Jan 272013

My health is still flaky and so I didn’t go out on Friday. Honestly, it was a shame, because it was a bright, sunny day and I really would have liked to take the afternoon off and drive up one of the mountains around Villach. I actually did take the afternoon off, but only to sleep and try to recover.

The images that I took, I took in the morning, using the 75 and 150 Olympus lenses, my most expensive and my cheapest lens 🙂

And exactly there came the problem. Standing on our terrace I took some images of the mountains, using long lenses, and you know how it is, with haze and distance come low contrast and that horrible bluish cast. Actually it’s not really a cast, it’s just what mountains look like when viewed through an enormous amount of hazy air. If you use a wide-angle lens, it does not trouble you, there is enough normally colored foreground and the haze looks natural, because it increases the feeling of distance.

Things get weird when you use a long lens and suddenly don’t have “normal” colored foreground as a reference. What can you do?

It turns out you can do pretty much. Here is what I did in Lightroom:

I loaded the images and applied “Auto Tones”. This gave me good contrast and garish blue colors. Horrible. Then I applied “Auto White Balance”. Still horrible, but better. The blue in the forest and the shadows was gone, actually the forest looked pretty good, pretty natural, but of course this had completely whacked the snow and the clouds. They were much too yellow now. I further adjusted white balance manually, concentrating on the trees only, completely ignoring snow and clouds.

Then I applied split toning. Normally I only use this to tone B&W images, but in such drastic cases of color cast, it can also be used to correct colors.

I used a cool blue of around 220 (numeric value for the hue) for the highlights (which are mostly snow and clouds) and a slightly reddish gold of about 52 for the shadows.

You really have a lot of parameters here: value and saturation of highlight color, value and saturation of shadow color, and then there is the balance slider. You can use it to determine the crossover between highlight and shadow.

I have added two screenshots from Lightroom, to show you the settings used on these two pictures. Note that I have also shifted the blues slightly into purple, darkened and desaturated them.

I think the results are pretty impressive, the controls are extremely powerful, although they are slightly indirect. If you want to achieve a particular effect, it’s not always clear what’s the best way. You really have to experiment and to find out what does what. In the case of these two images, I already had two versions on Flickr last night, but today I was unsatisfied, tried again and now I really like what I’ve got.

Of course split toning can also be used for artistic purposes and that’s how many people use it routinely. Again, this is not Photoshop, but it is still amazing how much you can do in Lightroom.

The Song of the Day is “Out Of The Blue” from Neil Young’s 1979 live album “Rust Never Sleeps”. Hear it on YouTube.

  4 Responses to “2292 – Out Of The Blue”

  1. Nice work indeed. It’s impressive how perfectly you managed to “cut” through the haze. LR is quite an impressive piece of software.

    • Actually it’s interesting that it is so hard at all. After all, it can’t be too difficult to figure out what hazy air does to light. I wonder why there is no standard filter that you just apply. We have dozens of useless sepia filters, but why not something like that? Give it a distance slider and a haze density adjustment and that must be it. Or maybe not?

      Actually what I did is certainly not a correct reversal of the modification the atmosphere applies to light. It’s a good looking fake, but still, I can’t really figure out why the process should not be reversible, at least under the approximation that we look at something more or less flat.

      • I think it will become a lot easier in the future. Software programs (and cameras) are becoming incredibly smart and I can see the day when post-processing will simply be a button push, Instagram style. Well… speaking for myself 😉 As it is I am doing less and less processing in Photoshop. With LR, it might not be a button push but it’s getting close for some of the shots I take.

        I also concur with your view of sepia filters. Does anyone ever use those?!

        • Well, Adobe has a tradition of leaving old stuff in their programs. Think of all those old 8 bit only filters in Photoshop. With smart filters they are even forced to keep them for compatibility. Same with Lightroom. If you only store a recipe, you must always keep the ingredients ready. Sounds like a maintenance nightmare to me 😀

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