In the days leading up to WPPI, I was lucky enough, to go along with the rest of the Photofocus team, to check out some of the sights around Las Vegas. Way before dawn on Saturday, we drove out to Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area and photographed the sunrise and the dramatic light scenes that followed.

In the darkness before twilight, the distant city lights reflected in the sky as an orange glow. I wanted to capture this as best I could. I decided that by putting my two yucca plants as the foreground element in silhouette against the dark blue sky that the orange glow would be enhanced.

I shot a bracketed series with three photographs. I was pretty pleased with the color captured out of the box. Then I wanted to make a few adjustments to it — making the sky more saturated and vibrant, will pushing the silhouette to be completely black. Here’s what the middle bracketed photograph looked like, with no adjustments applied:

Middle Bracketed Image for Silhouette

Basic Adjustments with Aurora HDR

I decided the first thing I would focus on is the sky. The blue part of the sky was a little flat for my liking, and I wanted the orange glow to be more prevalent. I decided to edit in Aurora HDR.

While there were a number of ways to do this, I decided to use Aurora HDR. Ultimately I decided to create a new Adjustment Layer and then increase the HSL levels on my image.

In the Saturation tab, I started bumping up the levels of the Orange so the glow would be more prominent. I also upped the numbers of the Blue sliders.

In the Luminance tab, I then decreased the numbers on Orange, for a slightly darker coloring that boosted the clarity of the glow. To add some depth to the sky, I brought down the Blue slider as well, which helped to show off a sky that started off as a dark blue and then faded lighter until it hit the orange glow.

Aurora HDR HSL Edits for Silhouette

You can see that the blue and orange colors are enhanced quite a bit here, to a point where I’m quite satisfied with it. But the silhouetted area still needs some work.

Creating a True Silhouette

I wanted the silhouette area to be completely black, without any light details showing through the shadows. To do this, I opened my image in Luminar 2018 to use some of the Luminosity Mask tools, that are more advanced with their options than they are in Aurora.

I could have chosen to use some different tools in Aurora, like a Gradient Mask, or the Top & Bottom Tuning filter, but I didn’t want to affect the blue and orange colors I had just tweaked.

I began by creating a new Adjustment Layer and then creating a Luminosity Mask. From there I chose the Gradient Mask tool to make a gradient from the bottom part of the image up. I tweaked it so the size of the gradient would be shorter, so I could take the adjustments I would be making right up to the edge of the yucca plants and horizon.

Gradient Mask for Silhouette in Luminar

To darken the silhouetted area, I took down the shadows level to a full -100. This got rid of most of the details that I found in the lower portion of my image, and made them completely black.

Then, going back to the layer brush icon, I chose the Brush tool and painted in the portions of the image that still needed to be fully black.

Final HDR Silhouette Mask in Luminar

I was lucky enough to not have to worry about the more detailed parts of the yucca plants because those areas were already fully black.

Finishing the Image

From there, it was a matter of making some small adjustments to the image. I created a new adjustment layer and then removed a few sensor dust spots with the Eraser tool. And there I had it, a perfect remembrance of the desert atmosphere in Vegas!