Re: Bellagio: Dan's comments

Kent Sutorius

I applied your recommendations for #520 with #515. Greatly improved the contrast and clarity of the fountains. Very clever!
Thank you,

Kent Sutorius

On 3/4/2021 12:48 PM, Dan Margulis via wrote:

Three of these entrants come from the MIT study itself. Since sharpening was not permitted, I have sharpened them now to give a fairer comparison to what we produced here.

Also, as I pointed out in a previous post, the five choices for the par don’t happen to be my five choices for the best version. Rather, I was trying for balance of several ideas.

In the introductory post I said I had made two measurements in each image, and I’m posting them here. First, I measured some relatively dark (but still presumably white) water from the left side of the fountain. Also, to gauge the darkness of the hotel, I measured a point on its left side, about halfway up. That point isn’t interesting by itself, but as a means of comparison with others. My recommendations: for the water, 0a0b is neutral. I’d say that values between (3)a and 3a are probably OK. I’d be really careful about positive B values—we’ve all heard how disagreeable so many versions are for being too yellow. Blue water is acceptable. So I recommend between (15)b and 2b.

For the hotel, where higher values are lighter, I’d recommend staying darker than 40L, maybe 45L at most.

As suggested offline, I am highlighting interesting demonstrations that you can try out for yourself.



501 fountain (2)a37b; hotel 43L. Fittingly, we start right out with the yellowest water of all.

502 fountain 9a16b; hotel 39L. This person did not color-correct as such, saying that he could not find anything as a neutral. Don’t ask my why he didn’t think the darker water was. He selected the lake and the face of building for MMM Fine, and he used S/H and Lesser Hammer to get more detail in the fountains. See #506 and 507 for further comments about this version.

503 fountain 0a(5)b; hotel 41L. Chosen for the par version. The hotel is not really this shade of pink, but there is certainly a pinkish light source on its right side, so I think it’s fair to exaggerate it, just as it’s reasonable to exaggerate the yellow in the bell tower.

This person did much of his correcting in Lightroom and is one of the few successful entrants who didn’t use a Hammer action, so there isn’t as much detail in the fountains as others have. His approach instead was to use hiraloam sharpening of the water.

Although it’s already one of the top entrants, IMHO it tries to do too many things at once. I show a means of improving it at #523.

504 fountain 5a17b; hotel 46L. There’s that disagreeable strongly yellow water again, but that isn’t the only issue. #502 has very similar color but is much preferable for detail.

505 fountain (1)a19b; hotel 51L. Something bad happened in the center of the spray here, there is a sudden transition from white to yellow.

506 fountain 10a10b; hotel 46L. I did this version in 2017 when comparing my three-minute results to those of the MIT retouchers. Having access to the Bigger Hammer action made my version superior, but I wasn’t happy with it then or now. Some of the MIT retouchers had a very hard time with this photo, which is why you won’t see their average.

It looks like I thought sky detail should be suppressed. Looking at it now I wish the water were more neutral, but at least it’s a brown, not the yellow-green found elsewhere. Compare it to #502, which has competitive detail but will not be preferred to this version because of color.

507 fountain 6a12b; hotel 40L. Compared to some of the earlier versions this one moves in the right direction colorwise, but lacks punch. No Hammer action was used, so the water doesn’t have the pop it needs. Also, while this person did sharpen, it was at a much lower setting than what others are using.

Demonstration: Don’t get me wrong, this is still too yellow, but it can show us how devastating the extra yellow can be. Blend this one, in Color mode, over #502, which is only 3a3b warmer than this, and it’s a major difference.

508 fountain 0a(2)b; hotel 35L. MIT retoucher E, in my opinion, did a fine job considering that he wasn’t allowed to do any manual retouching, such as brightening up the bell tower. He stayed away from disagreeable colors, and the very dark hotel sets off the white water nicely.

