Never Tell The Place What You Are Going To Shoot, Let It Tell You
We believe we have to do something, but sometimes the best thing to do…is nothing.
After my day long shoot at the Salton Sea, that night I started working on some of my images from the day. One was shot as a 3 exposure +-2EV HDR. I processed it quickly that night following my long day and 4 hours of driving.
The next day after a good nights rest and on fresh eyes I returned to the image…O.M.G. What was I thinking?
HDR has become synonymous with over-the-top images, not that it shouldn’t be, but the fact is, it doesn’t HAVE to be that. Sometimes it just has to represent what was there and sometimes we get there best by doing…nothing.
The image was shot at dusk during the “Blue Hour” one of my favorite times to shoot. The dynamic range was much lower than the sunset that just occurred but the value of the sky was still quite bright in relationship to the shadow areas. I could have shot a single image but it wouldn’t have told the story as well as a 3 exposure HDR would have.
Upon processing that image, I needed to keep in mind just what was it I saw. It’s why I like to process images as soon as I can after the shoot while my “photographic” memory is still fresh. When you do a shoot, take time to just take in the moment. Too often, because of the short window of opportunity with truly great light, we shoot too much and too often to get all the shots. Instead, take some time to see what is around you, breathe it in, see it and instead just get one shot that matters.
I reviewed all my images of the day in Lightroom, after flagging the ones I wanted, I went back to begin the processing. This image in particular caught my eye even in the non-HDR state. These are the three exposures I worked with.
Selecting them in Lightroom, I exported them to Nik HDR Efex Pro 2 and did an easy and precise alignment. When I got to the Tone Mapping module I immediately reached for the usual tools.
I have a preset made of things I normally do to all images: changes to Compression, Contrast, Structure and Saturation. Nope, not for this image, just those simple changes were too much. It wasn’t what I saw that evening. Reflecting upon that (pun intended) I ended up making just two slight adjustments. A 20 point boost in Structure, to bring out the clouds and the concrete in the water and a 20 point up tick in saturation, just cuz I like it that way. And that was it.
We always feel we “Must do something”, surely “Something” will make this better. It didn’t, it won’t. I could have still made a compelling image. I could have popped it and made people go “ohh” and “ahhh.” I could have moved every control HDR Efex Pro 2 had, but that wasn’t what this evening was about. It wasn’t what was there. The evening was soft and light and beautiful. It was my duty to convey that.
I left the image as it was and opened it in Photoshop where I always make my fine tune adjustments and finalize the image. I reached, as I always do, for a Levels/Curves adjustment layer. But no, it was too much, it didn’t need it, I reached for my Dodge and Burn tools…no, not needed. I needed to do “nothing”.
I of course did do some finishing work. I spot healed a bunch of sensor spots that are always my arch nemesis no matter when I last cleaned my sensor and I straightened the horizon. Because the image was so soft and beautiful I wanted it completely void of visible noise so I ran the image through Nik’s Dfine 2.0, masking it off the concrete because it didn’t need it and then I ran Nik’s Sharpener Pro 3.0 and masking it only onto the concrete for maximum sharpness.
That was all the “something” I needed to do. The rest was really all about nothing. The beauty of the Salton Sea rested on its own laurels.
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