The histogram for this unadjusted RAW file image shows some clipping in the highlights for one of the colour channels but none in the shadows. The problem we do have is that image has a lot of information compressed into the brightest areas. This makes the colour in the sky appear weak and poorly defined because the computer monitor can’t separate the tones. The fix for this isn’t to increase the saturation but to reduce the brightness of the highlights.
The image also has a lot of tones spread across the histogram and apart from a lot of deep shadows, doesn’t appear too bad. This is a good starting exposure to edit from and it won’t take much adjustment to produce the finished image which you can see in the newsletter introduction. When editing it’s very important to have a good starting position to work from.
The reason I was able to capture a good exposure for this image is that I used a three stop Neutral Density Graduated filter on the sky. This reduced the dynamic range of the scene to something the camera could handle. If I hadn’t used the filter, the sky would have appeared much brighter and the rocks in the foreground darker. The histogram would probably show clipping at both ends with little information in the midtones. The midtones are very important and usually produce the greatest visual impact.
Correcting a RAW file that has poor exposure is possible to some degree. But when you look closely at the results the quality of these images is poor. It’s therefore often necessary to capture multiple images at different exposures and use exposure blending techniques.
The reason I want to stress these points is that a lot of the images I receive have a problem with the dynamic range. The photographer either didn’t use an ND Grad filter, or the filter was far too weak. Trying to produce a good edit from such an image is an uphill challenge. The results may look OK for an initial glance, but they won’t stand closer inspection. My message is, either use quality filters or shoot multiple exposures and learn how to do exposure blending in editing.
The next problem I see a lot are common mistakes. A good example is the skewed horizon where the image is obviously leaning to one side a lot. Whilst you can correct this in post capture processing, it’s better to avoid it in the first place. Use the level on your camera to check the horizon or get a spirit level for the camera. Another example is having unwanted objects around the edge of the frame or even into the centre. Don’t be lazy and think you can ignore this and fix it later. It’s much better to be careful with your composition.
And whilst I’m talking about composition, there’s another problem that I see a lot. Many images that I’m sent lack a point of interest. In many cases it leaves you wondering why the photographer shot the image. A typical example is where there’s a nice sunset sky but there’s a black mass of trees, bushes and houses in the foreground that ruin the scene. Another example is a tiny looking range of mountains in the distance with an empty foreground. You can’t fix these problems by editing the image. It’s essential to capture a good composition with the camera.
The final point to make is that I often see images with poor editing. The saturation and contrast are already at unnatural levels. The shadows are completely open so that you can see every detail, and the image has been sharpened to within an inch of its life. The email then says something along the lines of this being the original image before any editing. As I mentioned at the start, this isn’t a good starting position for any editing, and it isn’t possible to reverse the damage.
Remember, when you’re editing a natural subject like a landscape it’s best to keep the adjustments subtle. Work gradually, trying to keep adjustments realistic.
Actually, I do have one more point to add and it’s the reason why I shouldn’t be editing your photos. I didn’t shoot the original image and I don’t have the vision of the finished image. Yes, I can make an image look better, but this will never match a true artistic vision. That’s the vision that comes only from the photographer. Only they know what was in their mind that caused them to take the shot. Artistic vision is one of the most powerful tools in photography and why you must edit your own photos.