DCR Workshop: Post-Processing to Get What You Want

by Reads (110)

As photographers, we know the best way to capture an image is to “get it right in the camera.” Sometimes, that just isn’t possible. Maybe you didn’t have the right lens, or the lighting was awful. Perhaps that quick shot you took of your significant other was perfect – except for the street light or tree branch that seems to be growing out of his or her head. Thank goodness for post-processing.

Let’s take a look at a photo I made of the main arcade inside the Venetian Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. If you’ve been there, this view is standing near the casino, looking toward the hotel front desk area. Shooting this at 5:35 a.m. on a chilly (for Vegas) January morning partially explains the absence of tourists. I was lucky, too. This photograph demonstrates the value of knowing how to properly post-process with Adobe Photoshop.

Getting the shot
The image was captured with a Canon 1D Mark III DSLR and 16-35mm f/2.8L lens, at 17mm and stopped down to an aperture of f/20. The rig was mounted a Gitzo tripod outfitted with a Really Right Stuff 55mm ballhead. The exposure, triggered with a Canon remote, was 13 seconds at ISO 100. I was shooting in RAW. To eliminate camera shake, mirror lockup was enabled.

To make this shot, I first asked for and received permission from the front desk to set up my camera and tripod, so long as I assured the Venetian the image would not be sold as a commercial offering. There wasn’t much time, so I quickly set up my tripod and mounted the camera. Unable to set a custom white balance, I opted for the camera’s tungsten setting.

As you can see, there are several things terribly wrong in the “as-captured” version. For one thing, the color is just awful (but the lighting levels are wonderfully uniform). The image is flat and lacks contrast. And check out the way those massive pillars are leaning backward. That happened because I tilted the camera up toward the ceiling. If I had kept the camera perfectly level, the pillars would have retained their verticality, but of course, most of the ceiling would have been cut off – and this image is all about the ceiling murals. A specialty tilt-shift lens would have yielded proper perspective, but I did not have one with me at the time. Also, if I had shot a photo of an X-Rite ColorChecker card, I could have used those 24 standard colors as targets for color correcting in Photoshop; alas, when packing for my trip I didn’t think that far ahead.

With the RAW Canon CR2 image brought into Adobe Camera Raw, I first set out to make some overall global adjustments. To get the white balance in the ballpark, I used the eyedropper to click on various areas. Two that worked well were the grayish ceiling surrounding the exit sign at the left and the painted balance between the pillars and the curved barrel-vault ceiling. The latter worked better, though it was by no means perfect. Adjusting the white balance tint helped, too.

Other adjustments were made to the Exposure, Recovery, Fill Light, Blacks, Vibrance, and Saturation sliders. There’s no rule – I experimented until achieving a satisfactory result (below). Keep in mind that the painted portion of the curved barrel vault ceiling is ivory, not white.

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