A few days ago while flying from Seattle to Salt Lake City, our airplane passed over the Cascade Mountains. I took about ten photographs of the mountain range, but knew that they weren’t going to amount to much because of the hazy sky. After returning from my trip, I decided to take a swing at creating a usable image from my original RAW file using Adobe Lightroom 5 and Nik Silver Efex Pro 2.
The reason hazy photographs look drab is that they lack contrast. In other words, the image doesn’t have significant separation between the shadows and the highlights. This low contrast scenario is readily apparent if you look at the histogram. Notice how in the original picture, the histogram is bunched up in the middle of the graph. This means that the shadows are not black and the highlights aren’t white.
The solution to giving your image more contrast is to spread out the histogram so the shadows are darker and the highlights are brighter. There are a few ways to do this, but the quickest and easiest is to simply adjust the contrast slider in your editing program. The contrast tool is a fairly blunt tool and I rarely recommend using it because it doesn’t have much finesse. However, in a situation like this photograph, I recommend it. Increasing the contrast effectively spreads out the histogram so the highlights are brighter and the shadows are darker.
The next step is to add some micro-contrast so features like mountain ridges have more definition. Do this by increasing the Clarity slider or by adjusting Structure in plugins like the Nik Collection.
Finally, to really make a hazy photograph look good, my suggestion is to convert it to black and white. I’ve found that color photographs tend not to look great when they started as very hazy images. Converting the image to B&W allows you to add even more contrast without messing with the saturation or color balance of the image.
I was in Utah this last weekend for a friend’s wedding and took an extra day to shoot images near Park City and Wasatch Mountain State Park. I was staying in the Heber Valley, and could see some red showing up in the mountains from maple trees that were starting to turn. With my curiosity piqued, I thought there might be some aspens that had started to turn yellow, so I made a quick exploratory trip in search of an image of fall colors.
Driving up into the mountains on an old mountain road, I parked my car at around 8,000 feet elevation and trekked into an aspen grove. To my dismay, the trees were as green as can be with no hint of autumn color. So, I did what every good photographer does when they don’t find what they are looking for; I changed my goals. Rather than halting my creative process because the landscape scene wasn’t panning out, I simply changed my approach and decided to make what was in front of me look beautiful. Here are a few images from my failed fall colors aspen grove trip.
A few days ago I took the new Nikon D600 to Destin, Florida to put it through it’s paces. My kit was simple, consisting of the D600 along with three lenses; the 14-24mm f2.8, the 24-70mm f2.8 and the 70-200mm f2.8.
One of my goals during the photo walk was to get a feel for how the camera worked for HDR photography. The D600 will only auto-bracket three frames in a sequence, compared to 9 frames in a Nikon D800 or D4. Previous Nikon pro-sumer cameras like the Nikon D7000 and the Nikon D90 also bracketed three frames in a sequence, but they were limited to two stops of exposure variation between each frame. A new feature on the D600 is that it allows up to three stops of exposure variation between each frame, which is approaching the bracketing range of the higher-end pro cameras.
I used the bracketing function on the D600 quite a bit and configured the camera to take three images, each 3.0 stops apart. This setting “3F 3.0” is just enough spread to cover most HDR scenarios such as this image of the staircase below. I performed the HDR merge in Nik HDR Efex Pro 2, then converted it to black and white in Nik Silver Efex Pro 2.
Another one of my goals during the trip was to better understand the dynamic range of the D600 RAW files and see if its images are comparable to the Nikon D800. I’ve been amazed at what I’ve been able to pull out of the D800 (see this D800 post) so I shot a few high contrast images with the D600 that would put the camera to the test. In this first shot of the fishing boat, I shot a single frame in 14-bit RAW, then processed the shot using Adobe Lightroom and the Detail Extractor filter in Nik Color Efex Pro 4. As I expected, the D600 has an excellent ability to capture a full range from shadows to highlights.
This was a pretty good result, but I wanted to really push the camera to see what was possible. For the next image, I took a severely underexposed image of a hotel and worked it over in Lightroom to see what I could pull out. Sure enough, the RAW file on a D600 had more than enough data to produce a beautiful shot. See the before/after below.
I’m really liking this little Nikon D600 camera. The 24MP RAW files are excellent and I’m very pleased with the camera’s dynamic range. As I’ve said before, I love the smaller camera body for travel. This camera is a winner.
Always take your camera with you. Always.
Such has been my mantra for years now and I’m happy I had one with me yesterday for a 30-minute ferry boat ride between Port Townsend, WA and Whidbey Island, WA. My wife, kids and I had just finished up a couple days visiting friends and family on Whidbey and were returning home in the late afternoon. The sky was a bit hazy, but the light was perfect for beautiful shots of maritime traffic in the Puget Sound.
