As photographers of the digital age, we all need some form of post processing software to get the very best from our files, particularly RAW files. It still amazes me in this age when people remark that the use of any kind of post processing software, is in actual fact, cheating! RAW files can often look flat when they are first opened up, modern post processing software enables us to extract the very best from the information stored within these files. The key thing for me, is to extract this information in a way that retains the essence of the scene as I remember, or indeed felt at that moment in time. Most of the time I like to keep it fairly natural looking, truthful to scene, waiting for the right light, rather than creating a mood during post processing. However, it's sometimes nice to enforce a little artistic licence, as many photographers often do, in order to create a style of their own. At the end of the day, it's entirely up to the photographer how they choose to portray their subject, there are no rules.
I've chosen the above image of Porth Nanven, Cornwall, as an example, which is fairly typical to how I would normally shoot this type of scene, this image is straight from camera. I often use a technique known as 'Exposing to the right', the basic theory here is to slightly over expose your image, without clipping the highlights. This will give us more detail in the shadow areas, when we come to process the image. At first glance the sky looks completely over exposed, such is the dynamic range of modern cameras however, with large amounts of data in the RAW files, we are able to get this image looking very natural, with just a few simple tweaks.
This particular image was shot on a Sony a7R, with a Sigma 24mm Art lens, additionally I'm using a LEE filters .6 soft grad on the sky (this darkens the sky) and a little stopper (6 stop ND filter) to give me a longer exposure time, thus creating the smoothed out ocean, that you see here. Settings are ISO100 - f/11 - 1 min 2 secs.
To keep images looking natural, I choose LEE filters neutral density grad filters for the skies. I was on holiday when I made this image so I didn't have all of my filters to hand. As mentioned, I've used a .6 soft grad for the sky here, when a .9 soft grad (one stop darker than the .6 grad) would probably have been the best solution to balance the exposure. I didn't have the .9 grad to hand on this occasion, though as you can see in the next step, things are looking pretty good once we've made a few adjustments.
The above image shows the first tweak only, in which I've dropped back the exposure a bit to bring out the detail in the sky. At this stage the image is still looking quite flat, the next step is to bring out some of that detail in shadows.
In the final image you can see the adjustments that I have made to this exposure by comparing the sliders on the left of the image with those of the previous screenshot. We've been able to reveal all of that glorious detail in the shadows, with no noise at all, as we have 'exposed to the right'. We've further managed to retrieve more detail in the sky by using the highlights slider to the desired effect. There's a very slight adjustment to levels and curve in order to achieve the desired contrast and an increase in saturation to bring out the colours.
We do still have very slightly blown out highlights in the sky, my aim here was to retain the wonderful luminosity of the classic Cornish light, to my eyes, this truthfully represents the scene at that moment. Other adjustments I have made are to the white balance. This is because the LEE little stopper (6 stop grad) creates a slight cooling effect, I've simply warmed it up a tad using the white balance slider. I've also added a touch of sharpening, not that it needed much at all having used the Sigma Prime lens.
In truth, I can be quite lazy with my post processing. I was forced into learning Capture One Pro as I had the use of the Alpa camera earlier this year. However, I now use Capture One for all of my processing. I actually enjoy using Capture One, much more than any processing software that I've used previously. It's very intuitive, I picked it up quite quickly and I'm still learning lots of new tricks, as with any powerful software. I've made the switch to Capture One Pro because I believe it helps me to create very natural looking images with minimal fuss. Additionally, it has many other powerful features, too many to mention for this particular blog post. I will reveal more over the coming months, my next Capture One Blog will detail the creation of 'styles', which can be saved and applied to your images.
If you'd like to take Capture One Pro for a spin you can download the trial version here:-