Thursday, January 12, 2017

Iceland: An Impulsive Click and Ensuing Study in Post-Processing Landscapes

Sometimes you don't know what you have until much, much later. This photo of Iceland sat there for months after I thought I'd gotten all the good ones. We had been walking along the southern cliffs near Vik when I spotted this couple enjoying the view and thought, aw, that's sweet, I should - click! - got it. I snapped a quick picture and it looked like a dark wedge of a shadow. Moving on...
straight out of camera, 70mm f/7.1
Months later I found myself looking through the digital negatives from that trip and thought I'd try to make this one a little more interesting in Adobe Lightroom.

For a landscape and sky picture, usually the first thing I do is lower the highlights to bring out the sky and raise the shadows to enhance the darker land. I often increased the whites and darken the blacks to sort of balance it out. Again, this is all using Lightroom sliders, quick and easy and you see more detail in the sky and more color in the land.

Already you can see some color in the sky start to come out, and the grass is looking brighter. And since it's a landscape, we can be forgiven for saturation and vibrance just a little. Not too much, just enough to tease more color out of the far background and clouds while hopefully not making the green foreground unnaturally bright. I also decided to crop out some of the dark foreground at the bottom so that the converging lines of land and sea meet in the corner.

Now the last touch is a slider I consider magic for landscapes: dehaze. With this one adjustment I can bring out the distance and turn that photo into this one:
Now we have that saturated color landscape everyone loves! The contrast between the distant surf and land is more apparent, as are the clouds.

Cropping, Rule of Thirds and the Golden Spiral

Most photographers know about the rule of thirds to make visually interesting pictures. It's easy enough to learn and use in practice, most digital cameras have an option to overlay the guidelines on the display screen as you shoot. Less known and more difficult is the golden spiral, which I haven't been able to achieve - at least not on purpose. 

Sometimes a composition just seems to draw the eye, and out of curiosity I used Lightroom's crop overlay tool to superimpose a golden spiral on the finished image and discovered it touches the rocky outcrop nicely. I'm not sure I have the wherewithal to do this on purpose, sometimes it just happens. In this case, I was just trying to make the surf and cliff meet in the corner. I only discovered later the golden spiral fit by happy accident.

Fine art photographer Elliot McGuckin recently created a study of the golden ratio in Ansel Adam's work. Perhaps he was genius enough to do it intentionally, or maybe he just knew what our eyes find pleasing. 

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