The Whidbey Island ferry (the Kennewick) crosses the main channel of water leading to the shipping ports of Seattle, Tacoma and Olympia. Each day, you’ll see traffic ranging from cruise ships to container ships to tugs to everything else in between. Our ferry boat captain was on an intersection course with the cargo ship Mariner (above), so he slowed down and crossed behind to let the Mariner pass by. I was standing on the fourth deck of the ferry, which helped produce a great photo of the cargo ship from a higher perspective. I processed the image in Photoshop, then brought it into Nik Color Efex Pro 4 to bring out the micro details in the clouds. Finally, I converted the image to black and white in Nik Silver Efex Pro 2.
For this image of the Port Townsend Paper Corporation paper mill (below), I photographed it with a Nikon D800, 70-200mm f2.8, and a Nikon 1.4x TC. Behind the paper mill, you’ll see the lower snow-capped peaks of the Olympic Mountain Range. I was drawn to the texture of the steam and the detail in the clouds. The image looked much better in black and white, so I processed the shot using the same method as the Mariner cargo ship (above).
For the final image below, I wanted to convey a simple NW scene involving a fishing vessel and a sail boat. Behind the two is the subtle outline of Whidbey Island, giving a sense of scale and perspective to the photograph. For this image, I used a Nikon D800, 70-200mm f2.8, and a 1.4x TC. Again, processing was the same as before.
Keep shooting my friends.
One of the hardest things to do in photography is take compelling shots at mid-day. Last week, I was traveling from Mono Lake California through Yosemite National Park, and we crested Tioga Pass right around 12pm. The weather was “severe clear,” which means there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Terrible for landscape photography.
At this viewpoint of Half Dome, I felt compelled to take a photo, even though the lighting was difficult. In order to make the shot somewhat useable, I perfumed a bit of post-processing in software. My first step was to open the image in Lightroom 4 and increase detail in the shadows. Next, was to send the photo to Nik Color Efex Pro 4 using the Detail Extractor filter. Finally, I sent the photo to Nik Silver Efex Pro 2 and applied this slight sepia coloring to the image.
The moral of the story is that when the weather is severe clear, the solution just might be black and white!
More Nikon D800 fun. Just to see how far I could take a Nikon D800 image, I processed this black and white from a single dramatically underexposed shot. The processed photo is above and the unprocessed, underexposed shot below.
Nikon D800, 14-24mm f2.8. Processed in Adobe Camera Raw, then Nik Color Efex Pro 4 using Detail Extractor. Then, converted to Black and White in Nik Silver Efex Pro 2.
Location: Purdy Bridge, Purdy, Washington, USA.
I love converting my images to black and white. There is a timeless quality and a sense of abstraction that we just can’t see with traditional color photography. Many black and white images are greatly improved by having areas of dense black in the composition. These solid black areas anchor the photo and can add drama to otherwise boring images.
For this blog post, I want to show you how to create a strong monochrome image while still keeping solid black areas in the composition. In this example of a small cabin in the Great Smoky Mountains NP, my initial image (below) didn’t have much detail in the interior walls. I knew that I wanted to brighten up the interior, but I also knew that this would cause the image to lose drama.
My first step was to brighten up these walls and bring out detail. One of my favorite tools for this is a plug-in called Detail Extractor, found in Nik Color Efex Pro 4 (CEP4). Since my image was already opened in Photoshop, I activated the CEP 4 plugin called Detail Extractor and moved the sliders until I was happy with the amount of detail in the wood and the brightness of the interior. The shot below demonstrates the enhanced image after Detail Extractor.
The next step was to convert the image to black and white. There are as many ways to convert an image to black and white as there are photographers in the world! One of my favorite software packages is Nik Silver Efex Pro 2. I really enjoy the wide range of adjustments in this tool, especially a slider adjustment called “Amplify Blacks” found in the Contrast area. This slider allows you to maintain the tonalities (brightness) of the mid tones and highlights, while adding a significant amount of density in the blacks. It is similar to adjusting the “shadows” slider down in Lightroom/Aperture, but it is even more targeted to the very darkest tones in the image.
My final two steps were to add a border and do a bit of noise reduction. I used the border creation tool in Silver Efex Pro 2 to get the look I was after. To reduce the noise, I used the Nik Dfine plugin for Photoshop. The final image is shown below.
For your next black and white conversion, I encourage you to add areas of solid black in order to create a sense of drama. This approach doesn’t work for every image, but it can breathe life into an otherwise boring shot.
I’m really having a good time with Nik Software’s new Silver Efex Pro 2 and HDR Efex Pro. I’m loving how the software renders scenes so beautifully and with so little effort on my part. The original color photo was processed from three exposures in HDR Efex Pro. Then, I converted the image to black and white in the beta version of Silver Efex Pro 2.
I took the image a few months ago on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State, USA. There is a really neat tide pool area called Tongue Point, about an 45 minutes out of Port Angeles, WA. The afternoon light was absolutely beautiful and the clouds just amazing.
Nik Silver Efex Pro is one of my favorite programs for creating black and white images. The great news is that Nik has just publically announced Silver Efex Pro 2. I’ve been using the beta version to create some black and white conversions and can’t wait for the final version. Here are a couple samples.
More info here: www.niksoftware.com/sep