Fixing the dynamic range
As I said in the first post in this series, the first time I posted this image was based on a bit of ‘quick and dirty’ post processing – about five minutes for one pass through Adobe Camera Raw. The result was acceptable for posting a resized image online, but not good enough quality for 100% viewing on screen or printing. To end up with an image that would give a high quality printed result needed a bit more time and attention.
The basic principle is to double process the RAW file in Adobe Camera Raw – first to make sure the exposure of the sky was correct and then a second processing for the foreground. The results of each of these two phases of processing are saved as TIFF or Photoshop files, loaded into Photoshop and merged with a bit of masking – detailed below.
Processing for the sky
It’s worthwhile revisiting the original RAW file to have a look at the task in hand before detailing the process.
If you recall from the original post I didn’t have time (due to two potentially impatient daughters) to work with graduated filters so I originally exposed for the sky as it is almost impossible to recover lost detail from blown-out highlights and much easier to deal with the under-exposed foreground. Even though the sky was nicely exposed with good cloud detail and nice blues, I wanted to achieve an effect with a bit more impact. To do so meant darkening the sky a little.
The Lightroom settings were pretty minimal (only making changes in the Basic tab) as you can see from the screengrab below.
- Exposure: -0.10
- Blacks: 37
- Clarity: +10
- Vibrance: +20
This gave the following result:
This has given the sky a real boost, but obviously leaves a very underexposed foreground – but that’s what I planned for. So next I fixed that.
Processing for the foreground
To correct the under-exposure of the foreground in the original shot meant I needed to lighten the foreground. I also decided to lift the green shoots of the new crop by boosting the Hue/Saturation and Luminance of the green. Again, changes were minimal. The screengrabs from the Lightroom tabs are:
- Exposure: +1.50
- Fill Light: 13
- Clarity: +10
- Vibrance: +20
- Green Hue: +5
- Green Saturation: +10
- Green Luminance: +15
Exposing for the foreground in this way gave the following result:
This time we see a nicely exposed foreground and a blown-out sky.
All that’s left to do now is to blend the two images in Photoshop to get the image ready for cropping.
Blending in Photoshop
Blending the two images in Photoshop is a fairly simple process. I opened both the Lightroom processed files and created a layered Photoshop file containing both images – the sky exposed image as the base layer and the foreground exposed layer on top. With the foreground exposure selected I created a layer mask (click in the white circle in the rectangle) and using the paintbrush set to black paint out the area of the foreground exposure I wanted to mask out. For this image I also had to create a second Hue/Saturation layer for the lower branches of the tree on the foreground exposed image as they were still green. The layer panel below is from Photoshop.
This left me with the following image ready for final cropping.