Processing for Dynamic Range in Lightroom

Discussion in 'Image Processing' started by David A, Feb 18, 2016.

  1. David A

    David A Mu-43 All-Pro

    Sep 30, 2011
    Brisbane, Australia
    We talk about wanting more dynamic range from our sensors and I know I'd like to have more, but we actually have quite a lot of dynamic range if we are prepared to work at getting it out of the file. I just signed up for Adobe's LR/PS creative cloud package which lets me do a bit more than my perpetual licence version of LR6 did, and I've been reprocessing a few of my images to see just what I can do. I previously posted a before/after post on this image but I thought I'd do a more complete explanation of how I work to get the most out of a really wide range scene.

    It all starts with the initial exposure. You don't want to clip the highlights. I used spot meter mode and exposed for the brightest part of the clouds in order to avoid clipping them and this is the result:

    _B050003.

    Nice sky. Shame about the rest of it.

    One trick I've learnt, since I'm going to be using an adjustment brush to bring the sky back after bringing up the shadow area is to create the mask for the brush now. It's a lot easier to get a nice clean mask when you have auto masking turned on when you have maximum contrast at the edge of the mask area and for a mask on the sky that's right now. I created the mask but made no adjustments.

    I then made the adjustments to bring up the shadow area starting with an exposure increase of +2.8 stops. I reduced contrast, didn't touch the highlights at all because I want to keep the highlights as they are in this area since the sky has to be the real highlight area, lifted the shadows a little and made a small negative black point adjustment and then did my sharpening and noise reduction.

    I used the Lightroom Sharpen-Faces preset because I didn't want to boost noise by sharpening a lot of detail in the areas I'd brightened, and I also reduced the detail slider in noise reduction from the default 50 to 25 and raised the contrast slider in noise reduction to 25 for the same reason.

    Here's the result after all of those global adjustments:

    _B050003-2.

    Now we can see the shadow area which looks a bit flat, and the sky is gone. Both of those are going to get dealt with next.

    First the sky. Back to that adjustment brush and the first thing is to bring the exposure down. I reduced exposure by -1.55. I wanted to bring it down a bit more but it looked a bit off when I did that so I settled for -1.55, reduced contrast a bit, reduced highlights by -79, increased the white point by +4 to just short of clipping in the brightest part of the clouds, and pulled the black point down to -59. I then set sharpening to -50 which eliminates sharpening in the brush area.

    There were some rough areas around the trees and lamp post so I had to use another brush there and make some touch ups to get those areas looking reasonable and ended up with this:

    _B050003-3.

    Things are starting to look reasonable.

    Next I did a graduated filter from the horizon on down with maximum impact at the horizon, and used the brush in the filter to remove the sky from the effect and did a slight boost of clarity to open up the mid-tones a little in the street and houses and increase contrast there slightly:

    _B050003-4.

    Finally I went back and used the targeted adjustment tool to increase saturation in the blue sky a little to get rid of the muddy tone to the blues there. I also made some shadow adjustments in the graduated filter to brighten the foreground a bit more and gave it a small increase in saturation, the only saturation adjustment apart from the blues in the sky.

    Here's the final result:

    _B050003-6.

    It may look a little dark overall to some people but this shot was taken at just around sunrise with the sun just below the horizon. The sky was much brighter than the foreground and I wanted to keep that distinction in order to capture the mood. The gold in the clouds was a bit on the dark side to start with and the blue sky had yet to brighten so while the brightest part of the clouds was extremely bright, the rest of the clouds and the blue sky areas were a fair bit darker. There was quite a brightness range from light to dark in the sky to start with. I couldn't brighten the sky any further without clipping the brightest part of the clouds and ending up with white splotches in them which would look pretty nasty so I've got the sky as bright as I can keep it without that and I've kept the foreground a little darker than that in order to keep the relativities. Those are my choices but you can use this approach and boost the brightness of the foreground more in your images if you choose.

    Anyway, that's a quick run through how I try to get the most dynamic range I can out of an image from the E-M1. Hopefully someone will find something useful in the process.
     

    Attached Files:

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  2. pdk42

    pdk42 One of the "Eh?" team

    Jan 11, 2013
    Leamington Spa, UK
    That's very interesting David. Thanks for posting. What in the CS subscription do you get that helps that the standard licence doesn't do?
     
  3. David A

    David A Mu-43 All-Pro

    Sep 30, 2011
    Brisbane, Australia
    Adobe are nasty in some ways. The LR permanent licence doesn't get new features between upgrades from one version to another, just updates and bug fixes. A little while after they released LR6, they added some new features which included the ability to adjust black and white points in the adjustment brush and graduated and radial filters. That ability to have different black and white points in your local adjustments is really handy in my view and those features, plus Dehaze, were only added in the creative cloud subscription version. You didn't get them if you were using the perpetual licence. I find being able to make black and white point adjustments in the local adjustments very handy, and it let me get a bit more out of this image than I had been able to get before.
     
