PetaPixel

Danger: Extremely Hazardous Waves

Went to Bodega bay to do some crabbing for the first time, and took this photo while walking to the beach (it’s the untouched RAW):

danger1

Canon 40D + 24-70mm 2.8 at 24mm, f/8.0, 1/250s, and ISO 100.

What was interesting was that though the sign warned people to stay off the structure, most people there were on the rocks fishing and crabbing.

In post-processing this image, I’d like to make it pop, while bringing out the detail in the sky.

Opening up the file in Adobe Camera RAW, I made the following edits:

dangere1White Balance: Upped temperature to 5600 from 5400. Auto while balance set it at 6100, but I felt like it was way too warm, so I brought it down a bit.
Exposure: Increased by half a stop. +.50. This clips the sky, and but we’ll deal with it in recovery.
Recovery: +20 to recover some lost detail in the sky.
Fill Light: +20 to bring out some shadow details and to even out the difference between the sky and the ground. Gives the foreground a pretty unsaturated, pasty look. We’ll deal with the contrast in the next steps.
Blacks: We lost all of our true black in the previous steps, and the darkest color we were left with was a gray. Turn these darkest points into black again by upping blacks to +10 from +5.
Brightness: Unchanged.
Contrast: +70 to make it pop. Usually in photographs with textures and things like rocks, I like having more contrast rather than less.
Clarity: +20 to make the signboard stand out a little more against the bright sky.
Vibrance: +20 to make the colors pop a bit.

Sharpness: +75. What I usually like to set it at.
Luminance: Aquas -50 and Blues -50 to darken the sky a tiny bit (we’ll do the rest in Photoshop).
Lens Vignetting: -30. A little. Not too much.

This is the resulting image after this first RAW to JPEG conversion step (hover your mouse over it to compare it to the original RAW):

danger2

While the foreground has more detail and more “pop”, not much happened to the sky. As I explained earlier, I’d like to make the sky a little more dramatic in this particular photograph.

Opening up the file in Photoshop rather than ACR now, I do the following:

dangere2

  1. Duplicate the layer
  2. Add a layer mask
  3. Mask out the ground, and selectively mask the rest
  4. Adjust curves for this duplicate layer (curve shown to the right):

For the mask, I decided that instead of only adjusting the sky, I also wanted to adjust the water and the hills at the horizon. I didn’t want to adjust these things separately, but I also didn’t want to adjust them as much as the sky.

Thus, I decided to use a mask in which the water and hills are 50% masked. This allows me to adjust curves for the sky, with 50% of the curve being applied to the water and hills as well.

This is what my mask ended up looking like. Notice how the sky is 0% masked, the hills and water are 50% masked, and the rest (whatever I don’t want affected) is 100% masked:

dangerm

Here’s the final image (hover to compare with previous step):

danger3

You can also hover over these links to see the original RAW or layer mask.

That’s it! Hope you found this post-processing walkthrough helpful. If you have any thoughts, questions, or suggestions, please leave a comment.


 
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  • http://www.imgsensors.eu/ Marisol Risakotta

    Yes. I am finding it helpful! Very interesting to learn from… I'm noticing I'm a bit… lets say… a bit to carefull with those RAW converter sliders… :) I'm especially surprised to see you clipped the sky but it still indeed did not loose the information so it could be enhanced back in, in PS.
    Love the enhanced result. Nice!

  • Nate Pilling

    Thanks for the image technique! I'm always looking for different ways to make images pop, do you have any fit-all suggestions to make images stand out? Or is there no fit-all way?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=510546763 facebook-510546763

    I've been looking at how Photoshop can help change photographs so much, which brings the question of whether you even need to shoot photos with the right exposure anymore. You can just shoot the photo as badly as you want and fix it up in Photoshop. Doesn't that kind of kill the point of photography?

  • http://www.petapixel.com Michael Zhang

    I think what I discovered is that there's no fit-all way. For a couple years I was looking for a “fit-all” solution like a Photoshop action that would instantly make all of my photos perfect.

    I don't think such a thing exists. Instead, each photo is different in its strengths and weaknesses. Some might be overexposed, some might be under. Each one needs to be adjusted differently.

    That's the conclusion I came to at least. :-) Had the exact same question as you though.

  • http://www.petapixel.com Michael Zhang

    Post-processing and Photoshop give you a little more room for error, but even then, you need to get your shooting technique right to have good results.

    Both parts (how you shoot and how you process) are equally important.

    Also, not everything can be salvaged. For example, no amount of post-processing can fix an improperly focused image and give it correct focus…

  • paulhyunkim

    hey mike! a note on the contrast slider. from what i've read, the contrast slider is too coarse and too linear of an application (kind of like the saturation slider is to the vibrance slider). i find that i get better results just setting the tone curve to the 'strong contrast' preset (notice how the strong contrast preset gives an S-curve that's weighted towards shadows rather than a more symmetric S-curve). also, the tone curve gives me more complete control over the image contrast when i need it.

  • Nate Pilling

    Ok, since I'm pretty new to this, what are the things you'd process? Levels, etc?

  • http://www.petapixel.com Michael Zhang

    I think what I discovered is that there's no fit-all way. For a couple years I was looking for a “fit-all” solution like a Photoshop action that would instantly make all of my photos perfect.

    I don't think such a thing exists. Instead, each photo is different in its strengths and weaknesses. Some might be overexposed, some might be under. Each one needs to be adjusted differently.

    That's the conclusion I came to at least. :-) Had the exact same question as you though.

  • http://www.petapixel.com Michael Zhang

    Post-processing and Photoshop give you a little more room for error, but even then, you need to get your shooting technique right to have good results.

    Both parts (how you shoot and how you process) are equally important.

    Also, not everything can be salvaged. For example, no amount of post-processing can fix an improperly focused image and give it correct focus…

  • paulhyunkim

    hey mike! a note on the contrast slider. from what i've read, the contrast slider is too coarse and too linear of an application (kind of like the saturation slider is to the vibrance slider). i find that i get better results just setting the tone curve to the 'strong contrast' preset (notice how the strong contrast preset gives an S-curve that's weighted towards shadows rather than a more symmetric S-curve). also, the tone curve gives me more complete control over the image contrast when i need it.

  • Nate Pilling

    Ok, since I'm pretty new to this, what are the things you'd process? Levels, etc?