Seeing Differences

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Cool Summer Dawn — Jordan Lake, NC

By the time you read this, it’s been a few weeks since WordPress (host for this web site) changed and expanded the functionality of the editor used to create the various blogs posts and pages within the site. As with most things with which we are familiar, we’re disappointed and frustrated with the change, and the loss of that familiarity, in this case, what actions are necessary to accomplish various tasks in creating these posts and pages. But as I became more familiar with, and explored some of the additional capabilities of the new editor, I was pleasantly surprised.

Two things available (so far, as I continue to explore) really stand out; one is to better illustrate differences a particular technique makes on an individual image, and the other is the ability to embed the videos on a You Tube Channel directly onto a page and view them without leaving the site. Click here to see the changes to that page and see all the videos available on my channel (so far).

Earlier this year, I posted an image to which I made some slight changes, and showed the before and after images separately to illustrate those changes. However, since they were slight, it was difficult to really see those differences, and more than one reader indicated their inability to see them. This problem has been addressed in the new editor with the ability to show a photograph with a slider that can be used by the reader to view the before and after results of processing.

Although the image at the top is a simple rendition of the first cool morning of late summer, with hints of mist rising from the still water of the lake, it is used here solely to illustrate how much can be done to draw out what resides within a RAW file. In this particular photo, the differences are dramatic and easily seen in the image itself (see the first image below with the slider to view the before and after files), but it is also important to see the differences in the histograms, from the original RAW file, to the completed post-processed file (directly below).

With the ability of today’s cameras to show histograms (some even having separate red, green and blue channels), the general practice of exposing for the highlights, or exposing to the right, makes it easier to get the most out of the exposure. Basically, when metering, keeping the highlights away from the right edge to retain detail, and also making sure that the histogram is not crowded against the left edge, blocking up detail in the shadows, should provide an accurate exposure. Even so, various global adjustments can be made in your software to make the histogram even better. Comparing the two histograms above, there is a huge difference after the processing in the right histogram, with the brightest elements moved further to the right, the lower values shifted away from the left edge, and all the values much more evenly spread throughout the tonal range.

Cool Summer Dawn — Jordan Lake, NC © jj raia

Note — It should be mentioned here that if you have successfully pushed the highlights just off the right side of the histogram, yet still find plenty of crowding and touching on the left side, then you might want to consider taking an additional frame increasing the exposure by a stop or two to ensure that the dark values do not touch the left edge of the graph, and then blending the two (or more as necessary) frames in either High Dynamic Range software, or in Photoshop using separate layers with appropriate masking.


So now, global negative (file) development that was previously done in the darkroom using chemicals, are now done in our preferred software. As illustrated by the histograms above, the global light values have been moved closer to the center making changes to exposure, highlights, shadows, etc. in Lightroom, that was previously done with chemical and timing adjustments (plus or minus) during negative development. But today, we can actually see the graph on our computer screen, fine-tuning adjustments, to visually arrive at the desired tonal range and values, instead of the informed guesswork of chemical formulas and estimated durations. The histogram is a powerful tool at our disposal to optimize our “negative”

Below are a number of examples of the before and after images from some recent posts that better illustrate the differences from the original RAW file, and that of the post-processed file. Below each, is a link to the original post that explains in greater detail, the changes applied to create the final image. The first two are similar to the one above where there is a great tonal range, but with histograms crowded to the left side, and originally seen as dark or underexposed.


Go to Original Post
Go to Original Post
Go to Original Post

In the image above, I’m still not quite sure which of the two renditions is preferred, and a decision can always be put off if a print is needed. I suppose it depends on finally determining what the star of the photo is to be: either highlighting the trees in the fog, or the fog around the trees. For right now, I’ll live by the motto: “Don’t do today what you can put off until tomorrow.”

Go to Original Post

A while back, I mentioned a process I gleaned from Alister Benn’s You Tube Channel, Expressive Photography, and illustrated the difference in a few individual photos, and especially in the post with the stormy image above. Simply stated, the technique is to lower the exposure quite a bit, and then increase the highlights. An enhanced, ominous sky, better detail in the rocks, and a brighter, more centered focus were the problems that needed attention to breathe life into the original, failed processing in the image above. It may be helpful to get the additional information provided in the original post to better understand what went on during the processing, and I encourage folks to read that one as well, even if you recall its basic information.

For the image below I tried the same process on another disappointing photograph from a number of years ago, but this time using a more gentle approach to see what came of it with a photo (below) initially without a great amount of contrast. The results afterward showed a definite increase in the color density and contrast in the sky, even though the contrast and saturation sliders were never altered from the original processed file. And although the image remains severely lacking, it was a good teaching moment to know how to achieve the intended goal of elevating the drama in the scene, as was done in the stormy skies above this one.

Pastel Dawn — Blue Ridge Parkway, NC © jj raia

Final note — in order to make this blog a bit more interactive, if there is any subject, technique or discussion that you would like to include in future posts, please make those known in the comments below. Hopefully, this blog will become a dialogue from time to time with input from the opposite side of the computer screen.

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