Processing a high-contrast scene
The benefits of shooting in RAW become apparent when processing images taken in very bright, direct sunlight
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.