Quick Scandi Look

I’ve always been reluctant to make a post-production tutorial for a few reasons.

First, I never felt I had the competence. My domain is CG, and retouching is a full-time job. I don’t know my way around Photoshop or Affinity nearly as well as I do around 3ds Max.

Second, it’s been a long time since I’ve done any post-production right into PS or Affinity. These days, I work with ArionFX and I would recommend all CG artists check it out. Unlike PS, it can work in 32-bit color depth, which I’ve come to consider essential, especially when doing bloom and glare effects, which require full dynamic range. And unlike PS, it was built with CG artists in mind, not photographers. It allows you to add CA–not remove it–vignetting, remove noise and add grain, generate lens effects and tonemapping, all under one roof. But ArionFX doesn’t lend itself to tutorializing. At least not the way I use it. Essentially, I just screw around with the controls until I get something I like. It’s a pretty organic, haphazard process. Also, ArionFX generates a final image, not a set of layers that you can deconstruct in an explaining way.

Which brings me to the third reason: I don’t think I ever devised a post-production “system” that could be applied to any render. I’d say about 90% of what I do varies depending on the image, the nature of the scene, and the goal I have in mind. A tutorial would only ever work for one specific image.

Having said that, the questions have kept coming, and before people start suspecting that I’m hiding a secret recipe, I thought I’d go through my workflow, even if it’s bound to disappoint: There really isn’t all that much to it.

In this post, I’ll go through the post-production .pdf files I’ve included in my latest scene. I’m doing this here on the blog because I don’t want anyone to buy the scene for the post-pro files, expecting hundreds of complex layers, and then be disappointed when they realize how simple it all is.

The goal here is to try and achieve what I would normally do with ArionFX but only using mainly native PS tools, and as few steps as possible (I’ll quickly go through the ArionFX method at the end). A note of caution: This is more a quick hack than a real PS workflow: purists and experts are certain to disagree with me here. And if you do, feel free to object in the comments. I’m bound to learn something.

Finally, one last word of caution: When turning to post-production, make sure you’re happy with your render. No post-pro, however good, will ever be good enough to rescue a bad render. If you’re not happy with your render, chances are you won’t be happy with your final image. If that’s the case, push it hard until you can’t push anymore. In my book, post-pro is just there to give a good image one last little quick. It’s not a magic wand.

Before we start, let’s first agree about what we’re trying to achieve.

This scene was inspired by the popular Scandi style of interior photography. One good example is the work of Jonas Berg, a fascinating photographer I’ve referenced here before. Below is a grab of his online gallery:

If you take the image with the guy and the tree into PS and user the color-grabber, you’ll find the blacks are almost black but not quite. The guy’s T-shirt, for instance, has RGB values of 5 in all channels. The darkest part of the planter has RGB of 4/4/4. The whitest parts of the image (the highlights on the door, the window opening or the speculars on the floor are pure 255 whites. But the walls don’t go above 237 or so.

You can see all this in the level histogram (notice the clipping in the whites and the not-quite blacks):

So what we’re aiming for, in this particular case, is a bright image, with high contrast, a slight hazy feel in the whites, and relatively low saturation. I would also assume that Jonas’s original image doesn’t have as much clipping as the little jpg on his website, so I’ll try not to clip my highlights quite as much.

This is where we start, with the raw render, and as you can see, it’s pretty dark and gloomy:

Note that the original 32-bit exr was converted into a 16-bit image, which is as high as PS will go without becoming completely useless. It’s a shame, but that’s life. I’d always rather work in 32-bit because it allows you to recover a lot of invisible information in the highlights and shadows and this is why I normally prefer ArionFX.

My first step is to add a little chromatic aberration. For this I use PTLens by Epaperpress, a cheap PS plugin designed to correct lens imperfections, such as CA, barrel and pincushion distortion, vignetting, etc. from photographs. In this case, we’ll use it to add imperfections. These are my settings:

As you can see, the effect is very subtle. Just a pixel or two. As a rule, if you can see it at 100% zoom, it’s probably too much.

