Pro­cess­ing a high-con­trast scene

The ben­e­fits of shoot­ing in RAW be­come ap­par­ent when pro­cess­ing im­ages taken in very bright, direct sun­light

NPhoto - - Competition -

This is a high-con­trast, high-dy­namic-range scene where the light­ing is di­vided sharply be­tween sun­light and shadow. The exposure is ef­fi­cient, mean­ing that it’s as bright as it can be with­out clip­ping any high­lights, so the RAW pro­ces­sor has the max­i­mum amount of in­for­ma­tion to work on.

The high­lights need to be dark­ened, and the shadow ar­eas bright­ened, while main­tain­ing con­trast and en­hanc­ing the glow on walls and pave­ments in the shadow ar­eas. There are two dif­fer­ent ways of han­dling this, and both need the ex­tra data stored in a RAW file.

One way is to rely on the High­light and Shadow re­cov­ery slid­ers, which are very so­phis­ti­cated. The prob­lem with these, as you can see from the ver­sion be­low, is that the re­sult looks a bit flat. It lacks rich­ness, and has that slightly non-pho­to­graphic look typ­i­cal of lo­cal ad­just­ments, which work on neigh­bour­ing pix­els (See ‘Global vs lo­cal pro­cess­ing’ at the bot­tom of the page).

The other method, which is more la­bo­ri­ous but to my mind su­pe­rior, is to iso­late the two zones – sun­lit and shadow – us­ing a lo­cal ad­just­ment brush. In this case, the brush was used to lighten the shad­ows. The over­all con­trols were then used to process the sun­lit area. In ef­fect, each zone was pro­cessed in­de­pen­dently, and the ex­tra data in the 14-bit RAW file al­lowed a full, rich re­sult with glow­ing shad­ows.

In ACR, the shadow ar­eas were se­lected with a lo­cal

ad­just­ment brush, so that the two zones, sun­lit and shadow, could be pro­cessed in­de­pen­dently us­ing

the Exposure slider

un­pro­cessed RAW file

Opened in ACR the high

dy­namic range is ev­i­dent,

but the ab­sence of clip­ping warn­ings shows that all the in­for­ma­tion is there in the file.

Pro­cessed for sun­light

To demon­strate only, this is

how the im­age would look

pro­cessed to favour the sun­lit area. The shadow de­tail is se­ri­ously com­pro­mised.

Flat re­sult from slid­ers

A typ­i­cal one-step pro­ce­dure

re­lies on us­ing the High­lights

and Shad­ows slid­ers. It works to a point, but at the cost of a flat, not-quite-pho­to­graphic look.

Pro­cessed for shade

Again for the pur­pose of

demon­stra­tion, pro­cess­ing the

im­age to brighten the shad­ows leaves the sun­lit façade of the cathe­dral badly over-ex­posed.

The full range

Us­ing the full dy­namic range

of the RAW file and a lo­cal

se­lec­tion, both the sun­lit and the shadow ar­eas have been pro­cessed to their full po­ten­tial.

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