Yesterday, David and Lynn and I went for a leisurely stroll on section A of the Billy Goat Trail, in anticipatory honor of Lynn’s birthday today (Happy Birthday, O Glorious One!). Of course I brought my camera along with me, and made a few photographs along the way. It was—naturally—overcast, and I wasn’t feeling especially inspired.
This is the last photograph I took. My eye was caught by the droop of branches over the C & O canal and the almost imperceptible haze of color imparted by new leaves. I liked the reflections in the water and the lacy pattern etched against the sky.
I knew the image was going to be problematic as I took it. The light was flat and dull, there was an awful lot of detail but very little contrast in the mid-section of the picture. My vantage point wasn’t ideal and I was using my normal lens (the only one I brought with me, as I had deliberately decided to travel light).
But because digital film is effectively free, I shot the picture anyway. Better to have the photo and not use it than skip it and wish you hadn’t.
Now let’s have a look at what the camera “saw.” Here’s what the RAW file looked straight out of the camera and into Aperture with no ‘additional’ processing (obviously the raw file requires some software interpretation to be seen at all):
Here’s how I modified the RAW file.
I applied a standard preset of modifications that I do to virtually every image on import: I zero out the black point, I add some definition for local contrast, and a moderate amount of overall sharpening.
Then I adjusted the exposure. I used the “Recovery” slider to bring in information at the brightest end of the exposure, and also reduced the overall brightness of the image. I used the “Highlights” slider to calm the hottest portions of the image even more, and then adjusted the high and low tonal width to 100% and reduced the mid-level contrast just a smidge.
The sky area revealed some chromatic aberration, so I tweaked that a bit, and then used the color slices of the “Levels” adjustment to modify the color balance at the low and high ends.
A “Polarize” brush helped bring in more of the sky and branch values. A couple of points of “Vibrancy” brought out some of the color in the image. The final touch was a very light pass with a “Saturation” brush on the colored leaves.
I decided to crop it to put more emphasis on the middle two-thirds of the image. The filigree of branches in the sky and water are a kind of decorative border. Even so, this picture works a lot better the bigger it is, because the detail really makes it.
In short: the processed version shows not only what I photographed, but also how I saw it. It brings out the elements of the scene that I saw in my mind’s eye, and shows you why I chose to take the photograph.
Most of the images I post here don’t undergo as much post-processing as this one did. But it often takes me an hour or more of tinkering to get a photo to a state I’m relatively content with. And frequently, when I revisit an image days, weeks, or months later, I find I’m inclined to reconsider and modify the choices I made initially. I’m still learning.