After-Before Friday Forum Week 18

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.

Kent ABFriday Before Week 18

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).

Kent ABFriday Before 03A Week 18

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.

Kent ABFriday Before 02 Week 18

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.

Kent ABFriday Before 03B Week 18

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.

Kent ABFriday Before 03 Week 17

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.

Kent ABFriday After Week 18

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.

Kent ABFriday Before 03C Week 18

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.

13 thoughts on “After-Before Friday Forum Week 18

  1. Wow, this is amazing Robin, you did a stunning job editing this great shot; especially, removing that complicated construction structure. The magnificent result is worth the hard word; what a difference, congrats! Regarding ethical question, I think there is no issue at all in this case because, this is not a document about the restoration of the monument, and, eventually, that was a temporary situation that obviously might end in the image you finally got. Otherwise, that was the real vision you wanted to capture; so, it’s “your reality” and I find it valid. Congrats Robin!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is a beautiful image Robin. I am sure you did the right thing cleaning up the scaffolding. I didn’t notice it at first glance, but after you mentioned it I found it quite distracting, you have done an amazing job with it, worth all the had work and effort.


  3. Editing a photograph is half the job of taking the photo. Sometimes the image even with a great histogram doesn’t represent the scene the way you remember it and that is the job of the editing process. Saying this I feel that there are some lines in the sand that are different for each person. I don’t believe in adding details that were not there, for example rocks, people ect, although adding sky from another shot taken that day I would feel is ok.


    • Thanks for your thoughts. I agree that the line if different for everyone. Adding new things not there is yet another couple steps down the road. Another aspect is how the finished work is represented. Should a client express interest in a print of this image, they would be informed of how it got that way.


  4. Really amazing work here with the scaffolding, definitely worth spending all that time on it! It is disappointing when you cannot recreate exactly what you see, but you’ve done an excellent job in post processing here also with the colours. Thanks for sharing the steps! 🙂


  5. First of all, I am impressed with the quality of the image, which is best visible in close-ups. Amazing. As for the manipulating the image, where to draw the line? Once you change one thing, does it really matter where you go next? I guess it depends on the final product. If we are talking about modern Photoshop setting the standards of the physical beauty and influencing scores of young people, developing insecurities and unrealistic expectations – we need to draw the line. Using Photoshop (or any other program) for artistic purposes, I think we can step over that imaginary line. But who am I to judge what is artistic or not? All I know is you did an amazing job in post-processing. I can understand the need to remove the scaffolding, that is something that would bother me. But even if you left it, I wouldn’t mind, because the colors of the sky and the richness of the golden tones are beautiful.


    • Thanks very much for taking the time to send your thoughtful comments. You raise some excellent points and expressed them very well. I appreciate your contributions to the discussion. I hope to hear from you again.


  6. Hi Robyn, I love the final image, it is my belief that we create the image we want, either in camera or in photoshop. If however I was working as a commercial photographer then I create what my client wanted, or as a journalist then I would document the day and the scene. If I wanted to documenting the reconstruction work that was being done then the scaffolding would remain, if however I want to show the world the beauty of the monument with beautiful light of the day, then I would enhance to light and remove the distractions. For me, I used the tools as need to create the vision I want to show the world and purpose plays a roll in those decision.
    Now you have my thoughts on the subject. You do a wonderful job at explaining your work and the reason for your choices. I always appreciate your blog posts, even if I don’t get here as regularly as I would like! take care, Janice


    • Thanks very much Janice, for taking time to contribute these excellent comments. In particular, your points about the difference between a commercial photographer and a journalist were great additions to the discussion. It’s also been enlightening to follow your travels around the globe. I’m not quite sure how you do it, but I always enjoy reading your posts.


  7. Three days, Robin. You were a man with a mission! And I absolutely love the final image as a result not only of your color choices but your choice to remove the scaffolding. As others have commented, the photo was not about the restoration and the scaffolding served merely as a distraction from an otherwise wonderfully rendered scene.

    You raise the ever-debated and interesting question about how far into post-processing it is ethical to go. To me, it depends on your purpose in taking the shot in the first place. If you are a photojournalist, then the final image should reflect the scene as is, nothing removed/nothing added. But for the rest of us, I believe the decision comes down to artistic preference. I suppose it’s easier to defend removing unwanted objects from a scene; as for additions, I think it depends what those might be. Some things are innocuous – like adding a balloon to a shot of a fair. Others not necessarily so – adding a person to a street shot for instance. Apart from the ethical discussion that surrounds photographing people without their knowledge and consent, certainly adding a person from one photo into a different one crosses all ethical bounds.

    Thanks, Robin, for yet another wonderful ABFriday post.


    • Thanks so much Stacy, for those very kind words and also for your comments on where the lines should be drawn when we get to the post-processing phase. The discussion among those who submitted comments has been really interesting and some very well-crafted points have been made. ABFRiday is looking good!

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s