Just over 12 months ago I was struggling with the processing of an image. It wasn’t a particularly great image, but there were several elements within it that I did like and I wanted to get something out of it. Having returned to it several times over a few months I eventually decided to let the good people of Twitter have access to the RAW to see if their visions were different. It was a worthwhile exercise, pioneered on Twitter by Pete Bridgwood and I’ve seen it done to good effect by a few others since. You can read about that first exercise here.
Fast forward 12 months and I find myself in the same position, this time with an image from Iceland which I visited in July 2014. I think most folks thought I’d shared all I had to share from there, but honestly, I have more, much more, I just felt people had grown tired of endless pictures of Iceland from me, and that is fine. However, there were one or two I really wanted to share beforehand but I was stumped on the processing, or at least I had hit a creative block. One of these images is of a gorge below a peak that will be familiar to anyone who has been to or seen images from the camp at Álftavatn. Here is a more familiar view from the campsite itself.
Most people who visit this camp are walking the Laugavegur trail, as we were, but they don’t have the luxury to take side hikes to places like this gorge. We spent two days camped here and so this gorge was one of our targets.
On this hike I was almost utilising my full Fuji system. I had the X-Pro1 body and XF35mm prime lens permanently on my hip on a clip system, which I was predominantly using to record burst jpeg images of the whole hike. The results of which you can see in this video
In my pack I had the X-T1 body together with the XF10-24mm and XF55-200mm zoom lenses. The XF18-55mm lens was warm and safe back at home. The gap between 24mm and 55mm could be plugged by the 35mm if need be.
After about an hour of hiking across the Icelandic volcanic desert we got to this gorge and it was quite spectacular. Short but very deep, and as with a lot of the Icelandic landscape, it was quite brittle, as you can see in the image, the whole side of the mountain on the left has collapsed into the river in the distance, and so getting near the edge was very much a heart in mouth event.
Here is an almost identical unprocessed RAW to the image in question.
So, what did I like about this scene and what didn’t I like? Well, I was trying to frame the river between the mountain on the left and the closer mountain on the right, however I couldn’t move to the left enough to allow this without losing sight of the river meandering into the distance given proximity of the edge of the cliff I was on. So, the way it is forcibly framed leads you through the left hand side of the frame not more towards the middle as I’d have liked. Essentially all that is on the right is the big mountain and a wall of muddy rock. They do kind of work but I wish there was something else going on there. The turquoise colour of the river was also something I wanted to utilise as it was in stark contrast to the leaden skies. Wanting to show some silky movement in the water I used a Lee Little Stopper (6 Stop ND) filter, but this also ended up smoothing out the angry clouds, I was damned if I did and damned if I didn’t. The result is a sky I’m not particularly fond of in this case.
Anyway, like the previous Render my Raw image I’ve processed this shot and few others that are virtually identical, many times, and I’ve never managed to get a final image I like. I started to think about black and white and had a couple of goes at that but still wasn’t happy, so I turned it over to the Twitter folk, and here is what they came up with. They are in alphabetical order and I wont say which is my favourite because a lot of them are influenced by personal style which I admire equally, but at the end I have posted my definitive edit which has been influenced by some of these examples.
The image was shot with the Fujifilm X-T1 and XF10-24mm lens, on tripod, at 12mm, f/11, ISO200, 12 second exp.
Andrew Atkinson No.1
Andrew Atkinson No.2
Andy Gray No.1
Andy Gray No.2
Andy Gray No.3
He says “Firstly, very nice image. Impressed by the lack of noise, its a nice and clean image. In fact I put a tiny amount of grain in mine just to give it a little texture. Its a lot different to photographs that I take so of course that makes it interesting to process.”
He says “I’ve opted for a mono conversion (using Silver EFEX Pro) as I like the drama it gives to the sky. I increased the mid-tones to bring out the detail in the cliffs in the foreground. I also opted for a portrait crop as I like the river leading me through the image towards the mountain in the background. The original landscape picture is stunning, but I wanted to try something different and compare it with how others interpret the raw file. Personally, I feel this crop works well (both in colour and as a mono).”
He says “…in Photoshop, I did the following:
– Small (5%) burn locally of shadows for the forgreground rock on the right hand side
– Small (5%) burn of midtones for the sky
– Tiny (2%) burn locally of shadows for the dark patches in the mountains
– Sponge desaturated (15%) foreground river to dull the blue slightly
Ian Burton No.1
Ian Burton No.2
He says “In terms of colour balance I selected some of the lovely mid tones at bottom right which gave me a good setting to work from. I then tried to take a bit of green bias out of the sky, especially above the mountain on the right.
Everything else was just random selections.The greens which are a very important to the image were slightly saturated as were the oranges to boost the colours on the canyon wall on the right hand side.I also increased contrast on the very same canyon wall to lift it a bit.
