Seven Steps For A Better Image
Use these techniques to get the most out of even the trickiest exposures
Constructed in a remote area of Peru in the 15th century, the lost city of Machu Picchu, the grandest of all Inca sites, is truly one of the photographic wonders of the world. Adobe Photoshop and its little sister, Adobe Photoshop Elements, can be considered wonders of the photographic world, too—wonders for creative photographers who want to get the most out of their images. In fact, much like Hiram Bingham, who discovered the famous lost city, photographers can discover and recover seemingly lost details in their images.
Different Photoshop and Photoshop Elements users take different paths on their journeys to discovering what lies unrevealed in an image. I'll share with you the path I took, one of many available, to create the opening image of Machu Picchu for this article, which I took on a workshop I was leading for International Expeditions. While I used Adobe Photoshop CS3 here, you can use Photoshop Elements to create the same effect.
Before we get going, you'll notice that this opening image, unlike the other images in this article, has a thin black line around the edges of the frame. When a picture includes white or light areas around the edges, as does this image, I often add a hairline border to "hold" the image together so that it doesn't bleed onto the page. The effect is easy to create. Go to Select > All and then to Edit > Stroke. Choose your color and width, click OK and you're all set.
Ready? Let's get processing!
Step 1. Shoot RAW Files
First and foremost, shoot RAW files. RAW files have greater postprocessing flexibility than JPEG files. That means that even if your exposure is a bit under or over the "correct" exposure, you can still develop a good exposure in the digital darkroom. This is especially important when shooting a scene with bright highlights (like the clouds at the top left of my shot) and the relatively dark areas (like the remains of the buildings in the shadows of the mountains).
What's more, as is illustrated in the next step, with RAW files, you can pull out more from the shadow areas and rescue more highlights in Adobe Camera Raw than you can with JPEG files. JPEG files toss away data as soon as you save them, as part of the compression process.
Step 2. Double-Process An Image
Double-processing an image means opening a RAW file in Adobe Camera Raw and processing it once for the highlight areas, then reopening it and processing it once for the shadow areas. The final step in double-processing is when you open and combine both images in Photoshop.
Here you see my first processed image. I processed it for the shadow (darker) area, leaving the Exposure slider in Adobe Camera Raw at the default setting so that mountain areas were correctly exposed. That resulted in the sky on the top left of the image being completely washed out.
With the first processed image opened in Photoshop on my monitor, I reopened my original RAW file in Adobe Camera Raw. I greatly reduced the exposure (by moving the Exposure slider all the way to the left), which revealed those nice clouds. However, as you can see, the mountain areas are now many stops too dark.
Next, I opened the second processed image in Photoshop so that I had both processed images on my monitor.