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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