  4. budeny

    budeny Mu-43 All-Pro

    Mar 4, 2014
    Boulder, CO
    Nice write up, thanks!
    My only suggestion would be against -50 sharpness in brush area - it will degrade sharpness on objects that brush is bordering, palms in your case (compare original and final of that vertical stick from the middle of biggest palm).
    I use sharpening mask instead and to smoother skies even more then use combination of -20 sharpness and +30 noise filter on skies brush area.
     
    Last edited: Feb 18, 2016
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  5. David A

    David A Mu-43 All-Pro

    Sep 30, 2011
    Brisbane, Australia
    Thanks for that tip. I've always had problems with the edges of masks and that works better. I usually do my noise reduction globally and don't worry about trying to reduce it in areas like skies since it's going to help with smoothing there anyway but I do brush sharpness out of skies. Brushing it into the other areas does make more sense since a bit of spillover into the sky doesn't seem to cause the same problems.

    When you say you use sharpening mask, do you mean in Photoshop? I haven't had Photoshop until I got it a couple of days ago with the LR CC version so now I have to start learning Photoshop. I'm anticipating a bit of a learning curve.

    I've noticed before that I often get better results at edges with LR's adjustment brush if I make the global adjustments for the bright areas and brush the adjustments into the darker areas. That often gives a better result at the edges than making the global adjustments in the darker areas and brushing adjustments into the lighter area but I tended to find I had better control over the black and white points by doing things that way. Finally getting black and white point control in local adjustments fixes my problems with that so it's handy to know I can now work the other way.
     
  6. budeny

    budeny Mu-43 All-Pro

    Mar 4, 2014
    Boulder, CO
    No, in LR, Details -> Sharpening -> Masking. Hold Ctrl to see affected areas.
     
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  7. bigboysdad

    bigboysdad Mu-43 All-Pro

    Aug 25, 2013
    Sydney/ London
    Thanks for the post. I never thought the new dynamic range features in say the EM5 Mark II were that important given bracketing ability of older cameras and the ability to work with same as smart objects in PS/LR CC.
     
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  8. pellicle

    pellicle Mu-43 All-Pro

    Feb 10, 2010
    Southport, OzTrailEYa
    pellicle
    @David A@David A , just wondering if is was a raw file to start with?

    As you may know I use Photomatix (as well as rawtherapee, Photoshop and other tools) and my take is that this is more work than that, plus Photomatix license is more low cost over a few years. I'd be interested to compare and contrast these two methods (yours and Photomatix) to see if they are close and for how much effort.

    If you dropped the raw file into Google drive I'd have a go and post back.

    PS: this was sent to me by a friend, he deliberately under exposed it seeking the silhouette and to avoid clipping

    25002923122_009ff75975_b.

    a few clicks in photomatix gave me this:
    25094794296_a485464653_b.

    of course that may be not to your taste.

    However I agree with the fundamental premise of your post, if we are getting Higher DR sensors we need to consider how to transfer to a presentation or printable form. Negative always exceeded the capacity of paper to hold it, which is why "Master Printers" existed.

    Now we're the "Master Printers" with these tools
     
    Last edited: Feb 19, 2016
  9. David A

    David A Mu-43 All-Pro

    Sep 30, 2011
    Brisbane, Australia
    budeny,

    Thanks. I always use the masking slider but i never think of it as "sharpening mask" so I didn't think of that slider when I read your post.

    I did a bit of thinking after reading your response and decided to try a different way of working so I redid the image from scratch and got it as close as I could to how I wanted it using just the controls in the Basic panel. I then used 2 adjustment brushes, one over the sky in which I adjusted the tone mapping of the sky a bit more, including white and black point adjustments, and added more noise reduction instead of reducing sharpening. I'd done some heavy masking with the sharpening mask so there wasn't much sharpening in the sky anyway. The second brush was over the rest of the image and just applied some clarity to open up the midtones in the houses and street. I then played with various means of increasing saturation and slightly darkening the blue in the sky at the top of the frame before settling on a graduated filter to do that because doing it in the HSL panel played with the colour of the street surface in a way I didn't like/

    I like the overall result more than I did the final result above and there were no problem artefacts at the edges of the trees. I can see myself adopting your approach to reducing sharpening in skies at frequent intervals.



    pellicle,

    It is a RAW file. I seriously doubt that you'd be able to pull off the surgery I did on that file, or that you did on your friend's file, if we'd been starting with JPEGs. We simply would not have the necessary amount of detail available in the shadows. Like what you did with your friend's file. It turned out quite nicely. I don't mind having a lot of the image in what I'll call "zone 3 shadow" when the shot is of a low light scene. Keeping those shadow areas in that part of the brightness range helps establish the mood and while lightening those areas can reveal a lot of detail, it also isn't the way we see those scenes in real life. Sometimes bringing those areas out of the shadows is the way to go but I think it's often not the way to go and I appreciate images that keep the shadow areas in the shadow zone of the image.