509 fountain 0a0b; hotel 53L. This is like #508 in spirit, but not as successful. It demonstrates that one way to neutralize the water is to turn the whole area into grayscale. But pure neutrality in the foreground, darker water gives the show away. Note in comparing the two how much the darker hotel of #508 helps the presentation.

510 fountain (3)a29b; hotel 35L. Here’s that nasty yellow color again. Like many people, this guy correctly forced white into the lightest areas of the water but didn’t try to emulate it throughout.

511 fountain (2)a9b; hotel 52L. A reasonable version that represents something in early evening rather than the night conditions of almost everyone else.  Further notes about this version are at #513.

512 fountain 3a(13)b; hotel 40L. Another in the neutral-water-dark-hotel school of #508, with the addition of an attractive blue sheen in the center of the fountain that I wish were reflected in the foreground water. I rate #508 superior because it has much better detail in the water, but putting #508 on top of this one in Luminosity mode is better than either. This individual’s notes say

YouTube videos show fountain can be affected by colored lighting, seems most striking when almost white and when jets of water are somewhat distinct.

The first half of that last clause was achieved successfully, the second not.

513 fountain (6a)9b; hotel 53L. While Bigger Hammer is the majority choice for bringing out detail in the fountains, Frederick Yocum went with False Profile/multiplication. Since this left something to be desired,

Demonstration: when you need highlight detail, find another version that has it but is relatively light. #511 answers that description. Make a duplicate layer here, and apply #511 to it in Darken mode. As #511 is basically lighter than this one, the move only affects the fountains. Then, change mode of the duplicate layer to Luminosity, so as not to pick up #511’s color.

514 fountain 2a6b; hotel 56L. Chosen for the par version as a balancing move. The hotel isn’t that color in real life and I don’t find it an attractive choice, but then again it isn’t the color of #503 either. I also am not a big fan of the hiraloam sharpening of the water, but this is no disadvantage when it is averaged with four others.

Demonstration: As a matter of personal taste I would prefer a browner, or more golden-looking, hotel, also a darker one. LAB blending can make such moves easy. Here, seeing how yellow the Bellagio is, we understand that the B channel will be light. So, on a duplicate layer, blend the B channel into the A, Overlay mode, about 25% opacity or to taste. This will make the desired hue move. It is unlikely that anyone will notice that it also moves the blues slightly toward cyan, but I have no objection if it does.

Now, blend the B into the L, again Overlay mode, this time inverted, a bit higher opacity, let’s say 35%. This darkens the hotel, but it also lightens the blue lighting, which is welcome.

Of course in real life one would be more careful about getting the settings exactly right. See another comment about this version at #517.

515 fountain (1)a9b; hotel 43L. The person handled the water carefully, with both Bigger Hammer and a false profile. He also deliberately darkened the hotel and the sky. The problem, of course, is that it wound up colorless. How many of you, I wonder, took one look at it and decided it was terrible? If you did, it was a mistake. 

Just because a version has weaknesses doesn’t prevent it from having strengths. This one has excellent shape and sharpening, better then the large majority of entrants. So all that’s needed is a partner version with good color—or at least better color than this one. See further comment at #520.

516 fountain 2a6b; hotel 56L. Edward Bateman writes,

The aspect of this image that I puzzled over the most was the cyan around the base of the fountains... it made me wonder whether the fountain were illuminated by colored light... possibly because color in the bright fountains was beyond the camera's ability to capture due to exposure?  I did try more color in the fountains, but rejected that because the larger reflection in the water didn't show a strong color bias and went with a more neutral color edging towards the warm.

After going through this exercise I can explain that cyan lighting. I have seen this show many, many times and do not recall that they ever attempted to apply strongly colored lighting to the jets of water, although I think they have done it on holidays and other special occasions. In any case it would be quite difficult technically. This picture shows about 100 jets. The lake has, if I recall, 1,400.

