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How We Shot It

Fire Wave B&W – Valley Of Fire | How We Shot It – SOOC Edition

By Matthew Saville on April 8th 2014

The Photo

matthew-saville-fire-wave-final-bw-650

(Click here to view a larger version!)

The Equipment and Settings

How We Shot It

This episode of How We Shot It will include my in-the-field thought process when I “fool around” with in-camera Picture Controls. (AKA Picture Styles, for you Canon shooters)

As a landscape photographer I always shoot in RAW, so you might be wondering, why even bother with in-camera settings?  If you find this odd, you might want to watch THIS VIDEO that I created which expands on the whole concept of aiding your creative vision in the field using in-camera picture adjustments such as contrast, toning, and dynamic range enhancements.  (Known as Active D-Lighting for Nikon, and Auto Lighting Optimizer on Canon.)

So, let’s begin!  “Fire Wave” is a geological feature in Valley Of Fire State Park.  My adventure companions (Sean Goebel, Michael Relich Jr) and I had stopped here on our way to the Vermillion Cliffs area.  Unfortunately, the sunset was rather un-exciting and we arrived just in time to see the last bit of sunlight go behind a cloud.  Feeling a little demoralized by the boring light, but still in awe of the beautiful scene in front of us, I decided to do what I always do when the contrast gets a little flat: go B&W and have fun with tonal management.

Here’s the first exposure I made, as it appeared in-camera using Picture Controls that included +3 contrast, no Active D-Lighting, and of course B&W mode using the green filter and a faint sepia tone:

matthew-saville-fire-wave-sooc-no-adl

Moody and emotive in my opinion, but most would accuse it of being downright under-exposed.  Instead of grabbing a GND filter or brightening my exposure, I decided to simply try cranking up my Active D-Lighting to “Extra High” and see what happened.  Here was the same exact exposure, with Active D-Lighting turned on:

matthew-saville-fire-wave-sooc-adl

WOW, that’s a pretty impressive increase in brightness!  Indeed, Nikon’s Active D-Lighting is just that powerful.  However I know my camera very well, and even if “ADL” can bring out this much shadow detail, the exposure might still be needlessly under-exposed in Lightroom.  Lo and behold, here’s what this exposure looks like in LR:

matthew-saville-fire-wave-lr-dark

It definitely looks like I could brighten the exposure without losing any highlights.  By the way, here’s what the Lightroom histogram looks like:

matthew-saville-fire-wave-histogram-dark

I certainly could have “made it work” with this exposure, since the image fits easily within the histogram, but I still decided to brighten my exposure from 1/20 sec to 1/13 sec.  ETTR, “expose to the right”, as they say.  I also turned Active D-Lighting off, and left the in-camera contrast set to the maximum of +3.

matthew-saville-fire-wave-sooc-brightThis gave the image a slight bit more “pop”, while at the same time being a little more accurate to what I would be working with in post-production.

In-Camera B&W Picture Controls & Color Filters

Before we get to the post-production, I still need to explain one more choice I made in-camera, and that is the color filters that you can apply to your camera’s B&W mode.  No, I’m not talking about sepia or those types of tones.  I’m talking about the Red / Yellow / Green filtering options, that offer a type of tonal control very similar to traditional B&W film photography.  Here is what I mean:

matthew-saville-fire-wave-sooc-filter-red-1matthew-saville-fire-wave-sooc-filter-yellowmatthew-saville-fire-wave-sooc-filter-green

You guessed it-  in order to heighten the stark contrast of the red stone layers against the pale stone layers, I used the green B&W filter.

This works in the same manner as using a red filter to turn a blue black in B&W:  a colored filter darkens its opposite color tones, while brightening / leaving alone similar color tones.  The science behind this is, well, another article for another day.

At this point I was pretty happy with the overall tone and exposure.  The last thing I did (well actually the very first thing I did, but the last thing I’ll mention) was to apply a very faint sepia tone to the image in-camera, simply because I felt the scene’s naturally rich warm colors deserved it.

