Photo Tip / Photo of the Day – Using Topaz Adjust AND HDR to save backlit images

Today’s tip is another photo challenge.  This young elephant gave us a nice posture, but there are several things wrong with the image.  Biggest of these is the severe backlighting.  The ‘rump’ of the other elephants presents a problem and, last but not least the elephants are headed in the wrong direction to create a nice flow to the image.  Here is our original:

Young Elephant Along the Chobe River by Justin Eleazer

In processing the image, first thing we did was a horizontal flip.  Next we cloned out the tails of the older elephants.  Now the real work was needed.  We didn’t want to lose the color and detail of the water, but we wanted to pick up textures of the elephant.  To help this, we processed the RAW image with two different exposures in Lightroom (Bridge would have also worked).  The first, we opened just as is seen above.  The second version, we increased the exposure one and a half stops.  This second exposure setting lost the water detail, but helped us see the elephant detail.  Using a layered mask, we combined the two images, using the water from the less exposed, but elephant from the more exposed.

This looked pretty good, but we wanted more character on the elephant.  Our next step was to ‘tone map’ a copy of the image in Photomatix HDR software.  This brought out detail further, but had a fake, grunge look.  We took this image and made it another layer with our above exposures.  We then lowered the opacity so we had a blended effect that was more appealing.

Wanting even more from the image, we ‘flattened’ the file, made another duplicate layer and opened this latest layer in Topaz Adjust 4.  We liked the look of the ‘clarity’ preset and used it.  Once more we lowered this layer’s opacity until we had a more realistic feel to the image.  At this point, we had something pretty good, but the foreground banks of the Chobe River really distracted and this shot is more about textures, so we decided to convert the image to black and white.  The overall effect was deemed good.

As a last step, we cloned out the rumps of the larger elephants, which added nothing to our seen.  We feel that the ‘BEFORE’ shot was just an elephant following the herd.  We feel that the “AFTER” shot looks like a youngster coming home from his playing in the water.  Our image is now a statement.   Comments appreciated.

'Coming Home from the Playground at the River' by Justin Eleazer

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