RAW image processing takes over.
The power of modern RAW processing software has saved the bacon for many photographers. Even severe adverse conditions offer reasonable photographic opportunities. Better equipment and more advanced software are making it possible for photographers to pull a masterpiece out of mediocrity.
Case in point is the waterfall on the north slopes of Rincon de la Vieja volcano in northern Costa Rica. The hike into the is waterfall is three miles long and sports a climb of some 3000 vertical feet. If you want to get in and out in daylight it means you will arrive at the waterfall around mid-day At roughly 10° latitude, the conditions are going to be bright tropical sun directly overhead-unless it rains or you have the benefit of cloud cover.
For a photographer, this is as bad as it gets. If you want to get a little motion blur in the water, you have to stop down like crazy, crank down your ISO, stack the ND filters and hope for passing cloud. No matter what you will have bright sun-lit reflections and deep shadows. Contrast is king here and the ability to control it is limited. Do your best. Shoot to hold the highlights and develop for the shadows. When I say develop, I mean process. For today’s article we are using Adobe’s Lightroom.
Looking at the before on the left and the after on the right you can see just how far RAW processing can take you on a file. I can assure you from having been there, that the scene on the right more closely resembles reality than the scene on the left. This image had extensive processing in Lightroom including Exposure, Recovery, Fill Light, Black, Vibrance, Saturation, Curves, Targeted Hue/Saturation/Lightness, Targeted Curves, Gradient Local Adjustments for Contrast and Exposure, Spot Removal, and some Local Brush Adjustments for Exposure. It has been color corrected with a Camera Profile and had some modest Vignetting applied.
This may seem like a lot of adjustments but think about it. We are doing this to the high-bit Canon 5D file before shoe-horning it into a Color Space and sending it to our image editing package in the form of a .tiff. The maximum advantage of the wealth of data in the file is at our disposal. Once we send it to Photoshop, Elements, PSP, Photo-Paint, or where ever, we begin to lose the advantage of all that data.
I would much rather start my image editing suite with the after image than try to coax the same adjustments out of the before image. There is just that much more room from which to work.
Rikk Flohr © 2009