my favorite Boardwalk Empire episode playing while polishing up this set. I really didn’t do too much processing on this one—the brackets were very clean and the composition perfect—a stellar display of a wide angle shot done right. Honestly I felt 2 or 3 of the middle brackets (straight out the camera) were worthy of a very expensive, framed display so I really wanted to keep the HDR as subtle as I could. Photomatix 4.1 for all but lightest bracket, a little color correction and warmth in Lightroom3, a couple subtle Nik and OnOne filters and a very slight vignette. I definitely backed off this one more than past collaboration shots and was glad I did. Of course then I went back and looked at everyone else’s after dropping my finished image…dang, these guys are good!! Top notch work, gentlemen, and Scotty, you’re my hero for letting us get after such a special set.

Jacques Gude

I can’t even begin to tell you how excited I was when I heard that Scott was offering up some brackets for Al Capone’s prison cell. But that excitement paled in comparison to the exhilaration I felt when I got home to actually peek at the brackets. Wow!! I was stunned. What an awesome set! Before I even started post-processing, though, I had to give myself time to think what exactly I wanted to do with them. One thing was certain. I had to go all out, baby. So I popped on some tunes, tossed the brackets into Photomatix and started to go to work. After fiddling for a couple of minutes with the sliders in Photomatix Pro, getting the initial “canvas” I would need, I saved the file off as a tif back into Lightroom. I also thought this would be a good time to give OnOneSoftware’s new Perfect Photo Suite a try. I was not disappointed! Opening up my “canvas” and the original brackets with OnOne’s Perfect Layers, I painted in a bit of three of the darker layers in key areas where the highlights had been blow a bit by Photomatix Pro. Next, I put my Wacom pen to “paper” to paint in a dash of this and dash of that of with OnOne’s Perfect Effect 3. I was 90 percent done with my work, I had never even gone into Photoshop yet. Cool! With only 10 percent more to do (mind you, that 10 percent is HUGE part of my look and I have not figured out how to do that in OnOne’s stuff yet) it was off to Photoshop with my “canvas”. I used photoshop to create the light rays coming in from the “sky light” and then used Nik Software’s Midnight filter to darken things up, using my wacom tablet to paint light back into the areas I wanted illuminated getting the right balance of dark and light I was after. Et Voilà!

Thanks a ton, Scott, for letting me work these over!

Jim Denham

Well, this was an amazing treat. So glad I’m friends with these guys so I get to see brackets like these that i would likely never see otherwise. Purely awesome Scott! Thanks for sharing!

When processing, I didn’t focus so much on a specific part of the room as much as the overall feel. I wanted it dark and lack of life and color, cuz that’s how cells should be and that’s likely how we would have seen one in the movies depicting Cappone’s cell. Adjusted the color cast and added the Thermopylae preset in Perfect Effects to simulate an old film look. Then added a Multiply blending layer to bring the overall exposure down. In Aperture, dropped the saturation, added some contrast and sharpening, then added an overall color modification giving a more green/blue color to it. Awesome, awesome set Scott and thanks for letting us play along!

Rob Hanson

Oh, man! This was just too delicious not to savor it. Many thanks for the brackets, Scott. It was a real treat just to work on these. Toward the end, I felt like as though I had done all I could do.

The way I saw it, to look into the very cell where Al Capone stayed would be a surreal experience, and yet one can’t escape the harsh reality of where he was, and who he was. I imagine looking in and seeing Capone in there would be like seeing Hannibal Lecter – he’s safely behind bars, but scary nonetheless.

So, I built up a base to work from, added my touches, and had just about brought the image to my liking when I thought, “Hmmm, I wonder what would happen if I double-tonemapped this AFTER processing instead of before?” I was really delighted at the result, and went into another long round of layering and tweaking, savoring all the little changes.

In the end, I hope to have come out with an image that is mysterious, yet clear; scary, but inviting; dreadful and cold, yet warm – a mix of fantasy and fact that would define the surreal nature of the scene.