Making Lemonade …

While we were in Charleston last month, I spent some time photographing swamp grass moving back and forth in the water next to a public pier.  At best, this type of photogrpahy is a hit-or-miss proposition, but this time I was my own worst enemy, because I had forgotten to reset my camera from the 5-shot HDR brackets I had been shooting a few minutes before.  The result was that even after carefully setting my exposure for a long capture of water and movement, the majority of the shots were either over or under exposed. (Pilot error.)  Once I looked at the shots in the digital darkroom, I tossed all but one aside – the only shot that captured at least some of the essence of the movement I was going for.  But, it was badly underexposed and very, very muddy, as you can see.

Back in the old darkroom days, this would be a very thin, flat negative, and would require, at minimum, a high contrast paper, and lots of dodging and burning if anything was going to be made of it.  That swirl of movement in the center of this image is what made me want to see if I could save it in the digital darkroom.  So, for step 1, I converted the raw file in Adobe Camera Raw. I usually don’t do much in ACR, except set all their default corrections to zeros, and apply camera color profiles and correct for chromatic abberations, if necessary.  This time, though, I just hit the “open Image” button to launch Photoshop.  Once in Photoshop, I used Nik Viveza to add some brightness, saturation and contrast.  Things began to look up:

So far, my adjustments in Viveza let me know there was enough information to work with the image further, and the swirl of the grasses above and below the water began to look even more interesting.

In Step 2, I opened up Nik’s Color Efex Pro 4, and played around with a number of filter combinations.  I settled on adding the Tonal Contrast filter, using the default setting.  This brightened up the image overall, and added some structure to the grass blades.  I then added the Darken/Lighten Center filter, but opted to darken the center slightly and lighten the edges.  My feeling was there is not enough of a central subject to use the traditional technique of burning the edges slightly to make the center stand out. 

Step 3, the final step, was to go back into Color Efex Pro 4 to add an image border as a mechanism to help keep the eye on the photograph and prevent it from “sliding” off the image.  So here is the final version – for now…. 

I am quite pleased with how this image came together: I have a feeling that I will be revisiting the original raw file again just to experiment and see where it leads me.