No, the subdued cyan underlighting simply means that the designers understood something that we’ve all just learned the hard way: warm casts, especially yellow ones, are quite obnoxious in this context. So they’re making sure that we perceive the water as a cool white, not a warm one.

517 fountain 2a1b; hotel 52L. This is one of my favorites, but I did not choose it for the par because its eccentricities are too much like those of #503 and the par would get unbalanced if both were included. Since this one sways heavily toward pink as #514 does toward yellow, it shouldn’t be surprising that a 50-50 blend of the two is better than either.

518 fountain 8a(1)b; hotel 34L. Chosen for the par version. Excessive sharpening, and hotel is too yellow. but nice shape in water both foreground and fountain. Note that having the water too magenta, as it measures here, isn’t nearly as obnoxious as making it yellow.

519 fountain 6a16b; hotel 40L. Like several others, agreeable contrast, nasty color.

520 fountain 0a6b; hotel 40L. This person, like me, has seen the fountain show in person dozens of times, 

and unless the show is a fountain light show with colors, the water is always white not yellow in color. The Bellagio also turns on exterior purple lighting to hit the hotel. It doesn't reach the top. That is why I added a gradient tint to three quarters of the hotel. 

Although the hotel is properly dark, the fountains lack detail, as does the Bellagio name in the bell tower. This is therefore the opposite of #515: it has acceptable color, poor contrast. The two can be united but there are some complications, so

Demonstration: adding some of the contrast of #515 to #520 without changing color. Add a duplicate layer to #520 and set it to Luminosity mode. Now, apply #515 to that layer, but it shouldn’t be done in Normal mode because #515’s hotel is slightly lighter, which is undesirable. Therefore, choose Darker within the Apply Image command. The other problem with this blend is that it flattens the attractive sky. To correct this, move the layered file unflattened into LAB and use Blend If to exclude the blend wherever the B is negative. A slightly less effective way of doing it without leaving RGB is to check Mask=Red in the Apply Image box, still using Darken mode.

521 fountain (1)a(11)b; hotel 30L. Chosen for the par version, again for balance. I am generally not noted for conservatism, but this is my entry. As you can tell, my mindset was that this picture is not about the Las Vegas experience, but about these fountains only. So I wanted the hotel very dark (I originally had it even darker, and cut back, but even so it’s the darkest of any version except the weird #522). Also, I made a copy of the blue channel, increased sky contrast drastically, and used it to blend a cloud pattern into the deep blue. The idea of that was to further distract people from looking at the hotel. I also refrained from sharpening, trying for a dreamier look, which in retrospect may not have been too wise.

522 fountain 15a21b; hotel 8L. By comparison to this, my hotel in #521 hardly seems dark at all. As it stands, this has two major problems: if the scene was really this dark, nobody would be able to walk around without holding a flashlight; and much more detail would show up in the water. Right now the whole image is all highlight and shadow, very little of interest in the entire midrange.

523 fountain 6a21b; hotel 33L. Excellent contrast is derailed by horribly yellow water. The hotel is nicely dark. That means that this file could be used as an auxiliary with telling effect. 

Demonstration: #503 was good, but let’s make it better. On a duplicate layer, apply #523. You wouldn’t think that you’d have to use Darken mode for this blend considering that #523 is on the whole much darker than #503, but it has to be done that way to preserve all the yellow that #503 has crowbarred into the accents. After the blend, of course, the layer mode must change to Luminosity. You might also think that the proper opacity is 100%, since overall the contrast in #523 is much better. That wouldn’t quite work, however. If the hotel is as colorful as #503 is, it can’t be made hugely darker, it would look like something from another planet. So the overall move is, 1) duplicate layer; 2) apply #523 in Darken mode; 3) change mode to Luminosity; 4) reduce opacity to 67%.

Doing this results in something not just much better than either parent but better than any other entrant except #528, IMHO.

524 fountain not accurately measurable due to retouching; hotel 35L. Bill Theis explains this version as follows.

