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Advanced Raw Processing Using Lightroom or Camera Raw

Jeff Schewe explains how to combine the various image adjustments and tools capable of being deployed in Lightroom or Camera Raw to arrive at an optimized “master digital negative.”
This chapter is from the book

The previous chapter was about how the individual adjustments and tools work. This chapter is about combining the various image adjustments and tools capable of being deployed in Lightroom or Camera Raw to arrive at an optimized “master digital negative.” The final images shown in this chapter are the result of just raw processing. I used Photoshop only to size, output sharpen, and make final CMYK separations for reproduction. (Sorry, Photoshop, I only needed you for the grunt work.) Some of the images needed more help than others and some of the original captures were, uh, less-than-ideal exposures or photographic conditions. But that’s why I’m here—to teach you how to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

Yeah, I know, it would be ideal if photographers could just point the camera and magically end up with perfectly cropped, well-exposed images with the proper tone and color. Sometimes that happens—although I’m often shocked when it does, because I’m so used to the raw capture being less than ideal straight from the camera. The following examples will guide you through correcting typical problem images due either to the photographic conditions or poor technique by yours truly. I’ve never said I was perfect, but I am pretty darn good at fixing things.

Tone Mapping

When shooting conditions are suboptimal, the best you can do is make sure you get the shot and then massage the image in post-production. The images in this section are generally the result of poor lighting conditions, although I threw a few “mistakes” in the bunch for good measure. These solutions rely on adjusting the tone mapping by adjusting how the sensor captured the scene.

Flat lighting

The image for this example was shot though the window of a Cessna 172 four-seat high-wing aircraft flying over the Palouse region of southeastern Washington State. It was shot with a Phase One 645DF camera with a P65+ camera back and 75–150mm lens. Yes, I stuck a $45,000 camera out the window of a small plane while making absolutely sure the camera strap was secure around my neck. Because this image was chosen for the cover of this book, I thought it would be appropriate as the first example. It combines two problems really: flat lighting and trying to shoot out of an airplane.

As you can see from the “before” histogram in Figure 4.1, the image was well exposed and gently to the right with no clipping. The primary adjustments made to the image were to adjust the white balance, increase Contrast, and adjust the Whites and Blacks sliders. Those adjustments really modified the overall Tone Curve and added a lot of contrast to the image but with the advantage of controlling the ¼ and ¾ toning asymmetrically. A simple Contrast adjustment alone wouldn’t have provided the strength in the shadows, and reducing the Shadows slider was too gentle—it really needed the Blacks adjustment to push down the deep tones.

Figure 4.1

04_icon.jpg Image after aDjustments: Wb temp 5667 K, tInt -7; contrast +18;WhItes +29; blacKs -36; clarIty +60; VIbrance +49; saturatIon +9

Figure 4.1. Cover image and histograms before and after adjustments.

In the Presence adjustments, I really got heavy-handed. I set Clarity and Vibrance and added a touch of Saturation. The strong Clarity setting also had a major impact on the tone mapping, substantially reduced the flat lighting, and enhanced the midtones contrast.

The other issue I had to deal with was image sharpness. In preparing for the shoot, I had decided not to bother with autofocus and taped the lens at just shy of infinity. I also preset the f-stop to 4.5 (just down a bit from wide open) and set the shutter speed to 1/500 second, thinking (hoping) that would be fast enough to freeze the shaking effect of being in an airplane with the camera halfway out the window. I was close, but 1/1000 second would’ve been better, even if I’d had to raise the ISO from 100 to 200. I didn’t have an issue with shots at the wider 75mm focal length, but this shot was at 150mm and camera shake shows when zoomed to 1:1. Figure 4.2 shows the “before” image with default tone, color, and sharpening and after substantial adjustments in the Detail panel.



Figure 4.2.


Figure 4.2. Before and after comparison at 1:1 zoom.

You can see that the “before” image is flat and lacks detail. The tone mapping has helped the apparent sharpening, but the Detail panel settings I used were rather aggressive. The Detail slider was set all the way to 100 to maximize the deconvolution aspect of the sharpening. I also adjusted the Luminance Noise Reduction, which helped dampen down the really aggressive Detail slider adjustment. I don’t think the final image detail is great at 1:1 (there’s still a softness and lack of texture in places), but the final cropped image size was 6722 x 8714 pixels. A print could be made at about 22.5 x 29 inches at 300 PPI (although I suspect I could see the lack of detail in a print that size). In Chapter 5, I’ll show an example of a sharpening routine called progressive sharpening, which can get even more texture from this image.

