Stacy Fischer, of VisualVenturing, has launched an invitational series “After-Before Friday” in which participants may submit two versions of an image, one being the final result and the second being the original or starting point. The idea is to exchange ideas about a photographer’s conceptual vision and how she or he made it happen. Stacy’s weekly post will display a series of submitted image pairs, each with a brief description by the photographer. Each submitter also has the option to provide a link back to their own blog which would provide more details on the post-processing techniques used to achieve the final image.
Marine Corps Memorial, After Post-Processing
I really liked this idea and submitted these two images (After above) to the first running of this series. The subject is the Marine Corps Memorial just around sunset on September 4, 2009. A storm front was approaching from the southeast and I had a difficult lighting situation: a sky with dark clouds and bright open sections, an overall low light level, and a very dark main subject. The dynamic range exceeded the capability of the sensor to duplicate what the eye could see. My plan was to expose so that there would be at least some detail across the entire range and the actual scene could be restored during post-processing.
Marine Corps Memorial, Original RAW File
The “Before” image above is the image after a few tweaks (clarity and vibrance) in Adobe Camera Raw, but is essentially the way it looked immediately after download. From here all changes were made in Photoshop, although there are other ways this could be accomplished.
Step 1: A Curves adjustment layer (blend mode: luminosity) was used to darken the image as shown above. A layer mask was added to retain the original brightness of the gold leaf insignia and lettering on the base of the statue.
Result after Step 2
Step 2: A Curves adjustment layer (blend mode: normal) was used to provide additional darkness to the clouds. A mask was added to block any change to the statue, foreground and trees.
Result after Step 3
Step 3: A selection tool was used to isolate the flag, then I employed another Curves adjustment layer (blend mode: screen) to brighten the flag.
Step 4: A selection tool was used to isolate the green signs in lower left, and then I added another Curves adjustment layer (blend mode: normal) to darken the signs.
Result after Step 5
Step 5: I used a selection tool with a very soft feather to create an oval mask centered on the statue and extending out toward the corners. Then a Curves adjustment layer (blend mode: multiply) to slightly darken the corners. It is pretty subtle, especially at this size and the objective is to avoid making it noticeable. But the purpose is to help bring the viewer’s attention to the center of the image.
Those who have worked in a “wet” darkroom recognize that these techniques (Steps 1-5) are what used to be called dodging and burning. At this point, the digital darkroom made it possible to consider a creative issue: should the bystanders and small dog on the right be allowed to remain in this scene? This is not anything I would have considered in the old days of film and chemicals because I (and most photographers) lacked the skill and resources.
In this case, the decision was to remove them because they tended to detract from the composition rather than strengthen it. This is particularly noticeable when the image is printed in a large size.
Most of my images don’t involve nearly this much change from the original. But even with all of the work, anyone who was there would agree that this is pretty close to what it looked like at the moment of the exposure (except for the tragic disappearance of the bystanders and dog).
My thanks to Stacy Fisher for her efforts in organizing the Before-After Friday series. I am looking forward to the submissions of others and learning from their experiences.