Fixing a Photograph with a High Dynamic Light Range

To start out with, apparently one of the major tricks of photography is figuring out how to balance light and dark areas to create an overall tapestry.  I love sunset and I love sunrise.  The sky is vivid, it’s alive, it has energy and it veritably glows with beauty.  It reminds me of a few special people in my life.  But the problem is, when you shoot at one of those moments, your camera doesn’t see the world your eye does.  My eye does crazy things with light, it comes in strong in some areas and it comes in weak in others, but my eye and my brain find a way to translate this all into an overall picture that is beautiful and observable to my mind, even if it isn’t exactly what is in front of me.

A camera captures light and reality.  There is no high powered (or in my case barely powered) brain in the back translating the light into what our eyes want to see, making changes on the fly to bring forth the best possible image.  The result is sometimes not what we intended if we are inexperienced, or in other cases, a lot of manipulation happens before the shot or after to get a closer approximation of our “mind’s eye” so to speak.  Here’s an example of a shot I’m talking about, to me, the foreground was clear as day, and the sky was even more vivid than what you see here.

Here is what my camera saw in front of it

As you can see, the foreground is almost impossible to see, and the sky is a bit blown out, no happy balance here.  Let’s see what we can do to fix this photograph.

So, I follow a lot of photographers on google+ and one of them, is named Neil Creek, an Australian photographer who’s images have inspired me at times, and who apparently enjoys helping out other photographers.  He posted a thread basically asking people to ask him any photography questions they wanted, and he would do his best to answer them.  It can be seen here: http://tinyurl.com/5ux6dcl 

I went ahead to ask this question: David Horan – I’m willing to bet this is very basic knowledge, but when I try to get sunsets, I either get a black foreground or a blown out sky that doesn’t show the sunset. How can I get a balance?

And unexpected to me, he gave a long and thorough answer along with a link to a video tutorial that he conducted that explains EXACTLY how to deal with the issue I was having.  I was floored!  Even more stunning was that his help was right on key with what I needed.  Here’s the video he posted: Processing an Under-Exposed High Contrast Photo in Lightroom  This gave me the knowledge that I am going to use on the above photograph to end up with a completely usable photo without the addition of too much noise. (Or at least more noise than I can reasonably deal with)

He of course recommends shooting in RAW, which I’m doing, and states a graded neutral density filter would help, but isn’t really realistic for a hobby photographer.  Then he recommends the video with a substantial portion of post processing in lightroom, followed by attempting an HDR.  Since I didn’t bracket this, and didn’t really want to do it in HDR, I went with the substantial post processing in the video.

My middle transition photograph looks like this:

This is halfway to where I wanted to be

So to get to this point, I increased the fill light to 31 and the Clarity to 100.  Believe it or not, that was enough to bring forth the foreground as you see it.  I now had the barn in view, the tank and the grass.  The problem was, I blew out my sky, it was so bright that almost none of the color remained.  So I then took the Recovery slider all the way to the right at 100.  This took the sky back down and helped with the extremely blown out white area at the top left.

Finally, I had introduced a lot of noise into the photograph, so I had to work with the native noise reduction sliders in lightroom.  Here’s where I balanced them to equal the level of noise you see above:

After that, I had the image you see above.  As you can tell, the sky is still way too bright now, and so I introduced the Graduated Filter and brought the main line down to the treeline.

With the filter in place, I took clarity up to 100 again, increased the saturation to 44 and dropped the Brightness down to -54.  This still wasn’t enough though, so I took the exposure down to -1 as well.

With these settings in place my histogram had gone from Histogram 1 to Histogram 2:

And the end result is this photograph, which is completely different from the one I started with.

The Final shot of the sky on fire

What do you all think?  Did I over process this guy, were Neil’s tips helpful in getting a photo with too large a contrast in light ranges into something visible and worth viewing?  What is everyone’s take on this shot?

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4 responses to “Fixing a Photograph with a High Dynamic Light Range

  1. I do this often, due to the limitations of my point/shoot Canon – I think your resulting image looks quite natural!

    • Thank you for the comment. It was definitely something I needed to learn to do. Now it will just take a little more tweaking to get me to where this is a process I can apply at will and with ease.

  2. I like it a lot, but I will say, my eye is always being drawn to the green of the grass, as it’s lighter than the colorful sky, and my eye is fighting that. 🙂 Those sliders are wonderful things. 🙂 Great job!

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