History of one photo

by Mirek Pruchnik ©2007

This is a photo I took walking with my children across fields surrounding our house:

History of one photo

As you can see exposure was set to the sky, leaving lower part of the photo underexposed. In fact, in this situation I should have used exposure bracketing and blend photos later on (so-called HDR technique). Alternatively I could have shoot in RAW and play with exposure in post-processing and use HDR technique on two or three photos extracted from one RAW file. Unfortunately I usually shoot JPG, so no avail. So, is this photo lost? Not necessarily. Let's see what can be done.

Preliminary steps

First let's open the photo in PSE (just use whatever you want: PS, The GIMP or PSP – all should work).

History of one photo

And clone-out the white stripe visible on the left (it's not snow, it's a kind of covering to shield some plants from freezing). Colning is not problematic in this particular case:

History of one photo

OK, this is our starting point for further post-processing. My intention was to give the photo a dreamy, slightly unreal view (with “midnight something” technique), but unfortunately the lower part of the photo was too dark for this. So, first it was necessary to make lower part lighter and the upper part slightly darker.

Black-white gradient to the rescue

To achieve this darkening/lightening effect let's create gradient adjustment layer, like this:

History of one photo

Gradient should be adjusted to appropriately fit areas we want to darken and lighten (hint: it was not obvious for me that having gradient dialog box opened I can use the mouse to “drag” the gradient on the photo to change it).

After gradient is set, we change blending mode to “Soft light” and re-adjust gradient if necessary:

History of one photo

This is basically what we wanted to achieve, so now we flatten the image and apply further post-processing.

Adding “glowing” effect

Clone the background layer and change the blending mode to “Multiply”:

History of one photo

As you may know this is the first step in adding “glowing” effect to the photo. Don't be afraid that the photo is too dark at this stage – it will be corrected later on.

So, now it's time to blur the upper layer. We will use Gaussian Blur filter with radius set to 20:

History of one photo

And after blurring we will bump up saturation of this upper layer to obtain deeper colors:

History of one photo

As you can see we are almost there with post-processing, but the photo is still too dark. To make it lighter we have to flatten image, duplicate the background layer again, but this time we set blending mode of the upper layer to “Screen”:

History of one photo

Now we can flatten the image as we are almost there. The only disturbing thing is that lower (“ground”) part of the photo is too dark, despite the “lightening” step employed at the beginning.

Gradient to the rescue (again)

Yes, we have to add gradient once again, but this time we will use translucent/white gradient type, instead of black/white one. That's because we want to lighten lower part of the photo, but not darken upper part any more:

History of one photo

Yup, that's it – time to flatten the image for the last time and save it.

And the final step is ...

... to frame the photo ...

History of one photo

... and add some catchy title, like “... and they went, poor things, into wide world”.

Some additional remarks

At first it seemed that using contrast masking technique will be better suited to postprocess this photo. I've tried it, but the result was flat and uninteresting skies and clouds. I think that the black gradient on the higher half of the photo was crucial to the final look and feel.

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