1589 – Blinded By The Light

Here’s another image of yesterday’s. Today I have a meeting in a few minutes, and the weather is not worth going out anyway.

“Blinded By The Light” is maybe a little too strong a title for this image, it would have been a much better match for “1554 – Sun Zoom Spark“, but even this image illustrates all the problems of photographing into the sun.

Contrast in such scenes is always overwhelming, regardless of the camera you have. It was a bright, clear, sunny day (see yesterday’s post with the church), and at that time of the day (about quarter to three) at that time of the year, even when you don’t shoot into the sun, the 8 bit per color of a JPEG struggle to contain the scene’s contrast.

Take yesterday’s image. In the JPEG right out of the camera, the white of the wall did hardly hold any detail. The detail that you see, is from the RAW conversion and my manipulations in Photoshop.

Today’s image, actually taken minutes before yesterday’s, has a much higher contrast range. For instance, although there is certainly detail in the disc of the sun (sunspots, protuberances), it is not possible to get that detail back, not with any camera in the world, at least not if you want to see anything else in the scene. Thus we simply have to accept that the sun burns out. That’s OK.

Apart from that, today’s DSLR cameras do surprisingly well. This image is a composite of two versions from the same RAW, one for sun and sky, the other for the rest of the scene. I always use 14 bit RAW as opposed to 12 bit RAW. It slows my camera down to about 2 frames per second (not so the D300s, but I have the earlier D300), but it’s scenes like this, where I need all the reserves.

Basically I go into Adobe Camera RAW, correct for lateral CA (magenta/green and yellow/blue fringes), set the white balance, correct exposure and contrast for the sky and the sun, and take the result to Photoshop. Then I open the same RAW file once again and set the parameters for everything but the sky, letting the sky burn out. In many cases I use a warmer color temperature for this second variant. I take the second version into Photoshop as well, layer the two, and then I use a mask on the top layer.

Precise masks don’t work very well with those fuzzy subjects, but fortunately the eye is forgiving. Painting with a big, soft brush normally produces the best results.

Now that I have combined the two layers, I often copy/merge them into a new layer and use Topaz Adjust on that. This plugin is great for the rough stuff, forget it on a sky like this. But that’s OK as well. That’s what masks are for. Here I have used the preset “Spicify” on pretty much everything but the sky, and then I have dialed back opacity until I got the desired look.

Next I’ve used an action to add a group of three Hue / Saturation layers in different blending modes. This was too much, but I’ve adjusted the individual layers and lowered the opacity of the group, until it looked as I wanted.

What we want to do in such scenes is, to substitute global contrast that we can’t retain, by color contrast and local contrast, all the while being wary to not let it look gaudy.

This is difficult. I already had a version of this image up on my server, but then I found that it lacked punch.

What’s “punch” you say? Well, here it was local contrast. I’ve added some curves layers and applied them locally, again using masks.

One can always do better, and I suppose I could as well, but I think the result, as I have settled with, does not look unnatural, meaning it is not obvious that I used Photoshop. Well, it is when you think about it, but it feels pretty natural, and that suffices. There is no “truth” to be found in image like this. A JPEG of such a subject, right out of the camera, looks always horrid. You really have to go into Photoshop, and what you have to aim for is believability.

The Song of the Day is “Blinded By The Light” from Bruce Springsteen’s outstanding “Live In Dublin” album. See a video on DailyMotion.

2 thoughts on “1589 – Blinded By The Light”

  1. Excellent processing and an outstanding explanation of same. It is a mystery to me why some photographers want to pretend that they are too “pure” to use Photoshop. It is a remarkable tool in the hands of an artist.

  2. I agree with Anita. This is a stunning image. Those photogs who try to remain “pure,” just didn’t graduate from the wet darkroom, lol. There are all sorts of tricks that printers used to resort to to enhance their prints. Even Ansel Adams used the tools and tricks of the wet darkroom to enhance his images.

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