High-contrast lighting

When you find yourself in a midday lighting situation and the primary subject is in a cave, you kind of know the lighting is going to suck. This example shows how you can adjust for it.

This image of the Cliff Palace in Mesa Verde National Park in southwestern Colorado was shot with a Canon EOS Digital Rebel camera with the 18–55mm kit lens. The time was early afternoon. Because I was on a motorcycle trip and planning on staying the night in Gunnison, Colorado, which was still over four hours down the road, I couldn’t wait around for the light to get better. Figure 4.3 shows the “before” image.

Figure 4.3


Figure 4.3. Cliff Palace before image adjustments.

The exposure was about as good as I could get without any clipping. You can see a lot of levels in the ¼ and ¾ tones but not a lot in the middle. The sunlit portions of the image are very bright, and the shadows under the cliff are rather dark. The primary global image adjustments were made in the Basic panel. I didn’t touch the white balance, but I did a lot of substantial tone mapping in the Tone section. I increased Exposure and reduced Contrast to open up the whole image and reduce the current heavy contrast. I reduced Highlights all the way down and increased Shadows. This modified the Tone Curve, but the image still needed some additional work. I increased the Whites to fine-tune the upper-white detail and reduced the Blacks to clamp down on the deepest areas after substantial lightening in the Shadows and overall Exposure. I set Clarity rather high and increased Vibrance. The increased saturation in the blues didn’t look right, so I did an adjustment of saturation in the HSL/Color/B&W panel for a –3 Aqua and –15 Blue. I adjusted the Detail panel settings to taste at a screen zoom of 1:1 but didn’t need to go wild. I also applied a Lens Corrections adjustment for the EF-S 18–55mm lens, which has barrel distortion and turned on the chromatic aberration (CA) removal. Figure 4.4 shows the result of the global image adjustments.

Figure 4.4


Figure 4.4. Image after all global image adjustments.

Compared with the “before” image, you can see that the overall tone mapping has improved with the reduction in highlights and opening up of the shadows. A few areas still needed additional work. I added a slight Graduated Filter on the left third of the image that reduced Exposure and Highlights. That darkened down the left side of the image a touch. But the remaining adjustments would need to be made using the Adjustment Brush. The goal was to locally darken the areas that were still too bright, particularly along the path, and then adjust the tone and color under the cliff face. Figure 4.5 shows the two main Adjustment Brush pins with the masks visible.



Figure 4.5


Figure 4.5. The highlight and shadow areas that the Adjustment Brush masks.

The areas in the highlights mask were created using Auto Mask to concentrate the adjustments in the area of the cliff side and walkway. Some areas were painted without Auto Mask. I also added a slight taupe color with a Hue of 27 and a Saturation of 30. You can see the results in the shadow areas figure. For the shadow areas, I used the Adjustment Brush with Auto Mask on along the edges but painted without Auto Mask in the center. Ironically, some areas were too bright, so I used a minus Exposure setting and reduced the Contrast. The Highlights and Shadows were increased and Clarity was increased a lot. Why these numbers? I really don’t go by the numbers—I prefer to look at the image on-screen and twiddle the areas to arrive at what I want.

I also added a darker color tint with a higher saturation. The Hue was 39 and Saturation was 70. The single highlight area adjustment wasn’t sufficient, and the area under the cliff also needed further adjustments. Figure 4.6 shows two additional image adjustment area masks.



Figure 4.6


Figure 4.6. Additional Adjustment Brush masks.

The brightest portion of the walkway looked too “white,” so I applied an additional mask using Auto Mask, reduced the Highlights further, and added a stronger Color tint with a Hue of 29 and a Saturation of 37. This gave the walkway a more rock-colored look instead of a gravel-covered look. For the area under the cliff, I wanted to darken the area and desaturate the rock color. I used a minus Exposure setting while reducing Contrast, Highlights, and Saturation. The second pin under the highest pin was an additional area to add further desaturation; the last pin on the far left was just to darken the tree a bit further. Figure 4.7 shows the final adjusted image and resulting histogram. You can see that the lack of midtones has been fixed and the histogram peaks have been rounded over.

