A few days ago, I stood with Colm O’Callaghan and Ciarán Cooney at the foot bridge near Cherry Orchard west of Dublin.
The most elusive of all Irish Rail trains was on the move. To the uninitiated, the spoil train might seem a fool’s prize, but to the regular hunter and the connoisseur of the obscure, catching the spoil train is about as good as it gets.
As we waited the weather deteriorated. By the time the train came into view we had just about the worst possible lighting: heavy cloud directly overhead but bright bland sky in the distance and no way of minimizing the horizon. In other words, the lighting was too flat on the subject, but way too contrasty (and bright) in the distance.
With black and white film, I’d have over-exposed my negative by ½ to 1 full stop and then carefully processed it by under-developing by about 30 percent. (Shortening up my time). Then I’d selenium tone the negative, and when printing plan on some intensive dodging and burning. In the end, I have a series of dodgy looking prints that I’d probably never show to anyone, except under duress.
Instead, I exposed this image digitally using my Panasonix LX7. Gauging exposure with histogram, I ignored the advice of the camera meter, and did my best to avoid clipping the highlights, while avoiding total under-exposure.
Then, using Adobe Lightroom I experimented by trying replicate the scene using digital manipulation. Each of the following photos represent various attempts of making something out what would ordinarily go into the bin (trash).
The first photo is the un-manipulated RAW, the others show various degrees of adjustment.
Other than scaling the RAW file as a Jpeg for presentation, I’ve not altered the image. As I’ve explained, the lighting conditions were pretty awful. Pity Irish Rail couldn’t have waited for nicer light to run the train.
This is my first attempt at ‘fixing’ the photo. I’ve altered the contrast to lighten shadows and reclaim detail in the highlights, but I’ve also pumped up the colour saturation and used the ‘vibrance’ slider to alter the tonality. To my eye it looks a bit fake, but it only took about 30 seconds to achieve with Lightroom.
This is probably my best effort, but required substantially more time. I’ve used overlapping digitally applied gradated neutral density filters to better balance the sky and shadow areas in addition to global adjustments to highlights and saturation. At least this is a presentable photograph.
This is an over the top version. I’ve pushed the limits of exposure manipulation so the sky looks like something in a dodgy advertisement. It does show the level of detail that was recorded by my LX7’s RAW file. The information is there, it just needs to be processed.
This is the most manipulated version, with no less than three applications of gradated neutral density filters, as well as both localized and global contrast and exposure adjustment, plus saturation enhancement. To me the colors look like a cheap early 20th century hand-tinted postcard. All that’s missing is the ‘Welcome to Cherry Orchard’ greeting on the back. I’m not endorsing this attempt, I’m showing a degree of manipulation.
Which of these do you like the most?
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