Night photography is challenging on many levels. It’s dark, so it’s hard to see your camera controls. It’s often cold. White balance is a problem (unless you shoot RAW). Exposure settings are a challenge (see my previous blogs on this subject). Focus is also challenging. But the rewards are well worth the effort. Plus it’s just plain fun.
This blog post will focus on post processing which offers its own set of challenges.
Here is a shot taken September 7, 2013 during my Wallowas Wanderlust workshop. This is a rare wigwam burner (I’ve heard that there are only five left in Oregon and none are being used). Below is a comparison of three states of the image…
On the left is the RAW image right out of the camera. As you can see, it’s under-exposed. The white balance was a big problem. The green tint on the burner is caused by some mercury-vapor lights from a nearby house. As with any RAW file, the image is flat. Some may ask “Why shoot RAW if the images are flat?” Sure, I could have shot JPEG but with the white balance challenges at night and compounded by the nearby light sourced, it would have been impossible to get the end results seen here. RAW images contain all the information recorded by the camera thus allowing great leeway in post processing.
The middle image was processed in Lightroom 5. Here a I started by adding contrast, saturation and depth in the Basic panel. I adjusted white balance the best I could but still wasn’t happy with the un-natural colors in the sky. The Milky Way didn’t stand out enough. Then there was the green tint on the burner and ground. I addressed this fairly well with the adjustment brush tool to isolate just that area and desaturate it. But the burner still didn’t stand out enough and it is the main subject in this image.
The image on the right is the Lightroom version sent to PhotoShop CS5. Here luminosity masks (LM) really strutted their stuff. As you’ve heard me talk about in previous blogs, LMs are target specific tones in an image. For the stars, I was able to set the white point just in the bright tones thus solving the problem encountered in Lightroom. Here are the rest of the steps I took in CS5 with this image:
- Even though the wigwam and ground were desaturated in Lightroom, I created a B&W adjustment layer and applied a mask to sky. This allowed me to add some contrast to the area with a Neutral Density preset.
- I created a selection out of the mask above and used it with a curves adjustment layer to further add contrast to the wigwam area.
- I again created a selection from the mask above and inverted it. This turned the selection into one isolating the sky only. I added a Color Balance adjustment layer and added some green to the mid tones and red and blue to the highlights (all with the ‘Preserve Luminosity’ box checked).
- I played a bit with levels on the sky mask. This and the step above created a more natural appearance in the sky.
- My last step (as I usually do) is to add a sharpening layer. Create a new layer on top of all others. Select ‘Layer > Merge visible’ while holding down the Alt key (this merges all layers below into one layer without destroying the layers below). Then add a High Pass filter to the layer with a radius of about 10 and select ‘Soft Light’ as the blending mode.
As always, thanks for looking.
Here is a link to our Wallowas Wanderlust workshop this year.