As I tried to adjust a photograph I took last April (2003) from a moving train, I realized that I was not getting the right mood although the colors looked fine. The result was an uninteresting image. When I took the photograph, it was a late afternoon with the golden tones of the sunset echoing off the surfaces. The image below (Figure 1) is the original converted from Canon RAW format and it does not show much of that mood at all.
Curves First Attempt
As a standard processing step, I applied a curves layer with proper white and black points selected which resulted in the full-range but the uninspiring image (Figure 2).
The large original looked but only marginally better. I kept fiddling with the contrast, colors, etc. and nothing worked to my satisfaction. I left this image the way it was and started working on a copy of the original again.
This time I followed a different approach. I added a curves layer and clicked on OK without making any changes. Then I changed the blending mode to “Multiply” which gave a much darker image but with more character as you see below in Figure 3.
This image obviously has too dark shadows. Now, I went and adjusted the curves layer. I picked the white from the door frame on the left and black from the dark area between the two men. Then opened up the shadows by raising the black point higher as shown in the following screen capture (Figure 4).
The colors looked rich and the picture conveyed the mood of the late afternoon just before the sunset. However, it still had too much contrast. See for yourself, Figure 5.
Although this was a definite improvement over the first curve adjustment (Figure 2) there was practically no detail in the shadows.
Let’s see the difference
I flattened this image and copied it over the original (second picture from the top.) Since I was interested in the difference between the two images, I changed the blending mode to “Difference.” I wanted to capture this difference and apply it on the original. So, I duplicated the background (image 2) and merged down the top dark layer on the background copy. Now I had the original image as the background and the difference as a layer above it. This is how the difference layer looked (Figure 6):
Let There Be “Soft Light”
I changed the blending mode of the new layer to “Soft light” and ended up almost where I wanted. (Figure 6)
Although this image looks like the one in Figure 5, you can see significant differences between the two in their larger versions. I was not happy with the two men that showed almost no detail.
Get the Blender out
By double-clicking on the top layer I arrived at the Blending options screen and adjusted it as shown below (Figure 8):
The dark control point values are 20/73 in case you cannot read them from the image. As I pulled the dark triangle on the “Underlying Layer” slider, I watched the detail on the men’s clothing magically emerge and blend with the rest of the image. The resulting image is below (Figure 9) and the following that showing the original for comparison (Figure 10):
This image conveys what I saw that late afternoon better than any of the above. It has that slight glow before the sunset, colors are dark and saturated with details in the shadows and the highlights. I now have another tool in my tool chest. You should try the process on a suitable image and see for yourself. It is much easier and much faster to do than to read this tips column. Keep clicking.
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