Figure 4.7

04_icon.jpg THE FINAL IMAGE

Figure 4.7. The final processed Cliff Palace image.

Blown skies

When you go to an exotic location far, far away and you’re faced with overcast skies, fret not and keep shooting—you may just end up with something “interesting” (although, truth be told, I didn’t really expect to get anything out of this location). This shot is of the Glenfinnan Monument, situated at the head of Loch Shiel in the Highlands of Scotland. It was erected in 1815 to mark the place where Prince Charles Edward Stuart (“Bonnie Prince Charlie,” also known as “The Young Pretender”) raised his standard at the beginning of the 1745 Jacobite Rising, which ended in failure with Charlie fleeing to France, making a dramatic if humiliating escape disguised as a “lady’s maid” to Flora MacDonald. Did I mention that Scotland has a lot of weather like this that results in wide expanses of blown-out skies? Figure 4.8 shows the original capture and histogram showing a lot of blown skies that look like they’re clipped.

Figure 4.8


Figure 4.8. The blown skies in Scotland and histogram.

I cooled the white balance down a tad from the original As Shot setting. I reduced the overall Exposure and didn’t touch the Contrast setting. I reduced the Highlights setting and increased the Shadows setting. No changes to Whites or Blacks. I added Clarity and increased Vibrance. (Are you seeing a trend here?) The other main adjustment was to turn on the Lens Corrections using the lens profile for a Canon Powershot S90 and enable the auto CA corrections. I adjusted the Saturation in the HSL panel to increase the Yellow +12 and Green +19. The capture sharpening was done to taste, leaving everything at default except raising Amount to 50 and adding a +17 Luminance Noise Reduction. The global adjustments helped but weren’t enough, so I used a Graduated Filter for further fine-tuning, as shown in Figure 4.9.



Figure 4.9


Figure 4.9. Image after global and Graduated Filter adjustments.

The global adjustments weren’t enough to bring back the detail in the sky, and the histogram still showed clipping. I used a Graduated Filter to further darken the sky and bring out additional detail. The gradient had a minus Exposure along with a minus Highlight. I added Clarity and increased Saturation. One additional adjustment was made: I increased the Noise Reduction setting to cut down on some of the noise that showed up during the gradient adjustment. Where possible, I like to adjust multiple parameters in a single Graduated Filter instead of spawning off a bunch of single-parameter local adjustments. The final image in Figure 4.10 shows no clipping in the histogram and an interesting cloud arrangement above Charlie’s monument—a testament to how much detail can be extracted from what might seem to be a blown sky. I hope that Charlie would approve (although from what I’ve read, he was a bit of a putz, so who cares?).

Figure 4.10


Figure 4.10. The final adjusted image and histogram showing no blown skies.

Inclement weather

When you’ve spent about 24 hours in airports and two and half days in really rough seas crossing the Drake Passage to Antarctica, you’re not going to let a little “inclement weather” stop you from shooting (as long as the cameras keep firing). Such was the case with this shot. I’m not 100 percent sure where we were, but I think it was shortly after a shore cruise near Prince Olav Harbor in South Georgia Island in the Scotia Sea, just a bit north of the Antarctica Peninsula. We were on our way to Grytviken, where Ernest Shackleton was buried.

The shore cruise was pretty wet, sodden, and miserable. I had lost a lens and a camera LCD due to rain on the cruise, but I returned to the deck of the ship to keep shooting, even though it was still raining and very foggy. It was either shoot or take a nap (or hang out in the bar), so I kept shooting. We saw a “blue ice” iceberg off in the distance and I framed it with a 400mm lens, even though everything was very flatly lit. Figure 4.11 shows the image before adjustments and the histogram.

Figure 4.11


Figure 4.11. The iceberg in inclement weather and the histogram at default.

