Several Shades of Grey In Colour—Tracking the Light Daily Post.

Experiment in Post Processing.

On March 6, 2014, I was poised to make an image of Irish Rail 085 (in relatively fresh grey paint) using my Canon EOS 7D with 40mm lens. Before the train arrived, I made my requisite test exposure.

I always do this. A test exposure insures the camera is working and is set properly. It also allows me to fine tune my settings to optimize the amount of  information captured.

In this case, I realized that to obtain the best exposure and retain sky detail, I would necessarily need to allow the ground and primary subject to be bit dark. However, since I can adjust this in post processing, I opted for the darker exposure.

I could have simply used the ‘levels’ or ‘curves’ feature in Photoshop to lighten the image. This is my normal quick adjustment. However, I thought I’d experiment. So I made series of localize contrast adjustments using the ‘Magnetic Lasso’ tool.

My aim was to even out the relative exposure of various areas, and specifically to reduce the extreme contrast between the sky and the train’s shadow areas, with an ultimate goal of presenting the scene in the final image as it appeared to me at the time of exposure.

I had no intention of exaggerating or distorting the effect of the overcast morning, but rather to correct for some of the inherent limitations of the camera system.

Below are a series of images that illustrate the steps of my contrast adjustment. I’ve intentionally grossly exaggerated adjusted areas as to make the process more obvious. My actual adjustments were relatively subtle. It is my feeling that if the process becomes obvious, the end result will seem artificial.

This is a JPG from the camera RAW file. I made no adjustments to the picture other than convert and scale the file for internet presentation). I intentionally exposed the scene to retain detail in the sky, recognizing that with a digital image detail is lost when an area is over exposed, while it is easy to adjust contrast and brightness after the fact in darker areas.
Using the ‘magnetic lasso’ tool I selected the lower area of the photo and adjusted contrast and exposure using the ‘curves’ tool. Please note, I’ve exaggerated the selected area; my actual adjustments were subtle.
For the next step, I again used the magnetic lasso to select the darkest shadow areas of the locomotive and wagons, then lightened this selection using the ‘curves’ feature.
Although the sky had sufficient detail, I felt that it would be best to make this area slightly darker as a interim step in preparation for an overall lightening of the image. To avoid an unnatural darkening of the Wellington Testimonial, I carefully excluded this from the sky area. I then lowered the contrast and darkened the sky using the ‘curves’ feature.
This is the image following the global lightening. While this is very close to how I saw the scene, I felt it still required nominal contrast adjustment as it appears slightly ‘flat’ (contrast levels too low).
This is my final image following my multi-step contrast adjustment experiment. Notice, that while the sky is relatively bright, I’ve retained detail in the clouds.

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