Next step: A bloom effect.

When working in ArionFX on a linear 32-bit image, bloom will generally take care of itself. The color-depth in the image will tell ArionFX where the super bright bits are and it will apply bloom just to these (hand-tweaking is of course possible). Much of this information gets lost in the conversion to 16-bit, so we’ll just cut out the parts of the image where we think the light must be brightest. Here, these are two triangles of skies we can faintly make out behind the facade outside. Just lasso those and paste them into a new layer. Fill the rest with black, and apply a gaussian blue with a medium radius to the image. This will be your bloom mask.

With the blending mode set to “screen”, add a curve adjustment layer that is only applied to the bloom mask. The goal is to give the bloom more of a blue color, because it comes from the sky outside. If you’re adding bloom to incandescent lights, you’ll want to push the reds instead.

This is how things look like now, with the bloom layer set to “screen” and 83% opacity:

Next, I’ll use a level adjustment layer to lighten the mediums and slightly crush the blacks, without burning out the lighter parts of the image.

The curve adjustment on top of that is just for fine-tuning the contrast:

By now, however, our image is way too saturated. The “Hue/Saturation” layer just above takes care of this for a more subdued feel:

Et voilà. That’s really all there is to it. Now you can apply this to other images in your render folder and achieve the same feel with minimal tweaking (except the bloom layer, of course, which you need to prepare from scratch for each new image).

Now let’s see how things would look like in ArionFX. For this, I will use a 32-bit exr straight out of the VFB. This time, I will use a Corona render:

These are my settings:

The HDR upcast and HDR bloom options control the intensity of the bloom. Glare is disabled here, as are the noise and detail functions.

There is a little vignetting and the HDR color fringe option controls the CA (very subtle).

In the Tonemap section, ISO is boosted to 1000 for a lot more brightness, while Gamma is lowered to 1.4 for more contrast. Reinhard burn is set very low to prevent burnouts.

In the Grade section, I’ve lowered the saturation and made the temperature a little colder, aiming for a neutral white balance.

You can go crazy with the ton of film LUTs ArionFX comes loaded with, but in this case, I used the pretty neutral “RandomControl camera”.

This is the result:

You can always push things even a little further with the level-and-curve approach after converting this image to 16-bit. Just make sure not to burn everything out. Aim for airy, not harsh.

That’s it. Pretty basic, as you can tell, but it does the job for me. Let me know what you think.


    • Philippe Steels
    • June 16, 2017

    Hello Bertrand.

    I’m also using ArionFx but working in linear (non reinhard) is sometimes difficult since you have such a high dynamic (especially for interiors) that you can’t see on an uncorrected frame buffer all the subtle variation in bright AND dark parts at the same time.

    Furthermore, to work on high contrast unprocced linear, it’s easier to overexpose by +- 1 EV to see how the noise is cleared but then it lead to blown out image (recovered after in ArionFX)

    My question : do you happen to have these problems (hard to work on contrasted linear images), how do you work around them ? Also, I myslef sometimes “double” reinhard images, once in vray and a second time in Arion, I know it’s not supposed to work like that but results are nice enough (with the upcast function in Arion) and I think that’s the most important in the end.


  1. Philippe, it’s hard to answer your question since I never use Reinhard in the VFB. I always use unclamped linear and do all the post in Arion. I never really had the problems you mention though…

    • marcozzz
    • July 3, 2017

    Hello Bertrandt, what do you think about glare and bloom of VFB?it’s possible achive good results?

