I pride myself on my photo editing. I consider it the icing on the cake of a successful image. It allows me to bring out the best in my images in a way that dropping off my film at Walgreens never could have! I imagine, if film were the standard, I'd be spending an awful lot of time in a dark room.
Having said that, I certainly don't know everything and there's always something to learn. It's one of my favorite aspects of this art form...I'll be learning for the rest of my life.
I've often struggled with my night photographs. Most of them are quite noisy by nature and the best time of year to photograph the Milky Way in my area is in July and August, which coincides with the worst heat, humidity, haze, and frequent thunderstorms of the year. So if I even get to capture it, I consider myself lucky. My standard processing has been to tweak white balance, contrast, blacks, shadows, and of course, noise control. I've been mildly satisfied and figured I wasn't getting that amazing color in the core of the Milky Way due to the conditions I'm shooting in. While I was viewing somebody's web site, they had a different approach and so I decided to give it a try and re-processed one of my Milky Way shots I did this summer. The difference is incredible. My jaw dropped. I finally saw what I wanted to see when looking at my image.
Here is the original processed image. It's a composite with the lighthouse coming from another image. That aside, my Milky Way just looks blue...too blue. No amount of "ooh...ahhh...that's awesome" on Facebook made me any happier about this image. It has to speak to me before it speaks to the public. It is, after all, my creation.
It's nice...but not as nice as I wanted. First, I'll show you the new and improved version, and then I'll let you know how I did it. The pixels are there, the color is there, you just have to know how to convince it to come out and say hello!
For me at least, this truly looks like outer space, almost a fantasy. That's the way I feel when I look at the Milky Way. I feel like such a small part of something truly amazing and I want to bring that feeling out in my images.
Here's what I did to accomplish this.
First, I brought the exposure up more than I thought was reasonable. I don't usually push it but this time I did.
Then I cranked my saturation and vibrance to 100%. Don't freak out...this is only temporary, a means to an end. Yes, it looks heinous at this point. Just expect that.
When I do this, it allows me to make a better adjustment to the white balance. That's the area I was struggling with before with the resulting "too blue" image. I make the saturation and vibrance "extreme" to make certain that when I adjust white balance, it's as close to neutral as possible. This eliminates the "too blue or too magenta" result.
This is what it looks like. Don't say I didn't warn you...Yuck!
When I cranked the saturation and vibrance, I was able to see if the image was becoming too blue or too yellow with the temp slider. I was also able to see if it was becoming too green or too magenta with the tint slider. Once I get a decent mix of these colors, I bring the vibrance and saturation back down to zero. In this case, I had to make my temp +66 and my tint -30. Every image will be different.
Then it looks like this.
As you can see, the colors are much more neutral and the overly blue look has been tamed. After this, it's a simple adjustment of the exposure, making it darker again, blacks, shadows, and a bit of the dehaze slider to get the image above that I was much happier with.
As you can see, proper editing is crucial, not only to getting the most out of the pixels you capture, but also in allowing you to portray the feeling in your images that you intend.
This is what my friend, Kenny McKeithan, and I will be teaching at our Photoshop and Lightroom class the weekend of September 23, 24, 25th. From organizing, to editing, to final output, we'll cover it all.
Never stop learning!