    I don't use Google drive, or Google for anything other than a search engine so I can't drop the file there and I don't use any on-line hosting services for file transfer. Sorry.
     
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  10. pellicle

    pellicle Mu-43 All-Pro

    Feb 10, 2010
    Southport, OzTrailEYa
    pellicle
    yes, I agree ...

    not to sound pedantic but its about the Dynamic Range of the RAW more so than the details. JPG has only 8 bits of DR and RAW has usually 12. Every time you add a bit to the range you double it.

    yes, exactly ... its all about the aesthetic of what you are tying to achieve.
     
  11. Turbofrog

    Turbofrog Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Mar 21, 2014
    Aha! I bought LR6 and that's always one thing that's bugged me a bit about it. When you were talking about changing the White and Black adjustments in your local brush areas, I was a bit confused, since as far as I knew you couldn't do that...

    Well that's a bummer. I knew I was buying a snapshot in time going with LR6 rather than CC, but honestly Adobe are really nickle-and-diming here. Frustrating.
     
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  12. David A

    David A Mu-43 All-Pro

    Sep 30, 2011
    Brisbane, Australia
    Not to sound pedantic but it's the greater dynamic range of the RAW file that ensures you capture enough data in the shadows in order to be able to recover good detail.

    Not trying to be nasty in any way. It's just that greater dynamic range allows you to recover more detail in the shadow areas, and it also makes working with shadow areas a little easier to do in my limited experience. The two things are directly related. Sometimes we want to focus on the dynamic range aspects of the sensor and how much we can capture, sometimes we want to focus on how much detail we want to get in some part of the file. Since I was commenting on what we could do with the image, I chose to speak of recovering detail from the shadows because I know there's a lot more detail there in a RAW file than any of us tend to think when we first start processing them.
     
  13. David A

    David A Mu-43 All-Pro

    Sep 30, 2011
    Brisbane, Australia
    Yes, that's a bummer. I've been updating my perpetual licence version of LR since I first bought LR4 some years ago, well before the CC version was available, and I simply kept updating my perpetual licence version after the CC version was released. Then they put black and white point adjustment in local adjustments a few months after LR6 came out, and after I had upgraded again, and it has been annoying me that I couldn't access those controls in local adjustments ever since. I've contemplated buying a CC licence several times over the last several months and finally decided to bite the bullet and do so when Datacolor sent me an email with a 20% discount offer for the CC version for my first 12 months. I finally caved in and got Photoshop as well so now I have to start learning that also since I've never used Photoshop previously.

    I thought that having the localised black and white point adjustment would be useful ever since Adobe rolled it out, and it is useful. The good news is that I'd say it's more useful than I thought it would be.

    I don't know that I'd say Adobe are nickel and dining here, however. I don't know about prices in the US but here in Australia the LR version upgrade costs $99 and there's an upgrade every 18 months to 2 years. The normal subscription for the CC version costs $10 a month so it works out more expensive than simply upgrading the perpetual licence version every time a new version comes out but you do get new features between versions, something that doesn't happen with the perpetual licence version, and the CC subscription includes Photoshop as well. I don't know how much upgrades for Photoshop used to cost but I think $10 a month for both Lightroom and Photoshop is a better deal than buying the perpetual licence versions and upgrades for both, and you can't get Photoshop any other way now. I could say that I simply bought Photoshop and got some Lightroom improvements tossed in for free, or I can say that I swapped to the best way of sticking with Photoshop and getting new features as promptly as possible and got Photoshop thrown in for free. Either way it seems a reasonable deal to me.
     
  14. Gary5

    Gary5 Mu-43 Veteran

    312
    Jan 15, 2014
    It's an adventure. So many functions are only accessible with ctrl-click, alt-click or keyboard commands. For example, Stamp Visible is only accessible by alt-clicking Merge Visible. And the menu does not change. You just have to know it. And it's endless. It would take a year just to open and take a quick look at every feature it has.

    ...adding another example, try ctrl-click on a channel. That will select luminosity. It's like the more useful a feature is, the harder Adobe makes it to find.
     
    Last edited: Feb 19, 2016
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  15. pellicle

    pellicle Mu-43 All-Pro

    Feb 10, 2010
    Southport, OzTrailEYa
    pellicle
    whatever ...