Help Me Adobe Wan Kenobi...Rescuing an image.

Recently, while looking through some older raw files I stumbled upon an image. It was an image of the Corpach shipwreck that I shot last year. It wasn't the shot I ended up keeping from that day, it was a test shot for another angle I had been trying but there was something about it that I liked. I could also see things that I didn't like. It was flat with very little colour definition. When I was shooting it I was using a polariser to try and enhance the colours of the boat but this in turn had stripped all of the beautiful reflected light from the pebble beach. The 2 stop soft ND grad I was using wasn't strong enough to soften down the brightness of the sky. The whole scene was very dramatic but none of that drama was present in this image. It was a typical test shot, ok but not fully worked out. All of this got me thinking, was there a good image hiding in here and could I rescue it? Could I edit it in such a way as to put back the drama that was missing? Challenge accepted!

First up, How I edit

Currently I edit all of my images in Adobe Camera Raw and Photoshop. At some point I will no doubt crawl out from under my rock and switch to lightroom but I’ve been using camera raw for many many years and find it has everything I need to get results I’m happy with. While I have certain processes I apply to all my images, lens correction, sharpening etc, I favour treating each image individually and edit according to the narrative I was trying to capture when I shot it. Because of this I don't use any presets, not because I disagree with people using them I just personally find them too creatively limiting and I don't think they work well with the variety of images I shoot. This is especially true when it comes to an image like this one. 

The Image

I captured this image of the Corpach shipwreck and Ben Nevis last September on a stormy and cold day with very changeable skies. While I liked the composition and general feel of the image I chose at the time not to go ahead and edit it for one main reason. After I shot this image I found a composition I much preferred and the resulting image was far stronger, better executed and required minimum editing. That’s not to say I’m afraid of editing. If an image requires a lot of work I will happily do whatever is necessary but I aim to to do most of the work in camera at the point of shooting. Those images are usually the ones I end up keeping but as an experiment I thought it would be cool to try working on an image that I would otherwise (and did) reject, just to see if I made the right choice. Btw, I'm editing this picture and screenshotting as I go at the same time as writing this post so I have no idea right now what the final image will look like, it may be total s**t  : )

Raw AF. Corpach Shipwreck raw file. 35mm  f/8 1/3sec ISO100. I don’t think I’ve ever shared one of my raw images before and it doesn’t get any rawer than this. It’s an alright image and to be fair to myself the conditions were changeable and quite tricky, I think it had just started to rain as I was shooting this and the rocks I was standing on were lethal. Had I decided to go with this composition I would have hung around for better light and changed filters as I did on the keeper image from that day. Compositionaly it is ok. It’s a single image so no focus stacking but it’s actually quite sharp throughout. There are no blown out highlights or major mistakes so we are golden. 

First up. Opened up in Camera Raw the first edit is the addition of an ND grad filter over the top right hand side of the image. I don't want to altar the sky too much however this area is quite bright and distracting so I’ve dropped the exposure a little to soften the glow. It's a small adjustment but the drama that was happening in the sky is lacking in the raw image and so this adjustment is adding some of that back in.

Just a little. Next, some minor exposure corrections. The clouds are a little too blue so a small adjustment to the white balance corrects this. The image is still flat overall so dropping the highlights and raising the shadows has added a bit more presence to the boat and beach. A minor lift on the clarity has given a bit more sharpness to the image. Tip: Always use clarity sparingly, going in too hard is the fastest route to ruining an image. Raising vibrance to +5 helps to further pull out the colours on the boat. These are all very small adjustments but I usually find if I'm having to do too much to an image at this early stage then it probably isn't worth working on.

Chromatic aberration. Next step is to remove any chromatic aberration. For this shot I was using my Nikkor 35mm 1.8G which as I covered in this post HERE is very prone to chromatic aberration. As you can see on the before image on the left there is a definite hint of cyan and red around the mast. This is easily removed by clicking the remove chromatic aberration box. You can make further adjustments with the sliders if necessary but just clicking the box was enough to remove it all this time as you can see in the after shot on the right.

Last but not least . Last adjustments before opening up the image in Photoshop are to apply some sharpening and lens correction. I usually adjust the sharpening amount to around 70 as I find this is the sweet spot for my current camera. Any less than that and the effects are negligible, any more and I begin to notice fringing on the image. I then adjust the masking so that the sharpening is only applied to the part of the image I want to sharpen and not the image as a whole. Last job here is to apply lens profile correction. This step removes any distortion and vignetting created by the lens. Time to open up the image in Photoshop and make the final adjustments.

Last but not least. Last adjustments before opening up the image in Photoshop are to apply some sharpening and lens correction. I usually adjust the sharpening amount to around 70 as I find this is the sweet spot for my current camera. Any less than that and the effects are negligible, any more and I begin to notice fringing on the image. I then adjust the masking so that the sharpening is only applied to the part of the image I want to sharpen and not the image as a whole. Last job here is to apply lens profile correction. This step removes any distortion and vignetting created by the lens. Time to open up the image in Photoshop and make the final adjustments.

In the shop. First up in Photoshop is cropping. I don't want to lose too much of the image so I've opted for a 5 x 7 crop. I like the leading line created by the strand line on the beach curling round from the centre of the frame to the boat so I don't want to encroach on this with the crop. Instead I've adjusted the crop so the top horizontal third line is positioned on the top right corner of the boat in line with the top of Ben Nevis. This also positions the bottom third line precisely at the intersection of the right edge of the frame and the beach which I like.

Getting selective. Next, some selective colour adjustments. I want the red on the boat to have more pop so I create a new adjustment layer, pull up the reds and then create a layer mask so I can brush out the effect from the rest of the image and have the adjustment only apply to the reds on the boat. Same process for the yellows, removing some of the greener tones from the beach. Last step here is dropping the blues a little to balance the image better. 

Vignette . Using the lens correction filter I've added back in a little of the vignette I removed earlier, just to help draw the eye into the image. The secret is moderation when applying vignette. Too much and it looks cheesy. I prefer subtle but effective over cheesy. 

Vignette. Using the lens correction filter I've added back in a little of the vignette I removed earlier, just to help draw the eye into the image. The secret is moderation when applying vignette. Too much and it looks cheesy. I prefer subtle but effective over cheesy. 

A bit of dodge and burn action. I recently watched a great video of a film photographer applying these techniques in the darkroom and they have become a firm favourite of mine since. I love how little corrections (I rarely have the tool exposure set above 1 or 2%) can have such a huge impact on the image. For this image a bit of work on the boat and beach has given the scene a lot more presence. At this point I'm starting to feel quite good about this image, it's looking a lot better.

Levels. One final adjustment layer, this time levels. Adjusting shadows and highlights to make that boat pop and give definition to the beach, clouds and the hills in the background. Note: I have a distracting glare from a window on my monitor and changing the photoshop background from grey to white helped cut it down a bit, in case you were wondering why it changed. 

Last step. A little bit of sharpening using the smart sharpen filter. I just wanted a bit more clarity on the boat and this did the trick nicely. And that’s it!

Before & after. Overall I'm pretty happy with how this came out. The editing is a lot stronger than I would normally perform and if I was to be really picky I’m still not 100% on it. It might be one of those images that grows on me and I may return to it again later on, perhaps softening some of the effects. I will be sure to post any further edits if I do but for now I quite like how it came out. It was fun trying out something new. If you have any questions about any of the processes I used please feel free to drop a comment below. 

The Final Cut.