The fountains at the Bellagio are numerous, impressive in their height and patterns, and colorfully lit from below with lights.  Since I couldn't make bigger or more fountains, I went for color.  After all this is Vegas, baby.  This involved a mask and I added a second MMM+CB and went extreme with the settings.  So the colors that were there, were there. No painting in anything. However, the color looked posterized like it does in 505 so I did a blur of both A and B channels to distribute it using a radial blur at 90.  If you are going to photograph one small fountain out of many at a point when it is not tall and powerful, go for color.  Artistic choice.  Replacing the color on the par version with my color looks pretty good (and maybe 50% of my luminosity?)  

I also went with something I heard someone say that "when everything is colorful, nothing is colorful" so I intentionally didn't go overboard with the building behind the fountains or the sky.  In fact I removed all the purple at the lower part of the building so as not to distract from the fountain as well as keeping the entire background a bit dark

comparing mine to the other entries, I took the fountain color way over the top (the most colorful of any fountain) because, hey, it's Vegas and that's one of the things that impressed me about Bellagio's fountains.  others that went this way were 528 (which looks like the colors may have been painted it-they were not the actual residual colors) as well as 501 523, 529, 531 so I am not alone in the approach.  Colorless water is for waterfalls, not Vegas.

It is true that Vegas is noted for garish lighting, some of which is found on the shore. I understand that they occasionally attempt to light the jets of water but they couldn’t possibly get an effect like this one. Besides, as pointed out by Edward Bateman at #516, it’s clear that there’s some kind of subdued cyan lighting at the base. That’s an attempt to make sure the fountains are seen as chilly, and not of the objectionable color that so many of us engineered in.

525 fountain 7a9b; hotel 51L. Done entirely in Camera Raw in two minutes, yet one of the minority with good color as well as good detail. I would recommend blending #523 into it in Luminosity mode.

526 fountain 0a(2)b; hotel 44L.  The objectives, according to Harvey Nagai: 

Throughout the process I had the Niagara Falls case study in mind, so my correction portrays
the fountains captured at a singular instant, a freeze-frame, a single cel in a movie, so to
speak.  Maybe that's the best that be can done with this image.

But maybe the artist was presenting changing shapes, and rather than what I saw as two rings
of fountains, maybe the concept was shells of light, like a time-lapse presentation of a
flower blooming.

In that case maybe the fountains were meant to be seen as a translucent collective rather
than rings of individual skeletal sprays, morphing shapes rather than arcs moving in unison.

Blending the luminosity of a more blown-out image softened the raw details and made the sprays
brighter and more opaque.  Not quite what I had envisioned, I don't see anything more than
softer, brighter and more opaque (and more blown out).

Harvey then kicked the can down the road by submitting two versions, one with the familiar strong yellow feel and the other being corrected into #526, with the instruction that I should choose one. That wasn’t a difficult choice. It would also not have been difficult for Harvey to have moved away from the yellow cast in the quartertone without taking it out of the rest of the image as well. As it turned out, it has the flavor of a grayscale image, although certainly not to the extent of #509. That the water should basically be neutral doesn’t rule out all variation within it.

Demonstration: assuming that there’s no desire to make the hotel darker, or even more colorful, all we need is a version with roughly neutral water in the fountains but some variation therein, with some color in the foreground but a subdued hotel. That would be #521. Blend it into this one in Color mode and the hotel barely changes, but the lake becomes more believable and so do the fountains.

527 fountain (2)a10b; hotel 53L. The fatal yellowness here may have come from a creative move. The person states that he blended the blue channel into the red, Lighten mode at an unspecified opacity. Presumably, his motivation was to accentuate the cloud pattern in the sky. That’s OK, because the red channel was so heavy that the sky could not be made any other color than blue without replacing it entirely. But it was not OK in the foreground water, the reflections of which now tend to measure something like (3)a12b, very greenish-yellow.

