Creating Depth in a Single Image by Ed Heaton
One of my biggest pet peeves is when I hear a student/client firing off a series of five or more images in a row (Exposure Bracketing) and telling me at least I know one of them is the right exposure. This tells me that they are unsure of what the correct exposure should be and as a workshop instructor I have this aspiration to show them how to achieve the correct exposure. Now, I’m all for shooting exposure bracketing or HDR series when the scene calls for it, but if you can capture the dynamic range of the scene in a single frame, why wouldn’t you?
Okay, let me back up just a bit. We all know that cameras can only record a certain range of exposure in a single shot, approximately 5 to 7 stops whereas the human eye can see approximately 14 – 18 stops of light. Keep in mind these numbers are a little subjective and not every camera has the same dynamic range.
Let’s get back on track and actually talk about pulling depth or dynamic range out of a single image. Now, I need to tell you that I shoot for the highlights, much like I did with slide film and try my best not to let the shadow areas get too dark or blocked up. With that said, there are so many times that a single image (with the correct exposure) will completely cover the dynamic range needed. All you need to do is pull out some detail in the shadow areas in post processing, and for this I use Nik Software’s Viveza 2.
Let’s start by looking at the image straight out of the camera with no processing at all.
Tulip – Unedited
We can see with this image, I covered the dynamic range fairly well. If I had made my exposure any brighter, the light green area in the background would have been overexposed. Now that I have my properly exposed image, (nothing blown out or overexposed), I see that the stem and petals are a little darker than I would like them, so I’m going to open (brighten) the shadow area with Viveza 2. You’ll notice that I start by adding a Control Point to the petals or red area of my image. I add brightness, contrast and structure to this area:
Next I want to pull up the brightness of the stem. Again, I do this by adding another Control Point to my image and adjusting the brightness, contrast, and structure.
You’ll notice that not only do I add brightness to the areas I want to change, I also add contrast and structure and I do this to give the image more depth and definition. You can see here that by opening the shadow area (both in the red pedals and the stem) our image is much more pleasing.
Tulip – before Viveza 2
Tulip – after Viveza 2