In my opinion, the best light on the west coast happens when a storm is breaking just at the moment of sunset. The timing of this can be very elusive. The evening I took this may be the best example I have had the fortune to photograph. In this case, even though the clouds were parting out on the horizon, it was still quite stormy on land. The rain kept spotting up my lens, so I ducked back under these trees to try to find some shelter.
Because the difference between the scene I witnessed and the way my camera recorded the raw file was significant I thought this might be a good before/after developing example. As you can see, the raw file is not well-balanced tonaly and the colors and light are muted. As camera dynamic range improves we can capture scenes like this in a single exposure more often. However, the resulting untouched raw files often have blocked up shadows and inaccurate highlight colors. Fortunately, all the information is there and can be brought out with careful developing.
In this case, I did a lot of the groundwork in Lightroom. Lightroom adjustments included the following:
- Shifting the white balance from the camera’s auto white balance choice to be warmer and more magenta.
- Individual color luminance adjustments in the HSL section.
- Tone adjustments to recover shadows, blacks, highlights and whites.
- Intensify colors using the Blue Saturation adjustment in the Calibration section.
- Increasing Exposure and decreasing global Contrast.
- Warm up highlights using the Split Toning section.
- Enable the Lens Profile to remove lens distortion.
- Adjust the Crop Angle to level the horizon.
- Spot removal to remove as many water spots as possible.
Next, I opened the image in Photoshop to continue developing with many small incremental adjustment layers.
- Removal of remaining water spots and photographer using the Spot Healing Brush and Clone Stamp Tool.
- Slight vertical transformation to remove some distracting branches along the top of the frame and give the sea stacks a small boost in height to counteract diminishing by the wide angle lens.
- Curves adjustment with a lights luminosity mask to darken the highlights and create better tonal balance.
- TK7 Panel Dehaze action masked to the sea stacks and water to bring in some more detail.
- TK7 Panel Smart Orton action with a hand-painted luminosity mask targeting the effect to the sky and water to enhance the light and color.
- Dodge layer to selectively lighten parts of the foreground and central sea stacks.
- Burn layer to darken the upper left corner and along the bottom edge of the frame.
- TK7 Panel Add Color action to add some “light bleed” and enhance the sunset light on the horizon and in the clouds…Controlled with a hand-painted luminosity mask.
- TK7 Panel Clarity action targeted to the darks with a darks luminosity mask and then Mask the Mask to add the clarity just to the sea stacks.
- Selective Color layer to fine tune the color grading for individual colors.
- Levels adjustment layer for brightness and contrast. Hand-painted mask to confine it to the sky and water.
- Another Levels adjustment layer to increase contrast and brightness targetted to the lights with a lights luminosity mask.
I think many of us have experienced disappointment when looking at raw images after photographing an intense light event. I make a habit of trying to be very present and aware of what I am seeing in the moment to establish a vivid picture in my mind that I can work back to. It is also helpful to remember that, due to how dynamic range, color and contrast are recorded, the more intense the light the less an unadjusted raw file may represent the scene.