528 fountain not accurately measurable due to retouching; hotel 36L.  Chosen for the par version. Paco Márquez has scored again with a version that seems to me clearly better than any other—if you are after the “Vegas” look, which some people aren’t. So this picture is in the same category as Bill Theis’s #524, but more tasteful. Paco has found ways to  emphasize every kind of light that might create excitement without overwhelming us with overall color. 

As Paco has posted his steps and there have been other comments about this version I won’t get into technique. I will discuss psychology, however.

Anyone who has ever visited this attraction will know that this presentation isn’t realistic but is intended to set a mood, to fool us into thinking that we are in a different reality. Its success in creating this illusion is shown by Steve Jenkins’ criticism that it seems to suppress the reflection of the fountain swarm in the dark water in the foreground. After all, many other versions that aren’t nearly as bright as this one have that area almost white, no?

No. Well, yes, they have that reflection brighter, but the idea that #528 is a brighter version a victim of Paco’s trickery. In fact, he has the second darkest hotel of any reasonable version. Only #521 has it darker. A large part of the success of this version depends on that darkness to set off the brilliant colors, and the white of the fountains. The reflections aren’t as light as in other versions because the other versions have a lighter lake.

529 fountain (9)a14b; hotel 43L. The production notes to this one state that the person doesn’t know how the water became green, but that it was even worse than it is now, so he toned it down with Hue/Saturation. He should have gone further. We know that we can’t tolerate yellowish water. A bluish fountain and lake might work. As it stands this version is appropriate for St. Patrick’s Day only.

530 fountain 1a7b; hotel 58L. This one puts the ball in play, but as we’re about to see, it can be greatly improved. The person messaged me his reasoning, with which I don’t always concur.

The casino and fountains are of equal importance.

Certainly that’s one valid interpretation.

The building is underexposed and needs lightening.

It may perhaps be that way from the standpoint of pure photography but in this context lightening it is a bad idea.

The fountains need detail brought out in the water to give a sense of motion.


Neutral highlights are at the base of the fountain and neutral darks in the windows top right. 

I don’t think the windows are necessarily black, they tint them heavily so that the sun can’t make the room unbearably hot.

In between there are no neutral areas to be concerned about.

Yes there are—those parts of the fountains that are significantly darker than a highlight.

Images on the web show both cool white lighting or warm yellow lighting on the fountains so I assume both are valid treatments. I have opted for colder lighting.

Three versions were merged each with a different starting point. Very colourful end product but this is Las Vegas!

Now by Las Vegas standards I don’t consider this very colorful, perhaps in some other city. But two problems remain: first, the water measures slightly yellow, though not as bad as others. Secondly, though acceptable, it’s slightly weak because the hotel shouldn’t have been lightened so much.

Demonstration: So, the temptation is to add #523 as a Luminosity layer to this one, let us say at 50% opacity. That’s an improvement, but the yellowness in the fountain persists. Instead, try a Normal layer at 50% with #521. That doesn’t seem to make contrast any worse but it does wipe out the yellowness, making IMHO a really excellent version.

That concludes my comments of substance. I hope that people will try this last demonstration, as well as the one at the end of #523, which produced really good results. And I hope you will have a good grasp of why this is so, and how it could be duplicated if you’re faced with such a challenge again.

Just quick comments on the remainder:

531 fountain 11a17b; hotel 49L.Water is blown out.  Strong warm cast. 

532 fountain 4a10b; hotel 39L. Here’s the effort of MIT retoucher B. It hardly stands up to that of his colleague in #508.

533 fountain 3a20b; hotel 59L. Bell tower blown out.

534 fountain 0a14b; hotel 48L. Gerald Bakker has already posted his own mea culpa about this one, so I won’t add anything.

535 fountain 2a15b; hotel 42L. Yellowish water, lacking in detail.

536 fountain 4a(6)b; hotel 39L. The par version.

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