I have to say I'm finding it very difficult to stay committed to picture-making these days. It has been one of the cruellest months of March that I can recall, and I'm glad it's coming to a sweet end on Easter day, when finally there is some warm sunny weather in the forecast. Not to mention that my so called Canadian ruggedness to brave the elements has been seriously cut down by the fact that I've had a miserable cold all month.
But enough moaning. The weather is finally turning, and I'm starting to feel better. I will soon be out enjoying the click of my shutter(s) again. Meanwhile, I'm going back to a picture I did over a year ago, in the dead of winter, when this kind of weather is at least appropriate, and therefore to be enjoyed. I was using the EOS 40D at the time, well before it broke. It was a great picture maker, considering it's vintage - a DSLR over five years old is considered ancient, given all the "progress" that modern digital cameras are undergoing year after year. This particular shot is one that I had set aside as having some potential, but I am only now getting back to it.
As I was working it up in Photivo, it dawned on me (again) just how dark and lifeless this scene was, out of the camera. I finally gave in to the plain truth that a digital camera is in fact, a computer with a lens on it, and it is only capable of doing exactly what you're telling it to do. In this case, I was using Aperture Priority with Evaluative Metering (as I usually do), which is an automatic exposure mode which is meant to provide the best overall exposure throughout the entire scene. In this scene, I was shooting directly into some very glorious natural outdoor lighting, and I had yet to learn that when using a computer with a lens on the front, you cannot rely on the computer's evaluative metering to make the right evaluations. So, naturally, the computer measured most of the light as being concentrated in the clouds and atmospheric sun-rays, and set the exposure for the entire scene based on that. I've finally learned that "evaluative metering" does not necessarily evaluate the entire scene coming at it through the lens. No. Rather, it evaluates the sum-total of the light in the entire scene, regardless of where that light is located, and then compensates the overall exposure to fit within the dynamic range of the computer's image sensor, resulting in this:
- Brighten the shot by two full stops, using the Reinholdt algorithm, but with a "film curve" turned on so as to not blow out the highlights (I always use Reinholdt because it has some smarts built into it; I find it far better than merely turning the EV up)
- Increase the Gamma, to get rid of that hazy cast, and increase overall contrast
- Compress the Dynamic Range, which is actually a means of "fooling" the picture data into allowing what is perceived by the human eye as a wider range from the lightest to the darkest values
- Everything I've mentioned so far creates noise in the image, seen as "speckles", because it's all trickery, and noise is the price that is paid for it. The software gives you several options of noise reduction, which really only give you plenty of ways to "smudge" the pixels together. The noise I had generated so far wasn't too bad, so I opted out of Noise Reduction
- Sharpen the picture by applying "local contrast" as needed. Local contrast, as opposed to overall contrast, actually increases the contrast at a micro level, between one pixel and each of it's neighbouring pixels. It can selectively be applied to shadows, mid-tones and / or highlights. I think in this case I did it to the shadows and highlights, leaving the mid-tones alone.