Processing the Wind Farm Photograph

Recently I posted a photograph of a wind farm very similar to the one below, on my Lightweight Photographer blog. Following this, there was quite a bit of interest in the processing used as well as people wanting to see the original image. This tutorial answers both of these points.

Two images were used to create the finished image. The shots merged shots stitched in Lightroom with the Merge to Panorama feature. The individual images used for this were captured with a Sony RX10 bridge camera. A 2 stop ND graduated filter was also used with the intention of darkening the sky to create a more dramatic mood in the finished image.

A further advantage of using the filter was that it allowed me to overexpose the image without blowing the highlights. This is a technique known as exposing to the right. It’s used when shooting in RAW format and is intended to minimise image noise as well as produce higher quality images. As I was going to be processing this image quite heavily, I wanted to start with a sound foundation.

Below you can see the panoramic image following the initial merging in Lightroom. Even though the image is overexposed, you can still identify the strong grad on the sky area.

As you can see the overexposure combined with the strong graduated filter has produced an image that is far too light and lacking in contrast. I knew at the time of taking this shot that I would be converting the image to black and white and that from past experience this type of image could produce a dramatic result.

With the RAW file imported to Lightroom, I started to process the file using the Basic adjustments. The idea was to increase the contrast and darken the image. In the following screenshot you can see the settings used together with the resulting histogram.

You can see the result of these adjustments in the screenshot below.

The image now appears to have improved contrast, luminance and detail but the colours are off as a result of the adjustments made. But don’t worry about this, we are in fact going to make these even worse. This will help drive out the tonal separation between the sky and ground when we convert to black and white. To do this I used the HSL sliders, altering both the Hue and Saturation using the settings below.

These adjustments are often not essential, and you can produce very good results without the HSL step. I am showing them here so that you know what I have done and that this technique can be used. The Colour image following the adjustments is shown below.

With the colour processing complete the image is opened in Photoshop where I will perform the conversion to black and white as well as further post capture processing.

There are many ways to move the image into Photoshop. My own preference is to have Photoshop set up as an image editor in Lightroom. I can therefore right click on the RAW file and select to edit in Photoshop. An alternative is to export the image to a TIFF (ensure you select a 16-bit format to maintain the image quality) and then open the TIFF file using Photoshop.

Once I have the image in Photoshop I perform the black and white conversion using Nik Silver Efex Pro. If you don’t have Silver Efex Pro, don’t worry as this is now free software and can be downloaded from the Google Nik website ).

To keep things simple for this conversion I looked through the default presets in the software and noticed that the -1EV preset produced a result quite similar to what I had visualised the finished image to be. You can see this in the screenshot below.

It was then possible for me to make some minor adjustments to the settings to improve the conversion further. This was done by adjusting the Amplify Whites and Blacks as well as increasing the midtone Structure slider. I didn’t both using any of the other tools or spot adjustments.

With the converted image back in Photoshop I decided to do some dodging and burning in order to emphasise the light falling on the hillside where the wind turbines are located. This was achieved by adding an empty layer filled with midtone grey (50% grey) and setting the blending mode of the layer to Overlay. It’s then possible to paint onto the layer using either black or white in order to darken or lighten an area. If you would like to know more about this and similar techniques in Photoshop, please see my book Essential Photoshop. The result of the dodging and burning adjustment can be seen in the image below.

The real drama can now be added to the scene using On One Effects, which is another excellent editing tool that can be used either stand alone or as a plug in for Photoshop. If you don’t have On One Effects, you are able to download a free version from the On One website (https://www.on1.com/apps/effects10free/). Although this version of the software doesn’t contain all the adjustments in the full version, it does contain 2 of the 3 adjustments used in this example.

For this image I used it on a new layer in Photoshop, converting the layer to a smart object first. On One Effects supports the use of Smart objects in Photoshop so it’s possible to later reopen the software and perform further adjustments if required.

In the following screenshot you can see the image being edited in On One Effects.

To make the changes I have applied three effects. The first is the Color Enhancer with the settings shown below.

This is applied with no adjustments but has the effect of darkening the image and boosting contrast. I haven’t yet been able to figure out why this should be but it does make for an effective adjustment.

Next is the Black and White adjustment.

Although there are more controls within this adjustment, below the Detail slider, they were all set to not apply any change.

Finally, there is an adjustable gradient to darken the sky.

Below you will find the finished image.

If You Liked This

If you enjoyed this tutorial you should see this. It's my video tutorial explaining how to turn a dull photo into a dramatic black and white image.

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