January in North Texas isn’t the most beautiful time of the year, so I spent some time this weekend going back through the archives from last year looking for a few hidden gems that I had passed over for processing for one reason or another. This shot from the shores of Lake Lavon was one of those that I have just recently processed, now six months after the photo was originally taken. I probably passed over it because I both had a good number of nice shots from this morning’s shoot and it was just before my departure to Montana and Wyoming and have been working on that set more often than not when I am working on archive photos.
This shot started out pretty plain-looking, dark at the bottom, not a lot of color on the horizon. But I liked the composition of the shot with the worn dirt tracks turning around the corner just as they met the horizon. The clouds and color showed some promise, and with a little coaxing and a little assistance through the magic of post processing, I thought they could be improved and enhanced.
Most of my photos are processed with the same general work flow. I start in Lightroom to do any basic exposure adjustments, crop, camera lens corrections and if needed a preemptive noise reduction pass. In this photo I also needed to add several gradient filters to even out the exposure of the image through the sky and in the foreground. There are two gradients in the sky, one starting at the top of the image and reaching to the horizon, the other coming in from the right side at an angle. Each of these are a -.29EV adjustment only. The lower gradient filter covers the right corner area with a +.29EV adjustment to bring some of that foreground shadow up. Global adjustments are pretty standard fare for landscapes, bringing the highlights down, shadows up, a minor boost to overall exposure and contrast. Added a hint of clarity and vibrance to get to the image below.
Nik Color Efex Pro 4 is really where the photo starts to take shape as a finished image. As per my usual work flow I started with the Detail Extractor filter. This effect is great for, you guessed it, bringing out details through the image. I can however get very heavy handed very quickly making for unrealistic skies and a lot of unnecessary noise as well. I typically keep the slider for detail extraction down to around 25 or so for natural landscapes (architecture and old buildings can take a much higher boost), a slight boost in contrast and saturation are also added via this filter. Adding control points to reduce the effect in the blue area of the sky helps keep the noise down and the sky looking more natural. Another control point in the road and the foreground boost the effect a bit over the 50% opacity I had set globally help further balance the image. I then added a ‘Pro Contrast’ effect filter, another of my go-to tools for boosting the contrast of an image. Here again I kept the sliders down to around 20 or less for contrast adjustment. For even more contrast adjustment on the road surface I added the ‘Tonal Contrast’ filter – a Tone Mapping effect – to just the dirt surface to bring out more details there but left the rest of the image at 0% opacity for this effect.
By this point in the process I liked where the image was going, but it still lacked some visual punch of color. I decided to add a bi-color filter and use control points to paint in more or less opacity as I have used on some of my other photos where I needed more boost of color. Starting with an opacity of only 10% on a blue/orange filter, I increased the blend and then added a couple of control points to add more opacity in the regions of the sky I wanted the additional color (along the horizon on the right for the orange and up in the top regions for the extra blue). The last filter used before leaving Color Efex Pro 4 was the ‘foliage’ filter which affects green hues. I added a modest golden-green boost to the foliage of the image to increase the feeling of that great golden hour light just after dawn that was already there.
The above is how it came out of Color Efex Pro 4. It had a great look, well-balanced, but lacked some of the drama I wanted in the finished piece and there were a few trouble spots when it came to saturation as well. Adding a little more clarity and vibrance first in the basic panel, I then turned my attention to the bright blue patch of the sky – a result of being a bit over zealous with the bi-color filter in Color Efex. I used the HSL panel to bring the blue saturation down (and the orange/yellow up some – still chasing the right look for the sunrise). Adding in the dark vignette helped some as well, but now made the top left corner too dark – so a gradient filter was added to that corner to bring the exposure back up a bit, as well as adding a bit of yellow white-balance adjustment to finish muting the blue tones up in that corner. I wanted to play with the over all color feel of the image a little, as it wasn’t quite where I wanted it, this was accomplished via the Split Toning section of Lightroom, adding a muted blue (bordering on violet – hue 231) to the highlights and a very muted yellow to the shadows to warm those regions (hue 62).
Using the spot healing tool, I removed a couple errant rocks that were brighter than the rest of the foreground and then a final sharpening and noise reduction adjustment were the final finishing touches on this image before uploading to my Picasa albums where I keep my finished work for sharing and viewing.
Didn’t count just how many steps I went through from start to finish, but as you can see it was a fair few. I have found that adding several effects and adjustments with a light touch often yields the best results. Very few times does clicking one preset or another yield exactly what I had in mind. Not saying that I don’t use presets, I have many and use them often, my current favorites being the collections from Trey Ratcliff. However instead I use presets as launching points, idea generators, seeing quickly what works and what doesn’t for a particular image. Once I have an idea in mind, if a preset can get me 50% of the way there, I’ll sometimes start with applying that and then tinkering to go the other 50% of the way, or instead I might start from scratch and build up the look on my own as I did here.
And now… on to the next photo… thanks for reading.