Stacy Fischer’s blog Visual Venturing hosts the weekly After-Before Friday Forum that provides a unique opportunity for photographers to exchange ideas about post-processing their images. I have found these exchanges to be extremely instructive. This week’s Forum will be up later this morning and can be found here.
Original Raw Image
Nearly always, my goal in post-processing is to create an image that is a close representation to what I was seeing when I was taking the photograph. But every so often, I am tempted to create a scene the way I wished it had been. Usually, I manage to resist this inclination but not in the case of my submission this week. The “Before” image above shows the original RAW image of the Washington Monument in the late afternoon of early March 2013. An incredible shaft of golden sunlight was illuminating the monument as the dark clouds of a clearing storm moved toward the east. I’ve been at that spot many times, but had never seen light this dramatic before. But in capturing the image, it was necessary to choose an exposure (based on a careful check of the histogram on the camera’s LCD display) that minimized the loss of detail. (Technical data: Nikon D800E on tripod, 24-70mm f/2.8 lens extended to 35mm; exposure 1/200th sec. @f/7.1 at ISO 200)
The image above obviously does not show the dramatic lighting and dark clouds, so some adjustments were necessary in Adobe Camera Raw (ACR). The screen capture of the ACR dialog window below shows the adjustments that were made (Exposure: -0.30, Whites: +19; Blacks: -44; Clarity: +26; Vibrance: +24).
Adjustments made in Adobe Camera Raw
These global changes brought the scene closer to what I was seeing when I took the picture, but a little more work was needed and I moved the image into Photoshop. The sky was still too light and the golden color of the sun was too understated. The first step was a Curves Adjustment Layer to darken the sky. The screen capture below illustrates this step. The foreground and the monument were masked so the adjustment only affected the sky.
Curves Adjustment Layer
The second step was to correct the color of the sunlight on the scene and this required only a modest increase with a Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer. The screen capture shown below illustrates that adjustment, an increase of only +8. Given the small size of this image, the difference is hardly noticeable, but in a large print, it would make a difference. The blend mode in both adjustment layers was Normal. I don’t usually select that mode, but I always check to see the effect and in both cases, I preferred the effects of Normal instead of Luminosity for the curves layer and Normal instead of Saturation for the Hue/Sat layer.
Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer
The results of these steps are shown in the image below. It is a faithful rendition of the scene as I saw it when I took the photograph.
But there is still a problem, and a fairly serious one. While not terribly obvious in this small size, a full screen version on a 27-inch monitor clearly reveals the presence of a considerable and annoying amount of construction paraphernalia. The image below gives a better sense of the scope of the problem.
Detail of Scaffolding and Fence
I guess this is what they call an ethical conundrum. If this image was to be printed in a size (e.g., 18” X 24” or larger), the construction activity would be obnoxious. I decided to give it a try, rationalizing that it would be a learning experience. What I did not bargain for was that this “learning experience” would last for nearly three days. Lacking knowledge of any elegant solution, I applied the Photoshop equivalent of brute force. Only 3 Photoshop tools were used to remove the offending material from the site and none will be a surprise to Photoshop users. They were the Healing Brush, the Clone tool, and the Edit>Content>fill procedure. The first two are well known actions to remove flaws or unwanted objects from a scene. The third is less well known but often can be an incredibly powerful assistant as the photographer changes roles from faithful recorder of reality to creator of something that never existed. The result of these efforts is shown below.
Final Image After “Clean-up”
Not all evidence of the renovation was removed as is shown in the detailed section below. While the “cleaned” version seems to be an improvement, it’s reasonable to ask if it was worth the effort.
Detail of Final Image
Comments on the results are most welcome and thoughts on the ethical question would also be interesting to hear. Please visit Stacy Fischer’s post with the submissions of some very talented photographers when it appears later this morning.