I suppose I could’ve done a bit more ETTR for this image, but as it turns out, it wasn’t really necessary because the image was pretty easy to tone-map into something useful. The major global adjustments were in the Basic panel, where I increased Exposure and Contrast. This started the tone mapping that continued with a minus Highlights adjustment and a plus Whites adjustment to extract more highlight textual detail. The biggest adjustment was a strong minus Blacks to spread out the shadows and get a decent black. This did a decent job of expanding the image levels but needed a bit of tweaking using the Parametric Tone Curve. The Highlights were set to +32 and the Darks to +38. This had the effect of lightening the brighter portions of the image, as well as retaining some of the shadow detail that had been crunched by the strong minus Blacks adjustment. I added Clarity and a small amount of Vibrance. I didn’t change the As Shot WB Temp of 6000 K and Tint of +5.

I also decided to throw in a minus Exposure with the Adjustment Brush to knock down the coast visible beyond the iceberg. Figure 4.12 shows the global adjustments and the brush mask.



Figure 4.12


Figure 4.12. The image with global adjustments and the local adjustment mask.

For the final image I did do a bit of spotting to eliminate some distracting items and, of course, the sensor dust spots (typical of being down there—lots of dust to spot!). Because I was shooting with a long lens, little rain actually showed up in the final capture, so I didn’t have to spot out hardly any raindrops. I did add some Noise Reduction (+40), set the Amount for Sharpening to +68, and set the Radius to 1.4. With a shutter speed of 1/1600 second and using an image-stabilized lens, the image ended up very crisp. Figure 4.13 shows the final adjusted image and the histogram. You can see the histogram shows the levels of the image redistributed. Even though it’s showing some Red channel shadow clipping, I really don’t care about that. I go for the way the image looks instead of avoiding clipping.

Figure 4.13


Figure 4.13. The final iceberg image and histogram.


Did I mention I’m not perfect? We all make mistakes. The question then becomes, “What do you do about your mistakes?” I like to fix them if I think an image may be worthy of the effort. For this particular shot of a sign from a neighborhood restaurant, I thought it was worth the effort. The histogram tells the story, about two stops underexposed, which resulted in a pretty flat and ugly capture. Figure 4.14 shows the image before adjustments and the sadly underexposed histogram.

Figure 4.14


Figure 4.14. The underexposed sign image and default histogram.

Obviously, the Exposure setting needed a strong adjustment to fix the underexposed capture. I increased the Exposure a lot and raised the Contrast because underexposed images are rather flat. I also adjusted the white balance from the As Shot settings. Whether you adjust the white balance or exposure first is really a toss-up, but in this case, the image was so dark that it didn’t make sense to even try to adjust the white balance first. The only other tone adjustment used was a plus Shadows setting to open up the darker areas and a plus Blacks setting. This was required because, with such a severe underexposure, the deep shadows were truncated and needed extending to extract the detail.

Once I had a basic global adjustment of tones, I cropped the image and applied a lens profile correction for the Canon EF 17–40mm lens. With the strong horizontal lines in the image, it was important to remove any obvious barrel distortion and use the Straighten tool to get the image level. I increased the green and blue saturation settings in the HSL panel, while also increasing the blue luminance to punch up the greens and blues and try to lighten the blue lamp, which only went partway. Figure 4.15 shows the result of the global image adjustments.

Figure 4.15


Figure 4.15. The global image adjustments result.

I added a Graduated Filter for the top bricks that decreased Exposure and increased Contrast. I also added a strong Clarity adjustment to increase the textural detail in the painted bricks. Then I moved to the Adjustment Brush and made five separate local adjustments using the Auto Mask option to locally brush in corrections. The most visually important of the adjustments was to lighten up the blue lamp. I increased the Adjustment Brush Exposure, Shadows, and Saturation. I also added Noise Reduction because the noise in the blue increased due to the high exposure increases. This helped pop the blue color and acted as a color counterpoint to the strong overall orange color of the scene.

Because of the increase in the overall image brightness, I also wanted to darken some of the areas. I painted in a minus Exposure adjustment to darken the trees, the beer bottle, and parts of the cowboy. I also lightly touched the shadow areas of the green hills. Figure 4.16 shows the blue lamp and tree darkening masks.



Figure 4.16


Figure 4.16. The two main Adjustment Brush masks.