The Post-Processing

Once I get any RAW images into Lightroom, all of their in-camera processing goes away of course.  This is the advantage (and the curse) of shooting in RAW.  I work around this by culling and proofing my images using Nikon View NX 2, a proprietary Nikon file browser program that allows me to see my in-camera adjustments as if I had shot JPG in the first place. To be honest, I mainly just do this because it is more exciting and reminiscent of sorting slides on a light table, than sifting through dull, flat RAW images processed by Adobe’s RAW engine.  I also use Nikon View NX because it allows me to start browsing rather instantaneously, with no import process or preview rendering necessary, plus I can reference my back-of-camera vision as I edit in LR to create my final vision.

Of course if you don’t shoot Nikon, or don’t care to use a secondary program, I guess you could always just shoot RAW+JPG and tell Lightroom to treat your RAW and JPG files separately.

But I digress.  Here’s the un-edited image in Lightroom:

matthew-saville-fire-wave-lr-bright

From here I started with The SLR Lounge Preset System and the “Vivid Base” presets.  They help me manage / stretch dynamic range while maintaining high contrast & vibrance.  However since this image was going to require significant amounts of customized B&W processing, from this point on it gets a little crazy so I’m just going to share the Develop Module settings that are of importance:

matthew-saville-fire-wave-edits

In the develop panel, I had to keep the Highlights down and the Shadows up to compensate for such a high Contrast adjustment.  Since this image wasn’t a traditional HDR type image with extreme amounts of highlight / shadow recovery to do, I was able to keep the Blacks relatively low, and even increase the Whites by +15.  Dialing the Highlights all the way down to -1oo and bumping the Whites up to +15 is sometimes a great way to maintain good dynamic range while still giving your highlights that little “pop” so they don’t start to look too weird and over-processed. (We get more into this in our HDR Workshop DVD!)

In the B&W conversion, I attempted to mimic the in-camera filter by dropping the warmer tones way down and bumping the green / cool tones up a little bit.  I also like to make the conversion adjustments a smooth curve, instead of a more “jagged” array of sliders, because even if those intermediate colors are barely even present, it helps avoid any harsh transitions / posterization.

Then, I applied a very subtle split toning with my favorite 45/25 recipe.

Here is the final image, again plus a color version that also turned out great, ironically:

matthew-saville-fire-wave-final-bw-650matthew-saville-fire-wave-final-color-650

I think I like them both equally, however the journey to create the B&W version was far more rewarding and enjoyable, especially in the field.

Take care, and happy clicking,
=Matthew Saville=

 Learn HDR Photography

For more HDR education, be sure to check out HDR Tutorial by SLR Lounge. This comprehensive “gold standard” guide will give you a mastery of HDR photography, from the scene considerations to the actual shooting to the post production. Click here for more info.

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom

Lightroom 5 is, in our opinion, by far the most powerful workflow tool for any photographer especially wedding and portrait photographers who need to achieve perfect color correction at a rapid-fire pace.  Become a Lightroom Master using our complete Lightroom Workshop Collection for Lightroom 5!  This DVD workshop includes extensive tutorials for everything from organization & workflow to image processing and our awesome preset system.

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The SLR Lounge Preset System is designed to enable Lightroom users to achieve virtually any look and effect in 3-5 clicks. Including basic color correction, vintage fades, black & white effects, tilt-shift effects, faux HDR, retouching, detail enhancing, and so much more, the sky is the limit with what has been dubbed the most powerful and intuitive preset system available! Click the link above to learn more/purchase. The SLR Lounge Preset System is now available for both Lightroom 5, Lightroom 4, and Adobe Camera Raw. (Bridge CS6 and CC only, click for more info.)

Matthew Saville is a full-time wedding photographer at Lin & Jirsa Photography, and a senior editor & writer at SLR Lounge.

Follow his personal wilderness adventures: Astro-Landscapes.com

See some of his latest wedding photography featured on: LinandJirsa.com

4 Comments

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  2. jared campbell

    Nice job…about the soon looking different when opening in raw….the lid display I your cameraa interpretation of what it thinks it should look like as a jpeg….so image on led may look awesome…but looks like crap when you open in Adobe raw or lightroom…and go wtf! That looked awesome when I shot it!….it’s because the image as a raw file has not adjustments made to it…so you can make it look as good or better than the lcd…you just have to manually do so. I’m camera settings like lighting optimizer only typically stay with jpegs

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  3. Basit Zargar

    Great article

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  4. Greg Faulkner

    Great tutorial Matt, thanks it made an interesting read

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