Back in December, I shot up to Sedona to catch the first snow of the season. It was a truly amazing day trip that resulted in some really beautiful shots. The day was just perfect for photography. The sunrise was bright and clean, the low wispy clouds clung to the base of the mountains and everything had a dusting of snow and frost. Sedona photography at it’s best and we took advantage of it.
One of my favorite shots from the trip was not one of the spectacular sunrise directly, or one of the iconic rock features. It was a simple shot, just north of the Bell Rock feature. It was sort of a quiet moment for me in the frantic shooting that morning. We had been scampering around since the sun first crested the horizon, dashing about to catch different angles while we had the window of opportunity. Then I took a moment…just to take it all in. It was a beautiful moment and I smiled at the pure, simple pleasure of being there.
As I took in my surroundings I turned away from the sunrise, something I hadn’t done yet, and there was this whole amazing scene behind me bathed in a warm glow. I took a couple of short steps to frame a few branches from a nearby tree into the shot. Shortly after that, I resumed my frantic shooting to grab what I could before the day pushed on.
Shooting in low light (sunrise/sunset) can be difficult. The low angle light creates high contrast and vibrant colors but can be difficult to show without some “dark room” adjustments. Our eyes do a much better job of working with high contrast than the camera does, so to get a photograph that mimics the experience it can take a little work. For me, the biggest thing is to bring the shadows forward so that we can see what is hidden there. To do this (in Lightroom) I push light into the shadows, then immediately increase the Black to restore contrast. Increasing the clarity will also help bring detail out of the shadows and create contrast. I rarely have to adjust the contrast directly as the shadow and clarity adjustments do it for me.
The problem with boosting light into the shadows is that you can lose detail in the highlighted areas. In this piece, the low clouds on the right became a white blob, but by playing with adjustments to the Highlights I was able to get the detail back. I don’t always boost the Saturation because it’s very easy to get a photograph that looks unnatural. However, adjusting the Vibrance setting (especially in sunrise/sunset shots) will bring out the vivid colors that make low light shooting so fun.
At this point in the editing process Lightroom lets you fine tune the saturation and hue by color. I don’t play with this often as it will also easily create a look that is unnatural and “over processed”. But in some cases (like Red Rock country) where the colors can become either muted or oversaturated depending on the natural light, I will use these tools to push and pull to recreate what the scene felt like.
You can see from the original shot that the details are all there. The light is much more subtle and the shadows disguise much of the section of trees in the middle. You also don’t get the feel of the sunrise which was much more vivid in person.
The last thing I do once I have the colors and shadows adjusted is focus on detail. Lightroom has fine detail adjustments that let me strip out some of the noise and Sharpen the finer details. Sharpening the image will usually bring out even more noise, but by also increasing the Luminance to match the Sharpening I can drop the rough noise out. This, to me, results in a much cleaner and more readable image.
- This image was shot on a Nikon D70s with a Nikon Nikkor 10-28mm WA lens.
- Exp: 1/160, F/9, ISO-200, 10mm.
- Originally shot in RAW format and processed in Adobe Lightroom.
…And the big announcement!
I finally created a virtual gallery for my work! I’m really excited to introduce Wilderness Dave Photography where you can see (and purchase) the top photos from my outdoor travel sets.
Go check it out, I’d love some comments and feedback. The gallery will be updated with new work as it is produced. Every week I will feature a special price on the Photograph of the Week for my readers if anyone would like to purchase a print. This week, use coupon code POTW4413 to get 40% off your purchase.