The canyon wall on the left of the image was tough to deal with, I opened up the shadows a little and tried to give a boost to the little colour that was there, don’t think I’ve gone too ott with the shadow increase.
Above the canyon wall on the left I increased the exposure slightly to the mountains.
I finished up by selecting the river and giving a boost in colour to those gorgeous turquoise tones.”
She says “Did a quick process – you know me, nowt fancy – just did roughly what I’d expect to do with a similar kind of landscape pic of my own. LR settings are broadly speaking my own Astia Soft approximation preset and then just a quick tweak in photoshop. I didn’t think it wanted cropping in any way – a 1x1ish probably would work but I think you’d lose much of what makes it interesting… Very nice pic!”
Matt Botwood No.1
He says “Pretty impressed with the source file, not much dust on that sensor and in reality the original file with a few tweaks of temp and contrast was a lovely image, but I’ve had a couple of goes: One for the colour fans, one square mono crop for me. The only major thing I wanted to change was that rather light bottom right corner, so it’s been darkened in both images.”
Matt Botwood No.2
He says “…just a quick attempt in C[apture]1 but results look better than Camera Raw. Converted jpg to srgb too so you know but not sharpened.”
He says “I enjoyed this exercise but did a fairly quick edit. I
used Capture One only. The Fuji continues to tempt me.
My first response to the image was to try it in monochrome. This
emphasises the textures in the rocks and the brooding, dark sky. I also
found the green somewhat distracting.
I cropped to 5:4 which would generally be the aspect ratio I prefer if it
works. This crops out the right hand side of the image and I hope give a
line from the eye through the gorge, out along the river and then up the
right ridge to the cloud covered peak. I think leaving the right hand
side in the picture takes you down the slope to nowhere in particular. So
the peak is a sort of full stop, perhaps.
The detailed adjustments made in Capture One after cropping are as follows:
1. Convert to Black and White, then Red -19, Yellow +39, Blue -18
2. Contrast +7
3. Capture One HDR Tool: Highlight +32, Shadow +38
4. Clarity +4
5. Adjustment layer to lighten bottom left hand corner
6. Gradient mask -.25EV to darken top of the frame slightly
7. Vignetting: Eliptical on Crop -0.5EV”
He says “I was initialling quite shocked at how soft (as in detail not focus) the Fuji file was in comparison to the D800E files, however after a bit of playing around in ACR I pleasantly surprised at how well it handled the adjustments albeit that has introduced a bit of noise. The more I played around the more I really liked the look of the Fuji file, it’s hard to put into words because compared to the Nikon it’s lacking – and yet I liked it.
My Final Image
So, there you go, a right bevy of images of the same scene, but all unique in their own way. What do you think, which one do you prefer? Colour or Mono? 1:1 crop or original crop? Saturated or de-saturated? And, after all of that, where did I end up? Well, I reprocessed in mono, not something I’ve really contemplated too much before. All of my other shots from Iceland were in colour with the exception of the (rather poor) portraits of hikers I met along the route.
I really liked some of the darkening of the image that Mike, Colin and Andy Gray introduced, and also some of the burning Glenn mentioned. I opted for a more cinematic 16:10 crop ratio to eliminate some of the sky I wasn’t too fond of whilst retaining some of the interest that was in the bottom of the gorge. I think combined it presents a pleasing image.
Sometimes, as demonstrated in the last exercise, an image just isn’t good enough whatever you might do to it in post-processing. For the most part getting it right in camera as much as possible should be the main aim, then we can ‘tweak’ it later to suit our personal style. I think in this image, given the superb examples of post-processing finesse above, it’s clear that this is a better composition than the previous effort…but by no means is it perfect, it is far from it. Additionally, the fact that some people felt the need to do a couple or more edits suggests they were also indecisive. In colour it kind of works, in mono it kind of works, neither really stands out above the other, it just comes down to personal taste. The little stopper did give the image a slight colour cast and the light that day was poor so I always struggled to get the colouring right in my previous efforts, hence my decision in the end to go for mono. Of course the other folks don’t have that visual reference, that memory of colour, and so have not been afflicted by this perceived handicap, they’ve just gone ahead and edited in a way that pleases them without any notion of remaining true to the original scene.
What I really enjoy about offering up this little exercise to people is that we all sit at our PC’s or Mac’s editing our own images in our own way. We are never really able to compare our artistic vision by doing that, not that we need to compare, but sometimes it’s nice to have a reference to where we are and where we are going. It is not until you offer the same image to everybody to process how they please that you really start to get an idea of what makes that person tick. It’s also a really great way of developing our processing techniques. There are certainly some thought processes in this exercise and the one last year that I have taken on-board and further developed myself. A lot of us are self-taught on programmes like Lightroom and Capture One, so easy discovery of new techniques with the tools we already have at our disposal is a very attractive proposition.
Thank you to everyone that enthusiastically took part, I hope you got something out of it. I look forward to the next time…