In my last post, I spoke about how photos can lie to us. It prompted me to think about the digital process of altering photos for a variety of purposes. I’ll admit something to you: I’m not a big photoshopper. In fact, my skills in that specific area are rather lacking! But I do use programs like Adobe Lightroom to process RAW files on a regular basis. So, for this post, and possibly future posts, I thought it would be interesting to look at some before and after photos in the digital darkroom.

I used to be against post processing entirely. I was so hard on myself that if a photo wasn’t even framed correctly, I’d discard it as inferior. I did this in the old film days too. But a little knowledge can go a long way towards informing a change in behaviour. Once I realised that the camera experience, film or digital, is imperfect, I allowed myself to loosen up some of my own rules.

Why is photography imperfect? Our eyes are complex instruments. They can adjust rapidly to changes in contrast and micro-contrast so that every scene is balanced and every shadow contains detail. Modern digital sensors cannot do this well at all by comparison to our eyes (even film has limits, though it often has greater latitude than digital). The technology is certainly getting better though, and manipulating RAW images allows us to reveal more and more details in high contrast areas that would simply have been mush some years ago.

Below, I’ve pasted a before (left side) and after (right side) photo. It’s the ground floor bar of the Pan Pacific Hotel in Singapore. Click on the image to make it bigger.

Pan Pacific Hotel
Pan Pacific Hotel – before and after (Sony RX100)

The original photo looks pretty dull and flat doesn’t it? It’s not what my eye saw at the time. I remember a lot more colour. More pinks, more oranges, and more purples. The before photo seems mostly brown and yellow. The shadow areas are pretty heavy, and the highlights are quite glaring. Opening it in Lightroom, I used the following basic settings to add some sparkle and depth to the original image.

Lighroom 5.3
Adobe Lightoom settings for Pan Pacific photo (Lightroom 5.3)

Before adjusting anything else, I used a custom White Balance to make the scene cooler. Seems odd that I would want to cool down the bar doesn’t it? Actually, those yellow lights dominated the scene so much that I wanted to cool everything down a touch and then pull out the Vibrancy later on. This is where it’s important to step out of the presets in the White Balance area and just play with the slider or the custom dropper. In fact, I often readjust the White Balance after I’ve pulled out all the colours!

I didn’t want to blow the highlights completely, so I hardly touched the Exposure slider. By boosting the Shadow slider, I was able to lift a lot of detail in the image and make the entire scene lighter. In doing this, I didn’t really need to push the exposure to the right.

I pulled the Saturation back a bit and pushed the Vibrancy. I find that this often produces nicely balanced colour results without being too garish. I’m also a big fan of split toning, and so I added a purple tinge to the shadows and a little brown to the highlights. I then adjusted the balance to taste, warming and toning the image in a more interesting way than if I had just used the White Balance controls alone.

Here’s the final image:

Pan Pacific Hotel bar (DSC-RX100 1/30--f/1.8 10.4mm)
Pan Pacific Hotel bar (DSC-RX100 1/30–f/1.8 10.4mm)

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Digital Darkroom : Pan Pacific Hotel
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10 thoughts on “Digital Darkroom : Pan Pacific Hotel

  • January 14, 2015 at 10:18 pm
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    An informative post … I do use some programmes to enhance my photography. There is no guilt, the original photograph is still taken as seen through my eyes. šŸ™‚

    Reply
    • January 15, 2015 at 2:01 pm
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      True enough! I used to feel worse about it than I do now. I process more now, just not very heavily. It’s not my style to be heavy handed.

      Reply
  • January 14, 2015 at 7:47 pm
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    I appreciate the before and after photos. Thanks for taking time to post the details on how you improved the color. I am really a beginner and do not even understand “white balance”. By the way, it is good to remind people to click on the image. It is amazing how the enlargement causes the beauty of the image to just pop out!!

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    • January 15, 2015 at 4:23 am
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      I think I need to remind people a lto more. I just naturally assume that people will click! They do look better. Our eyes adapt so quickly to light that we never really see problems associated with white balance. Imagine you’re under fluorescent lighting. The colour spectrum that it spits out is actyally quite blue. It tends towards the cooler side of light. Our eyes adapt to this and things look normal under that light. But the camera doesn’t adapt int he same way, so photos can take on a cool hue. This is where modern cameras automatically set their white balance. In the case of the fluoro light, the software onboad would detect that it is cooler light and compensate by adding some yellow to the final photo so that it looks more natural. In auto mode, cameras tend to do this anyway, but it’s a value you can set yourself on some cameras and in software. All you’re really doing is cooling down or warming up the picture most times.

      Reply
  • January 14, 2015 at 8:44 am
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    i envy your ability and patience to deal with all these settings. you have seen some of my paintings, often with very alike hues. fotographing them, that’s driving me crazy! the colours are mostly not responding to reality. i suppose i should take part in a photo course for beginners šŸ˜‰

    Reply
    • January 14, 2015 at 9:32 am
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      Accurate colour reporoduction is a challenging area. Photographers spend quite a bit of money on calibration devices so they can more accurately reproduce colour on the screen. You can get natural spectrum bulbs for this type of studio work so that they don’t miss significant parts of the colour spectrum. The other thing to do is make sure you also hold up a piece of white paper next to the painting you photograph so that you can use it as a test card for a custom white balance setting (like using the dropper tool in Lightroom). This will at least get you close to pretty accurate colour.

      Reply
      • January 19, 2015 at 6:07 am
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        steve, i have seen this good piece of advice earlier and appreciate it! i thought you might have sent something additionally. i’ll keep on trying and bury myself in experiments…

        Reply
        • January 19, 2015 at 3:54 pm
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          I’ll see what else I can find out for you šŸ™‚

          Reply
    • January 14, 2015 at 5:49 am
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      Thanks šŸ™‚ What is your normal workflow? Do you also use Lightroom?

      Reply

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