Curves - Follow-up Part III

I didn't plan on a part III. Heck I didn't plan on a Part I or Part II either. I hope this will wrap it up for Aperture 3 curves though. I received an inquiry regarding my actual use of the extended range mode in Aperture 3's curves adjustment tool. This was based on my use of the phrase "… somewhat contrived example" for the images I choose to illustrate the original post as well as the follow-up posts. Fair enough – everyone deserves to see an illustration that's more along the lines of my general use so I found an image that is typical and not contrived as a wild example. Here I thought people liked wild examples.

I shot the image at the top for Simulating Sunlight: Part I. Since I was using only one speedlight for that entire eBook mixed with ambient there were some challenges here and there in terms of specifically shooting with a post processing treatment in mind that would have a very different aesthetic to the OOC JPEG. Sometimes that's just the way the light you have plays out. The screenshot at the top shows the as imported version as well as the version I ended up with. This should be a quick walk-thru if you've followed along so far. I'll go through all of the adjustments since I only have one curves adjustment instead of fifty-three of them here.

Let's start with the exposure block as that's where I usually start.

There are two modifications here. First I added 0.66 or 2/3 stop to exposure. Typically I would do that in camera but this was a little bit of a special circumstance entirely driven by something I was illustrating for the eBook. I was using ambient for fill and a single bare speedlight for the main light. See that little triangle of light by the door frame on the left? That's the real sun. All the rest of the highlights on Anastasia and the white walls and the white dress and the skin are speedlight fueled.

I have two exposures that I am balancing. The ambient and the speedlight. That little piece of real sun is tied directly to the ambient fill the more I up the ambient exposure the higher that goes too. I want the flash exposure to seem about the same as that little triangle but I really can't go that high or everything will start to blow out in the speedlight highlights. Just as problematic is I really want more fill but without bring more gear to the table I am stuck with ambient. So… I split the difference which was underexposing ambient about 2/3 stop less than what I really wanted. Hence the additional exposure in post. Too bad this was exactly the same as if I did it in camera which we'll address in minute.

The second adjustment which I will make in 90% of all cases when using Aperture 3 is I set the black point to 0 instead of the camera default. This deserves a bit of explanation. The default black level in Aperture 3 is crazy aggressive and typically jambs up the darks in what is a good exposure. It makes all of the shadow areas feel pretty harsh for my typical desires. It also affects the overall saturation which is a bit high as a starting point. Last but certainly not least is I am not in love with the default curve shape – tonal response – call it what you will of Aperture 3's RAW processing. Too much overall contrast and not enough in the mids. Un-jamming the darks, reducing overall contrast and saturation right here allows me to reshape it with… you guessed it the curves tool.

Okay, exposure block addressed but now we have even more issues in the highlights as is to be expected. Exactly the same as if I exposed it this way in camera. Note the blacks on the modified image vs the OOC as imported. Here's what they are…

Before we deal with all that let's dial in a different color treatment with the white balance adjustment since we're up here anyway. I'll use the skin tone mode for this which I use about half the time – the other half I will just dial in the numbers I want via temp/tint mode. Here I sampled a couple of patches of skin until I got the overall tint balance I was looking for today and then eeeked over the warmth slider a bit warmer. An aside; The warm/cool slider in skin tone mode is very nicely calibrated for color balance on skin. Try it. Here's where we're at now…

Now for the big deal… Curves. First off here's a screen shot to show you where I ended up shown in extended range.

As you can see I slid the bottom right white point farther to the right to bring all the highlights back into the visible range represented by the highlighted lower left quadrant of the curves graph. What you cannot see clearly is what else I did after making that change which is critical but not extreme. This is typical to get more of a color negative film tonal response instead of a more slide film tonal response in many lighting scenarios.

On the left you can see that same curves control now in the normal range. I added two points to the normal range – the realm of the visible. The first one is down in the shadow portion of the tones. This nails the shadows to that strait gray reference line. The only reason it was required was that second point up in the highlights. I dragged the second point upward until the mids, upper mids, and highlights looked like I wanted them to. This also put the shadows somewhere I didn't like, not by much mind you. This is why there is a point down in the shadows to bring them back where I liked them.

It just so happens that those two points bring the curve back to that strait gray reference line. Not that it should, use your eyes rather than some recipe. Prior to adding these it was much lower than that reference line as shown on the right.

Nothing wild, crazy, secret, or fixing things that were way way off in camera. Just a subtle remapping of tonal response more to my liking. More color negative film like. A few extremely minor things like this are a night to day difference as you can see in the screenshot at the top. Wild swings are usually not the answer unless things are broken in camera. Here you can look at it as a remapping of the way highlights respond to a more film like way of working. They start to compress while maintaining good mid-tone contrast.

Now for the other couple of adjustments. We'll go to 100% pixel view for these. Here is where we sit right now…

First off I added a bit of subtle edge sharpen. Not really required here but I generally do this because Aperture doesn't have any output specific sharpening. I would much rather that, like lightroom has only a bit more controllable instead of just low, medium, high. This makes it look a hair better when I resize for the web. If I really care for super critical work (rare on my own stuff) I will actually do output specific sharpening and that's usually not in Aperture. That's not to say you need to do stuff like that any different than what I just did. It all depends on the final output and what you are trying to do. Here's the difference…

You are going to have to open those screenshots in another window and look at the actual size to see anything. The last thing I did is some really really subtle skin smoothing. Just for this occasion since we are viewing at high magnification. I used the Quick Brush - Skin Smoothing with it's default settings. You may have a hard time seeing where I used it. A few very minor swipes.

One last note. Isn't that crappy 50mm Nikon f/1.4 just so so horrible compared to all the cool new lenses you can get from the likes of Fuji and Olympus. No wonder it's $200 cheaper. I can't imagine how it could possibly be used seriously (sarcasm). I just love how people succumb to internet mob-think about how horrible all the stuff made by any of these idiot old-fashioned guys like Nikon are so much crappier than the new stuff. Yea…


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