ORIGINAL FISH POND LANDSCAPE
This week I'd like to continue the discussion of adjusting to new software in post-processing our images. This is a two-edged sword, balancing the frustrations of having to abandon or modify habitual and comfortable ways of working with the opportunity to try and learn something new. In the real world there are no magic bullets and the results attained with new software are usually very similar to your accustomed results. But there can be some advancement, especially if you keep your expectations low. This can ease the pain of learning the quirks of new software, especially if the endless cycle of new hardware and software has forced you into new versions you didn't even ask for.
ORIGINAL CLIFF PANORAMA
This is my recent struggle with adjusting to a new version of Lightroom that was forced on me by my new laptop which couldn't bear to deal with my perfectly adequate 15-year old Lightroom version. These two images will hopefully illustrate both the problems and opportunities of learning to do familiar things in new ways. The caveat is that of course there are many ways to achieve the same results, and that the "old" ways are usually hidden within new software. I find it somewhat amusing that the newest software still includes the cascading menus that were state of the art 25 years ago, even though young computer gurus would never even dream of using them. It is also comforting/frustrating that programs like Lightroom will even let you modify the new program to behave like the old one, if you are willing to go to the trouble of modifying the software in ways that will require consultation with a teenager.
These two images were captured in Hawaii four years ago in what seems like the "before" times. I took two walks on successive days on the Big Island, and a journey into my archives yielded these two images which I had previously ignored. the first image is of a Hawaiian's king fish pond, which were cleverly built along the coast to capture and support local fish for harvest right next to their former ocean homes. The second image illustrates how much the coast can vary on one island - these cliffs defy anyone to get close to the ocean unless you are willing to climb down what looks to be a ten-story ladder to get to the surf.
NEW LIGHTROOM VERSION
I modified the original to achieve this preferred version using my new version of Lightroom. I cropped the original to reduce amount of foreground and sky. In doing so both the left and right borders also moved in, placing the two outer trees much closer to the edge of the frame and thus placing more attention on the central palm. This is especially true on the right side, where the crop eliminates the black palm's crossing beyond the striped palm. I'm not sure that this is a plus, but I had to accept it to make the other changes. In the midst of four cockeyed palm trees I found the one horizon in the distance - the path on the other side of the pond - and straightened things out. Boosting the saturation in both the greens and the blues brought life to the pond and the central palm. Sharpening improved the entire image, but special exposure and texture changes on the right pond brought out its "tiger" stripes. Darkening the left palm, especially its left edge, reduced its impact on the entire image and allowed it to just serve as an edge on the left side.
"ON ONE'S" TAKE ON THE SAME IMAGE
I then brought the image into my tried and true "plug-in" for Lightroom from a Portland software company called "On One". This software can enhance an image in very specialized ways relating to adding contrast and sharpening to specific areas of the image in ways that are not impossible, but just more difficult, than in Lightroom. Fortunately this plug-in still works with the new Lightroom version, since I am also four years behind in On One as well. The results here are pretty subtle at this level of enlargement, but I think you can see even more emphasis on the right palm's markings and a subtle increase in the detail in the both the pond and the central palm's foliage. This kind of enhancement can be very tricky, since at low magnification it can be near impossible to see while a large enlargement can reveal ugly artifacts that don't seem to exist in smaller versions.
A NEW CROP
The small portion of sky remaining still bothered me. I tried to brush out the saturation that resulted when I saturated the pond, but I was still not convinced, and the answer became to change the aspect ratio to 4:5 from the standard 4:6. This brought even more attention to the central palm as the subject, since th was no more jungle, much less sky, at the top. The wider image also seemed to strengthen the two border trees.
"ON ONE" BLACK AND WHITE
It was time to try black and white to see if heightened contrast and detail could make up for the lack of color contrast. While I usually appreciate this bargain, in this case there were a few things I missed in the monochrome version. The extra detail in the pond made it seem much too crunchy. The right palm was certainly contrasty enough, but for once I missed the beige which seemed much lighter than the white in the black and white version. Finally the variations in the central palm foliage seemed just "dirty" in black and white.
NEW LIGHTROOM VERSION
Then I tried a black and white conversion in the new Lightroom software, and for some reason I was more taken with this version. The decline in contrast and sharpening in this version seemed to just lighten the whole image. It just goes to show you that just like "on any given Sunday" in football, a certain workflow will suddenly enhance a particular image, even though it might not be the way you usually proceed for most images.
NEW LIGHTROOM VERSION, STAGE ONE
The cliff image presented some different problems and shows how different paths might achieve similar end products, especially when compared to the original. What should be a grand vertical panorama seems just a little too dark, way too dull, not nearly sharp enough, and even a bit crooked. I used the small bit of horizon in the distance to straighten out a very crooked cliff. I removed quite a bit of blue color cast which came off of the ocean. By cranking up the contrast by boosting both the black and white points, I revealed a lot of detail in the cliff face. Lightening the shadows also helped a lot, especially in the distant cliff faces. But the overall exposure now seemed a bit too dark.
ON ONE GIVES IT A TRY
On One's version tied to achieve contrast and sharpening in some very different ways. It left the white and black points alone, and used a revised white balance that was much warmer to separate the rocks and the sand at the top of the cliff. Notice that the fog in the sky seems a lot more gray rather than purple. But On One's Dynamic contrast, a mid-range contrast control, still seems to have made both the sea and the sand just a little bit too crunchy for my taste.
TAKING ADVANTAGE OF "DEHAZE"
The new Lightroom software tries to achieve similar levels of mid-tone contrast enhancement in a different way than Dynamic Contrast. I think it works better on this image. Dynamic Contrast can affect the exposure and white balance in ways that are not immediately noticeable when you are positively stimulated by the increase in perceived sharpness, but they are there. The sky has become purpler again, and the sea is maybe a little bit too saturated and crunchy. Lightroom's new (at least to me) Dehaze control tries to increase contrast in a way that can mimic and alleviate the typical loss of detail in a long distance view. It was seemingly made for a landscape image like this one. For the first time, those windmills on the horizon are coming into view, without making the foreground sand on the cliff too gritty. Real separation on the central part of the cliff is achieved without affecting the overall exposure of the image.
ON ONE BLACK AND WHITE
In moving to black and white, my usual strategies of further increasing contrast and sharpening have also seemed to yield a dark and brooding image that is maybe more suited to Scotland than to Hawaii.
NEW LIGHTROOM BLACK AND WHITE
Dehaze and raising the shadows have yielded a lot of detail in the cliff face without too much contrast or the storm in the sea in the first version. I seem to like this version better, although I could easily change my mind tomorrow. That is the nature of our visual perception, which can be as fickle as either computer hardware or software. It is frequently very useful to revisit an editing session to see if you've gone too far. Even Goldilocks could be mistaken on the first go-around.