more than one way to skin a cat...

How you process your im­ages de­pends on your per­sonal pref­er­ence, and the over­all look you’re try­ing to achieve

NPhoto - - Competition -

There’s more than one way to process an im­age, even if you’re look­ing for the same re­sult, but with sub­tle dif­fer­ences. How sub­tle de­pends on your judg­ment. One op­er­a­tion that’s much in de­mand is the twin ad­just­ment of High­lights and Shad­ows to bring out more de­tail. Even this is dis­puted, with some be­liev­ing that too much de­tail tends to be teased out nowa­days sim­ply be­cause it can be (and yes, I think that, too).

In this ar­chi­tec­tural in­te­rior (of an old colo­nial house in Sin­ga­pore) shot with­out any added light­ing, the area behind the stairs is very bright, as it’s bathed in trop­i­cal sun­light. At the same time the top of the stairs fades into dark­ness. It would be good to bring more out of each area, and ACR of­fers three ways to do this.

In the first, us­ing just the Ba­sic win­dow, the High­lights and Shad­ows slid­ers each work on a re­stricted range of tones, low­er­ing or rais­ing the bright­ness ac­cord­ing to which way you drag the slider. Also, sig­nif­i­cantly, they can re­cover ap­par­ently lost de­tail – the High­lights slider, for ex­am­ple, can use in­for­ma­tion in one or two of the three colour chan­nels (red, green, blue) to ‘re­con­struct’ the lost de­tail. Here, used at -100 and +50 re­spec­tively, they do a good job. How­ever (there’s al­ways a how­ever in pro­cess­ing!), if the slid­ers are used too ag­gres­sively, they tend to flat­ten con­trast so much that the end re­sult can have a ‘non-pho­to­graphic’ feel. And again, there’s in­evitably some dis­pute around what ‘looks like’ a pho­to­graph and what ‘looks like’ real­ity ­– a shift­ing quick­sand of an idea if ever there was one!

Next up, an ap­par­ently sim­i­lar tool is available in the Tone Curve win­dow: the Para­met­ric Curve. De­spite its off-put­ting name, this is very sim­ple in use. The tonal range is split into four – High­lights, Lights, Darks and Shad­ows – and by select­ing these one at a time, you can ad­just the Curve smoothly to con­trol each one. De­spite be­ing sim­i­lar to the High­lights and Shad­ows slid­ers that we just used, how­ever, the ef­fect is not quite the same, and the bright sun­lit area beyond the stairs is pale and lack­ing in con­trast.

Last but not least is the more te­dious, but ul­ti­mately more suc­cess­ful, method of select­ing spe­cific ar­eas and then chang­ing their Exposure and Con­trast – the dig­i­tal equiv­a­lent of dodg­ing and burn­ing a neg­a­tive in a dark­room. Us­ing the Ra­dial Fil­ter, which can now be added to or erased with a brush, a to­tal of nine lo­cal ar­eas were in­de­pen­dently ad­justed. This in­volved more work, but gave much more con­trol. The dif­fer­ences are ob­vi­ous when the shots are seen side by side, though per­haps less so when they’re seen one at a time.

The High­lights and Shad­ows slid­ers use lo­cal tone map­ping, and are ef­fec­tive, but at the cost of di­lut­ing the con­trast

Us­ing the Tone Curve achieves a ‘pho­to­graphic’ re­sult, but it can’t han­dle

lo­cal con­trast in shad­ows and high­lights

Here’s the im­age as shot: the top of the stairs is very dark, los­ing de­tail, while the area through the door is over-bright

Work­ing in­di­vid­u­ally on nine lo­cal ar­eas se­lected with the Ra­dial Fil­ter brings out

the de­tail in shad­ows and high­lights

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