Pictures that come out of the camera rarely resemble the scene being captured
In recent years this has been closely related to the ever increasing dynamic range of modern cameras. Dynamic range is the amount of tonal information that can be captured between pure black and absolute white. Colour negative film was always regraded as the gold standard at 16 stops, with doging and burning during the printing stage. Most professional cameras now capture around 12 - 14 stops, 15 years ago it was 8 stops.
Adding Auto White Balance and many other camera-specific auto calibration functions into the equation and it becomes essential to process images, either in-camera, or in post-production, to translate that dynamic range into an image that can be shown and look attractive on a regular computer monitor, matching your expectations or 'previsualisation' of the scene, as described by Ansel Adams, way back in the 1940s.
The image above, captured on winter evening in the Scottish highlands with my EOS-1Dc, is quite disappointing. It barely resembles the scene photographed; extremely cold, with light falling fast and the last golden rays of the evening sun providing warmth to the west. Shutter speed was around 1 second at f11, on a tripod.
Open the RAW image in Adobe Lightroom, take a couple of moments work for some adjustments and the image starts to look better:
None of these initial changes are 'false', nothing is being manipulated or added to the image, information contained in the RAW file is simply being extracted and the image is being 'optimised'.
The sky is still quite flat and details are not fully visible in the shadows of the castle in the Loch, so slight exposure and colour adjustment with the curves tool adds the purple hue that I remember and adds a little contrast makes the clouds stand out and helps to tonally balance the scene.
The element that made me take the picture in the first place was the subtle warmth of the setting sun in the west, lifting an otherwise flat and tranquil scene. To make it stand out, we need a mask:
Once the mask in place, we adjust the colour temperature slightly to add the missing warmth of the winter sun:
Finally, the image is resembling the scene that was photographed.
All that is missing is a little capture sharpening (70% / Radius 0.9) and we have the finished picture that we see as the header image.
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