Monday, August 13, 2012

Lightroom Saved My Bacon On This One

Now I'm not as bad as a buddy of mine (LF) when it comes to charging into places where you're not supposed to be to get a shot, but I got nailed on today's image.  The shot is of the second level drop (from the bottom) of Kent Falls in Kent Connecticut.  It was taken a couple weeks ago, so it's a midsummer kind of time frame.  It's also a "shoot it when you're there" shot.  I wanted to try out a nice, new six stop ND filter I'd just gotten and had the idea of shooting some flowing water.  The streams around here sort of suck at the moment and, as you can see, the falls didn't exactly have torrents of water coming over the drop. 

The pool at the bottom of the falls was full of people trying to beat the heat.  So, that was out of the question.  I looked around and spotted a route that was doable.  A little tricky and I'd have to pick my way up the drop, but I figured I could make it.  I scrambled (okay, slowly scrambled) my way up, occasionally putting the tripod down, climbing and reaching down to regain the tripod.  Like I said, it was a little tricky.  Once I was up I set up the 'pod.  Since it was the first time using the six stop ND filter I figured there would be some trial and error to zero in on the right settings.  Thought maybe five or six shots.  I'd gotten the first test shot off when the hair on the back of my neck started tingling and I got the feeling of a presence at my back.  It was one of the park rangers, with his hands on his hips and a real stern look on his face.  "Didn't you see the Off Limits sign?" he roared.  I told him I hadn't and he asked how the heck I'd gotten up there and missed the sign.  I pointed out my route up the face of the falls.  His stern look turned quizzical, his head dropped about three inches and he said " there's a trail right over there".  Oops, hadn't thought to check for a trail.  Who knew?  He told me the second tier was out of bounds even for idiot photographers.  I explained that I had just gotten set up and asked for two more shots.  He agreed.  The first shot, test shot, had been way off.  Basically couldn't see much of anything on the screen.  Figured it was a combination of sunlight and a blown exposure.  Cranked the shutter speed up (longer) about two stops.  Little better, but no cigar.  Getting desperate, I went another two stops.  I could make out a stripe of white and held to my word and closed up shop.  The ranger started for the side trail, pointed out the sign, and lead me over to the main trail.  I thanked him and asked what time they started work.  Figured I'd have to get there before their day started to get back up to that tier.  At least next time I'll know about the trail.  To find out how much I was able to recover using Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4 (LR4), hit the Read More.

The exposure slider in LR4 gives a four stop plus or minus range.  I had to crank another plus two stops to get something I could see.  Naturally, along with opening up the image came some noise.  Not as bad as I thought there'd be, but more than I would have liked.  I just picked up a copy of the complete Topaz Suite and knew one of the apps was named Topaz DeNoise.  Figured I'd give it a shot.  The fellow I'd seen demonstrate it said it didn't work like other noise reduction software.  Hype, Hype, Hype.  Everybody says their product doesn't work like anything else.  It actually worked pretty good.  It softened the image a little, but I think that sort of adds to the atmosphere of the shot.  At first glance, I'll give Topaz DeNoise a B+.  I'll have to play with it more before I can give it an A, but it has potential.

After the little Topaz excursion it was back to LR4.  The way LR4 works is that you can do whatever you want in LR4 and you have the same image.  Push it over anywhere else (Photoshop, Topaz, Nik, OnOne) and it'll produce a virtual copy as it comes back to LR4.  So, I was able to do a direct comparison of the pre and post DeNoise'd versions.  There was a definite difference. 
I opened up the trees in the upper left corner another stop with the Adjustment Brush.  Warmed up the rocks at the bottom.  Desaturated the green moss growing on the face of the falls and put a very slight vignette (about a -7) on the overall image.
If you told me I could get to where I ended up from where I started I'd probably tell you you were nuts.  But today's final image is the proof I was looking from.  There's a lot of data that goes unused in most shots.  LR4 can save you bacon if you need to push it.