Light doesn't get much harsher than a bright blue cloudless sky. That's what we were up against on Saturday. The next town over from us was hosting a Civil War Reenactment. The subject of today's image was one of the Confederate Volunteers. These folks (men, women and children) come out for the weekend to different locations around the country with the idea of "putting on a show" for the attendees and having a good time for themselves. Some are pretty straight laced. They tend to be the "officers". The "rabble", the "common ruck", the enlisted men and volunteers tend to be much scruffier. That's where the characters are. They're portraying the bone crushing weariness of having endured years of conflict and suffering. The fellow in today's image shows that weariness. But all wasn't peaches and cream as someone trying to get a decent photograph of these guys. With the bald sky and the beating down sun it was almost impossible not to get shots with extremes of highlight and shadow. One saving grace was that both the Union and the Rebel "armies" setup their encampments on the edges of the fields where there was a bit of shade. Today's image was taken as "the Rebel troops" lined up for inspection. Right out in the open sun. To find out what was done in camera and in post processing, hit the "Read More".
One of the fortunate things about this fellow was the wide brim hat he was wearing. Basically he brought along his own "open shade". You can see on his hat that there are areas of extreme light. In this case the camera did 90% of the work. The camera software was able to "look" at the scene and figure out the math needed to get a good exposure. I've posted about this before. If you know what the camera will do, great. You make the decisions as to what you want the image to look like and let the computer (the camera) do the math to get you there. I don't see the sense to buying an expensive computer (again, the camera) and using it as you would a shoebox. Just a place to hold the images. I have a friend who shoots nothing but manual. She takes a shot, looks at the screen on the back of the camera, says "nope", plays with the settings and tries again. She might go through a half dozen iterations before she figures out the right exposure. That's not making decisions. That's guessing.
Whatever, once the image gets into the computer is where the actual "battle" begins. With the extremes of light it's almost impossible for the camera to nail both ends of the spectrum. What I've been doing lately is shooting at a +.7 EV. By the time the image is in the computer (the actual computer) and in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom (LR) the Histogram is as far to the right as can be made without blowing out the highlights. In LR's Basic Panel the Highlight slider might go to plus ten before the warnings start popping up. I always find the first highlight warning and back off about ten points to insure detail in the extreme highlights. The converse to that is the fact that the Black warnings don't begin to show up until the slider is well down in the negative. That's fine.
Once the highlights are as good as they'll get in LR it's time to go over to Adobe Photoshop (PS). Once there one of the first steps is to go to the Channels Panel. Holding the CTRL key down while clicking on the RGB composite results in a Selection of just the highlights. That produces a Luminosity Selection that can be saved as an Alpha Channel and used to create a Highlight Mask when back in the Layers Panel. An Adjustment Layer can be used to tweak the highlights and produce a more subtle highlight area.
Going too far does produce unwanted grays, so a light touch is necessary when taming the highlights. Give it a shot. It helps.