Get it right in the camera

Confession time…

This may look like a great shot, because it is after all, New Zealand, and one of the most scenic spots in New Zealand, Milford Road. I mucked it up by being impatient. This is a classic example of why you need to take…your…time… and get it right in the camera. You’re also looking at the end result of several steps in Photoshop to attempt to salvage what was basically blown highlights. I did ok with it. I don’t consider this a saleable image and here is why. Blown highlights means no data, just as much as excessive black means no data. The eye pretty much recoils from blown highlights. You can guess where those are if you look at this image even briefly. You shoulda seen them before I worked on it. Ow. My retinas are still burning.

This is a difficult exposure, due to the snow with the sun blazing on it, and the valley pretty much still in morning shadow. Difficult, but not impossible. How could I have fixed it? Show of hands? Moose, if you’re reading, you don’t get to answer, but thanks. Put your hand down. šŸ™‚

This is a perfect place to use a graduated neutral density filter. Why didn’t I? Hell if I know, but I was being impatient and relying on my technology and perhaps thinking “I can fix it in Photoshop”. Well, I only was able to sorta fix it. If you are on a once in a lifetime vacation, fer Cod’s sake bring these filters with you. I did, and I didn’t use them here. I was using a polarizer, but sometimes, even that isn’t enough. This particular filter is more of a warming polarizer, which tends to warm up colors and doesn’t polarize as much as a regular polarizer does. A great filter yes, but probably not as appropriate for this situation. Live and learn. In photography, these “learning opportunities” can be painful. I may never pass this way again, and even if I do, will I have this brilliant blue sky again? Two friends of mine were there a few months later, and it was very very cloudy. This area gets 30 meters of rain per year. For those not inclined to the metric system, a meter is just over a yard. That’s a lot of rain. Blue skies are not that common. Opportunity…well, not blown but also not fully taken advantage of either.

Had I used a GND filter, I would have been able to preserve the data in the areas that I blew out, leaving the darker foreground, well…lighter, and would have had a bit more latitude in processing this image. Most likely, it wouldn’t have required nearly as much processing, leaving more time to go out and shoot more. The plug ins I use for photoshop have a Graduated Neutral Density filter, which is one of the steps I used here. But blown highlights are blown highlights. Just as you can’t sharpen an out of focus image, you can’t completely salvage an area of no data. Got it? That’s how the camera interprets it. No data. Not just really really bright white like our eyes and brain.

Our modern digital cameras, as good as they are, do not have the dynamic range of our eyes. This is why so many people I know get frustrated with landscape and other kinds of photography, because, and I quote one friend “I just can’t do it justice”. I am here to tell you that you can, but don’t believe me, look at the pro’s. They do it all the time. Because of this limitation of technology, we need to trick our cameras into exposing the way we want them to, with filters, etc.

HDR (High Dynamic Range) is another way of blending and processing images that we take when bracketing for different exposures. HDR, when done right, yields stunning images full of dynamic range. My pet peeve about that technique is when people over map, and make it look like a bad acid trip. Perhaps more on that subject later. Please folks, if you do HDR, don’t do that. That is not what it was meant to do. Artistic effects are fine…but make it mean something, don’t just cover up a bad image with an effect to make it look “cool”.

Many of you may say this is not a bad image. I would agree, its not. It’s hard to call New Zealand ugly; even in a bad photo, you can tell it’s paradise. In a mediocre image, the beauty shines through. This is just not a great image from a technical standpoint. It matters to me, if to no one else.

If you ever get a chance to go there, do it. You won’t regret it.

2 thoughts on “Get it right in the camera

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