As anybody that reads this blog knows I rarely post any articles that relate to image adjustments. The reason for this is that I feel the web is chock full of how-to sites regarding image manipulation. Some good and some not so good. While I will continue to post mainly work-flow related articles I wanted to depart just a little bit and post something on a set of adjustment features contained inÂ Aperture that I feel is superior and far more accessible than other products. Not only that but also having received a ton of feedback on the NEF adjustment posts I wanted to see if more readers would find a smattering of other image manipulation and adjustment articles at all useful. Today's topic is mainly the Highlights and Shadows adjustment block with a tiny little bit of Recovery mixed in as well.
To demonstrate how useful (and quick - hey I am lazy) the Highlights and Shadow adjustment block can be I will share an image that I thought would head strait to the trash bin when I took it. I played with it for about 10 seconds in Aperture and it turned out to be a keeper. Before anyone chimes in - yea I know that the scene screams for HDR but hey this is a personal project that I spend about 7 minutes a month on and if I have a camera with me, and I happen to stumble across a place, and it happens to be the right light/weather, and… Enough excuses - no tripod = crappy HDR, especially with the size prints that I envision making with this project, so I took the image. Here it is strait out of the camera. Here is the RAW file [download#7] if you want to follow along with one of my crappy images instead of one of your crappy images.
Notice how crappy it is. I mean really crappy - That blown out stuff behind the big black thing is the sun shining through the clouds. The big black thing is supposed to be a boat unfortunately it's lit by the sky behind me that is not too bright compared to the sun in front of me. Anyway it looked really cool if you were there. Let's see if we can get some of those highlights back with the recovery slider - holding the command key while screwing with the recovery slider really helps you judge what is lost and what is not - try it. Almost forgot to tell you - fix the white balance first - actually I didn't say it first on purpose but wanted to emphasize that if you don't you will not see an accurate picture of what color channels are lost/recovered when you are using the recovery slider. Okay - here it is with WB and recovery adjustments, still really crappy but better.
Moving on to the meat - Hightlights and Shadows. Do yourself a favor and drop down the "advanced" section within the Highlights and Shadows adjustment block. It's really not that advanced so don't be too intimidated if you haven't used it before, this is what makes this quicker, easier, and better then other software out there. This images need some help in both the highlights and shadows so I am going to give it a healthy dose of slider action in both the main sliders - highlights and shadows. Do it until it looks good, good being subjective. Still not wonderful but much better. Most images that need this degree of screwing with are going to have another issue after you bring the highlights and shadows into the visable realm of photographdom - they will not be snappy, snappy as in local and mid contrast. That's what that mid-contrast slider is in the "Advanced" section is for. Here is the trick to this - take the highlights and shadows sliders and nudge them up a little bit from where they look "good" to where they look not so good (really just a little bit) prior to bumping the mid-contrast slider up a bit. The mid-contrast slider is one of those controls where a little goes a long way. With this image the only other slider in the advanced section that I am going to change is the color correction slider, I am going to nudge it to the right a bit - this is another one that you do not want to over do, in fact with this image to get the burgundy stripes where I want them the blue hulls of the other boats are starting to look a little cartoonish. More on that in another article. So here it is after about 10 seconds - I'll keep it.
For a final product I am going to do some other tweaking but for a base level image getting there this quick is really cool. The rest of the sliders in the Highlights and Shadows are pretty self explainatory, for my taste I pretty much left them at their defaults. If you want to see what they do play with them - for the most part they affect what is considered a "highlight" and what is considered a "shadow" - I find for most purposes the defaults are pretty spot on for "normal" photographic purposes but you may run into situations/images that respond very well to playing with them a bit. Here is a clue - if parts of the image that you are higlighting and shadowing are changing that you don't want to change, the tonal width sliders are what you want to mess with. I have also seen these used for some pretty cool special effects as well.
Okay, okay let's go a little nuts and play with the other sliders and do some strange stuff just so that you can see what kind of things that you can do with a tiny bit of imagination we'll venture out of the realm of the photograph in it's natural god given state like the screen shot at the top of the post. Take a look at the first one and the second one - see the halos and how they change - that is the radius. Highlights and Shadows at the extreme is a bit like HDR with one RAW file, once you cross into the highlights trading places with the shadows you have to play with it to get the "best" effect.
Or even this…
Please let me know if this type of adjustment article/post is at all useful to you, if not let me know what would be. There is a ringer in the last group see if you can pick it out - and why.