Photo of the Day/Photo Tip: ‘Saving’ a tough exposure – 2 tools

Today’s Photo of the Day is a really tough one.  The original exposure is shot into the sun and at a distance.  This required both a crop and the use of a lot of post processing to ‘see’ the subject elephant.  Why do it?  Well two reasons:  First, the elephant posture was good, so if the image could be saved, one may have a keeper shot.  Secondly, it is always good to understand the limits of post processing recovery.  These shots are probably at that limit.  Here is our original conversion from RAW:

Original image - shot with Canon 30D, Canon 100-400L lens at 320mm and 1/3200 sec @ f/5.6

As you can see from the EXIF information, shooting into the sun created a very fast shutter speed.  This is good, but a quick view of the histogram should have told the photographer (me) that this image needed more exposure to properly recover the dark regions.  These dark areas lead to high noise when post processing.  It should also be noted that the elephant is too centered in the frame to create a good composition. This latter problem can be fixed with minor image rotation and some cropping and was done for all of the below examples.

The first attempt to recover is the use of Topaz Adjust to raise the lighting and recover details.  Levels were also used to raise lighting and a curve adjustment was applied to a layer of just the foreground elephant.  Here is the result:

Topaz Adjust 'save' - In viewing this shot, I feel the foreground elephant has been lightened a little too much to look natural in this scene.

Another way to save the highlights and dark regions is to use HDR (high dynamic range) adjustment.  To do this, I used Photomatix software.  Typically, one needs at least three images to perform an HDR – one at correct exposure, one at 2 stops over exposed and one 2 stops under exposed.  One can simulate this by using Lightroom or Photoshop an making exposure adjustments.  I’ve successfully used this method in the past, so I thought I would try this method again.  When I do HDR, I always blend the HDR image with a traditionally processed version in Photoshop by adjusting opacity of the layers.  I feel this gives a more natural look. Here is the result:

HDR version of the image. This probably looked most like my eye actually saw the scene.

I am not thrilled with either of these as they stand but feel I have recovered this pretty nicely.  This was probably the limit of recovery of low light.  Unfortunately, the colors don’t quite look natural in any of the images..  Perhaps a better way to save this image is to do one of the above techniques and then convert to black and white.  Here is the B&W conversion of the HDR version:

Black and White conversion of the HDR image

That’s my post.  I’m not sure which version is the best, I will allow you to comment on your opinions.  Thanks for reading.

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