I was shooting with a client in the studio last week, the owner of Max’s in Saint Louis Park, MN. Her store is known for incredible jewelry, but she also has a very fine collection of fine crafted chocolates. Ellen Hertz, owner of Max’s, was kind enough to bring some chocolate for the shoot. That was a week ago and I noticed the box, mostly finished, sitting on the kitchen counter this morning and thought about it as I was editing this image from Death Valley.
You start all excited, working through the first good chocolates you see and then realize you need to slow down. The sugar buzz, the overwhelming calories, hell they don’t even taste all that good after 6 or 7. Then the box sits. For days. And the craving begins again. You slowly start to revisit the box, eating fewer each visit, being more and more selective, until you get near the end and spot a few remaining gems. With just a few left you really want to stretch out the joy of them. Well, sorting through a huge set of files from a shoot like Death Valley feels like the proverbial box of chocolates and I’m pretty sure I just emptied the box this morning.
I found this last image and I wondered why I had skipped by it. It was passed over several times, perhaps needing a special attention and consideration it just couldn’t get with all those other undeniable chocolates surrounding it. This was one of many amazing light events and I did a poor job of shooting it. Perhaps a bit too much sea salt on the chocolate, but waiting inside the was delicious caramel filling.
Enough of the analogy. I found the image inside the image and have put together a post production workflow and critique of the image which lead to the final crop. I hope you enjoy the image and tutorial.
Step 1 RAW conversion: I used two graduated neutral density filters provided in ACR to drive the sky and foreground more into balance. At this point I was fully intending to go black and white, but had not yet fully detected the problems with the composition. In the color image the highlights are more visually heavy, allowing the foreground elements to be a central subject, but not so in black and white, as well see.
Step 2 Run Through Noise Ninja: I use this product to minimize noise in file, especially when the image is being processed for Black and White. My BW process pushes pixels around which can exacerbate noise if it hasn’t been cleaned out beforehand.
Step 3 Multiple BW Adjust Layers: In this step I’ll separate sky from foreground in BW adjustment layers to manage my BW process separately. This idea is essential in many of my black and white images. Typical of this step is an image that is very flat or weak in contrast. It is not interesting yet, but in getting to a point of visual interest some issues appear.
Step 4 Tonality Adjustment via Color Channels In this step I just work with the color channel sliders in the BW adjustment layer to begin approximating the tonal range I desire in various parts of the image. This process is psuedo - global. In the next step I move to local adjustments to finish off the image. Contrast good, subject management getting worse. Highlights in black and white are not as visually heavy, allowing many subjects to compete with each other.
Step 5 Local Adjustments: At this point I’ll choose from a variety of tools, most typically Curves adjustment layers with masking, Dodging and Burning, and Levels to finish off a clear Black point in the image.
Step 6 Sharpening the Image: This is my last step, using today PhotoKit sharpening software.
Step 7 Fix The Photography: In my opinion this image was shot wrong for black and white. The image is very busy, with the contrast of the foreground elements really competing with the central subject, the clearing light on the mountain range. Use of leading lines or just a change of lens to isolate the central subject of light on the mountains would benefit this image. So, I decided to crop the image from the bottom, the finished image presented at the top of the post. Perhaps you fill differently. Feel free to comment. Each of us will make choices in the field and in post production, affecting how the images reads to us.