You can see three additional Adjustment Brush pins in Figure 4.16. The pin to the far left was a color tint to add additional blue tone to the strip along the top of the sign. The pin on the bottle was an adjustment of +34 in the Highlights to lighten the lighter portions of the beer bottle. The pin just to the right of the bottle was a +0.80 Exposure adjustment on the highlight areas of the painted hills. This adjustment was very lightly painted in with Auto Mask but a very low flow to the brush. The results are very subtle.

For the final image, I debated cropping into the strong dark line at the bottom of the sign to eliminate the small strip of orange at the bottom. In the end, I decided to keep it in. Without the small strip, the bottom of the image seemed too heavily dark weighted. If you want to see for yourself, take a small piece of white paper and cover the bottom orange line and see if you agree. Figure 4.17 shows the final adjusted image and histogram showing the redistribution of the levels in the image upward.

Figure 4.17


Figure 4.17. The final adjusted sign.

Backlit subjects

When you’re in the field and you can’t control the lighting, about all you can do is take the shot and see if you can do something with it. I encountered this problem while shooting at Arches National Park just outside Moab, Utah. While waiting to shoot a sunset shot of the South Window arch, I set up this shot of Turret Arch with the Phase One 645FD camera with the P65+ back and 28mm lens. I tried to position the sun so it just barely showed through the arch. I had planned on (and did shoot) a full HDR bracket. But in several tests, there were problems with the rather fast-moving clouds and I couldn’t get a natural-looking sun flare. Instead of trying to do a full-blown HDR, I worked on a single image to see how much shadow detail could be obtained with Process Version 2012. As it turns out, a lot! Figure 4.18 shows the original capture and histogram before adjustments.

Figure 4.18


FIgURE 4.18 Turret arch before adjustments and histogram.

There was a big problem with the overall exposure, so I adjusted the Exposure up almost two stops and applied a minus Highlights and plus Shadows to modify the overall tone mapping. However, I needed to add a substantial minus Whites adjustment (to preserve the detail around the sun) and a plus Blacks adjustment to further open up the shadows. Working on an image like this is an iterative process. Clearly, a strong Exposure adjustment has an impact on highlights even though the adjustment rolls off the extreme brightest levels. The aim was to get a compromise of the conflicting needs of the image. I also added Clarity and Vibrance (don’t I always?).

In addition to the Basic panel adjustments, I also used the parametric curve portion of the Tone Curve panel. I adjusted the Highlights down, the Darks up, and the Shadows down to take down the overly lightened darkest portions of the image. Figure 4.19 shows the results of the global tone-mapping adjustments.

Figure 4.19



Figure 4.19. Results of the global tone-mapping adjustments.

Because of the severe underexposure in the front face of the arch in shadow, lightening the shadows made the noise much more visible and objectionable. I used a rather strong amount of Luminance Noise Reduction and made additional Detail panel settings to get the best image detail possible. Figure 4.20 shows the default settings and the optimized settings as a screen zoom of 2:1.



Figure 4.20


Figure 4.20. Comparing default and optimized Detail panel settings at 2:1 zoom.

The Sharpening settings are shown in Figure 4.20. I used a higher Radius and the default Detail settings to avoid oversharpening the noise. I increased the Luminance and the Detail sliders in the Noise Reduction settings to prevent too much of the image detail from being treated as noise. The result of the settings was the best compromise between squashing the noise and preserving useful image detail.

I decided to add three additional Adjustment Brush adjustments to further refine the tone mapping. Figure 4.21 shows the mask used to lighten the arch itself. The adjustments lightened the whole area but tended to lighten the brighter portions more than the shadows. Also, adding the local Clarity strengthened the midtones contrast.

Figure 4.21


Figure 4.21. Adjustment Brush mask for the front of the arch.

I needed two additional small fixes. One was to lighten the areas around the sun because the global highlight reductions made the sun too dark. The other area of the distant hills suffered from too much global Clarity being applied. Figure 4.22 shows the mask areas for the smaller tweaks.



Figure 4.22


Figure 4.22. Additional Adjustment Brush masked areas.

For the sun area, I added a plus Highlights adjustment to lighten the area around the sun and a plus Saturation to bring back some color. For the hill area, I added a minus Clarity to overpower the global Clarity (+38) and to add an effective negative clarity. These two additional adjustments capped off the final image adjustments, shown in Figure 4.23.

Figure 4.23


Figure 4.23. The final Turret Arch image and histogram.

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