    • joonior1985
    • August 15, 2017

    Hi there Bertrand,

    I’ve just bought Your scene on turbosquid. I’m looking at Your .psd right now and wondering if the bottom layer (RawRender) isn’t already processed somehow (looks like You did some midtones correction). What I mean is Your RawRender image looks a lot brighter than image I achieved (comparison in link below). Am I doing something wrong? That would explain my problem I’m having for a long time – the lack of fill light in the scenes 🙂

    All best,

  2. Hey Chris. This shouldn’t be the case. The bottom layer is straight out of the VFB, as are the preview renders on Turbosquid (which is a TS requirement). It could be that some of your local V-Ray or Max settings (gamma perhaps?) are overriding the scene file’s settings.
    That said, you should be able to easily compensate for this by boosting the exposure a wee bit in the VFB.

    • Krzysztof
    • September 18, 2017

    Adjustments in ArionFx on gamma and ISO work fantastic ! Thank you very much for this solution. When I tried to modify contrast in Corona VFB wood colors looked burned. ArionFX controls it far better.

  3. Hey Krzysztof, glad you found it useful!

    • CK
    • October 4, 2017

    ” I just screw around with the controls until I get something I like. It’s a pretty organic, haphazard process.”
    This made me laugh – excellent. I am sure that some people are going to be disappointed, your post processing technique is as simple as your final results are amazing. Techniques with carefully manipulating 50 adjustment layers never worked for me.

  4. Hello Bertrand,
    great post, thanks a lot for the insight. A little info/tip regarding the image being too saturated after using levels/curves: set curves/levels in Luminonsity mode, that way the adjustement layer will only affect the shade contrast but not the colors. Of course if it still appears too saturated you can desaturate it further. Keep up the good work!

  5. Thanks you @Andreas. I’ll definitely try that.

    • Luke
    • November 16, 2017

    Hi Bertrand,

    Apart from what you’ve listed here, is there any process to the way you try to achieve the bloom and glare in ArionFX?
    In this example you have no glare, but I’m sure i’ve seen it in other images of yours…?

    how have you found the new HDR upcast settings…

    at present i’m having a hard time getting the image to bloom and glare exactly where i want it…
    I’m starting to think that i’ll have to mask the image in PS, then merge all to a new layer and process the bloom and glare individually…?
    what are your thoughts on this?



    • Rombout Versluijs
    • January 12, 2018

    Sorry but i dont agree with you that Photoshop cant work with 32bit. How do you think professional photgraphers do there post. Yes, they use either lightroom or photoshop and both a quite capable of using 32 bit and post. Check filter>raw filter. If you use it on a smart object its even Non-Desctructive. Meaning you can adjust and whenever you want. All is saved.

    And can Arion do LUT save from filters?

    This is super handy so you adjust 1 photo and then make a lut look file and you simple add a adjustment filter using the lut file and all is done, some minor tweaking and you can do tons of images

    • Rombout Versluijs
    • January 12, 2018

    ALso why not compate them with the same image???

  6. @Rombout: I’m using Photoshop 5.1 since I won’t get on the subscription bandwagon and this version definitely can’t do much in 32bit. Most of the filters and adjustments are greyed out. Affinity is a lot more capable in this regard. And Affinity can of course save adjustments to LUTs. There is just no reason to use Photoshop instead of Affinity these days unless you need a specific plugin that only works well in Photoshop (which is sadly the case for Arion FX).

    • Daniil
    • July 25, 2018

    Hello, Bertrand!
    Do you use any of luts, wjile you’re rendering with corona?

  7. @Daniil Yes, I use them.

    • Paulo Dal Pai
    • October 11, 2018

    Hi Bertrand,

    Very nice tutorial. You use curves with softlight blend mode ,and Hue/Saturation as clip mask and desaturate . Play if softlight curve lifting up black point. Play with curve in various ways it is very cool.

    Thanks, Paulo : )

  8. Hi Bertrand,

    ArionFX (and other Photoshop Plug-ins) do work in Affinity, you just need to tell Affinity where they are;

    Google “adding photoshop plugins to affinity” and you’ll have ArionFX (and others) available in Affinity Photo.

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