This photo of the famous lighthouse at Cape Zanpa in Yomitan ranks as one of my favourite photographs of all time. Here, I show the raw file before and after processing and explain how I got from one to the other.
I took the picture on Jan 2nd when I drove up to Cape Zanpa on a whim when the clouds looked interesting. By the time I got there, the sky had clouded over and I thought I was going to be disappointed, but when I got to the spot I wanted to shoot from, I found that the clouds and mild haze presented an opportunity. There wasn't a lot of color in the sky, but I knew I could tease out all the subtle hues in Lightroom. The real problem was going to be the contrast. Shooting right into the sun and including it in the shot meant that I had to expose for the sky to prevent the details in the clouds from blowing out, so I took a bunch of exposure brackets, all on the same f-stop, so I could make a composite if I really had to, The problem was, I was standing at the very edge of the cliff, so using a tripod was out of the question, making HRD (high dynamic range) a difficult proposition.
The raw photo below was shot on my Canon 100D at f/5.6, 1/640 shutter at ISO 100. I can't say enough good about this cheap little camera (best bang for the buck of any DSLR, as far as I'm concerned, especially if you already own a bunch of EF glass).
Not exactly an award-winning shot as is, but you can see it's got the makings of a great photo. See how there is lots of detail in the clouds? See the faint colours in the sky? Notice the subtle halo around the sun? See how, as dark as it is, there is still detail in the cliff wall?
To handle the extreme contrast, I brought up the shadows as far as the software would let me, and the detail in the cliff came out right away. I found a white balance setting that worked, brought up the clarity and saturation, then went to work on the clouds. Some photographers would have you buy expensive software that adds colour to the sky, but in this case, there is no need. I just used a brush tool and brought up the saturation selectively, in addition to dodging exposure in a few places. I used a graduated filter to reduce the contrast in the sky... and that was about all. I output from Lightroom into Photoshop the applied a brightness setting (which appears to work differently than the one in Lightroom). This was my end result.
Pixel peepers will note that there is a war going on between the noise reduction I applied to clean up the sky and the sharpening I applied to keep the rest nice and crisp. I used a mask on the Lightroom sharpen tool and applied sharpening only to the major outlines. If you look very closely at the cliffs, you'll see that the texture looks a bit unnatural. But so what? I didn't shoot this for a bunch of trolls who like to find fault with pictures they could never take from their mothers' basements!
The thing to keep in mind is that the colours in the photo are all natural. I added no colours what so ever (following the policy of National Geographic, the photos in which are among the best in the world). I just brought out what was there with saturation and colour temperature tools.
Thanks for reading!
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