Adding elements to an architectural image in post-processing

Adding elements to an architectural image in post-processing

When Quadrangle Architects commissioned me to shoot 66 Isabella, they asked me if I could add some trees in the pictures. As it turns out, the builder was in a conflict with the city about the landscaping, and they couldn’t put the trees around the podium of the building. I agreed and updated my quote accordingly. Only 4 angles would have the trees out of the 10 they wanted.

It was my first time adding elements such as trees to an image. I usually remove things from images. It took some time to figure out a good way to do this, but I finally did. Here’s a before/after of the main image:

The first part was finding trees to incorporate in the shots. I could have gone out to a park and shot trees, but separating them from the background would have been too time-consuming. I resolved to search for trees on a white background on stock websites. I was looking for trees that looked young, as they would have been planted recently. I found an image with 3 trees on white on Shutterstock and bought it (no, I didn’t just steal it from Google Images).

Using Color Range, I quickly separated the trees from the white background and inserted them in the first image.

66 Isabella - Toronto, ON


The first thing I had to figure out was the size and perspective. I tried to match the lines of the building when sizing each tree. I only had 3 trees, so I duplicated and flipped one, placing it behind another one. I had some flexibility as to where to place the trees and how many to insert. I settled on 4 not to hide too much of the building (it’s an architectural shot after all).

I then started to work on the color of the trees. The green was very bright and it looked unnatural, so I darkened it a little to match the landscaping you can see higher on the building. After a first review, my client actually asked me to darken them even more.

The trees looked natural on a white background, but once inserted, they still looked a little fake. First, they were too sharp compared to the rest of the image, so I used a blur filter to reduce the sharpness a little. Secondly, they were not shadows in the trees. So I darkened some areas to simulate shadows as if the trees were lit by the sun above. It gave some dimension to the trees.

66 Isabella - Toronto, ON

West View

The shadows of the trees were the next big step. My method is so not perfect, as I did not create different shadows for the ground and for the building (different perspectives). I worked on each tree individually. I duplicated the tree, and filled it with black, before trying different blending modes. I then used the transform tool to make it believable.

I did my best to match the perspective on the different angles. As it’s very different angles, the trees don’t have to look exactly the same.

The trickiest part was the last shot, as I had to simulate the light and color cast of the nearby street light. I used an extra layer with a soft light blending mode to paint the glow. I think it works quite well.

66 Isabella - Toronto, ON

North Street View

That’s about all I did. I did take me a couple of hours to get this right. But, as I said, it was my first time doing this and I’ll be quicker next time.

I showed the images to a few people without telling them I added the trees. When asked if something looked weird, most of them pointed out the rainbow crosswalk, but none of them said anything about the trees. So I was satisfied with the results.

What do you think? Do you think the trees look out of place? What tips would you have for adding elements to an architectural image?

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