Monday, March 23, 2009

From Flat To Fab

By Rick Sammon Published in Quick Fix

This is a bad news/good news story—one with a happy ending. This past November, I had the opportunity to travel to the bottom of the world to photograph emperor penguins. It was supposed to be the trip of a lifetime. I planned this trip to Antarctica for a year, and couldn’t wait for the day that I’d be on the ice photographing these magnificent animals.

Well, you’ve heard the expression, “The best-laid plans....” When we arrived on site after four days of travel, the weather was quite bad: Flat lighting created by an overcast sky made photographing the basically black-and-white animals on the white ice more of a challenge than usual.

What’s more, I only got off the ship once, taking the opening shot for this column. You see, after that first day, I was sicker than a dog, picking up a virus that had me quarantined in my cabin for the remaining five days of the trip at the rookery.



That was the bad news.

The good news is that with a little help from Adobe Camera Raw and Photoshop CS4, I was able to transform the few flat and dull shots that I did take into images that are now among my favorites.

My guess is that someday you may be in the same photographic situation—where flat light produces a lackluster image. So I thought I’d share with you the steps I went through in Adobe Camera Raw and Photoshop CS4 to transform my original shot, which you see here, into a favorite.


When you open an image in Adobe Camera Raw, the default panel is the Basic panel. It’s called Basic, but it offers some advanced controls, such as Recovery (which helps to recover overexposed highlights), Fill Light (which opens up shadows) and Vibrance (which increases the saturation of only colors that aren’t already saturated).

I experimented with all the adjustments in the Basic panel until I added contrast, color and detail in the scene. At this point, the picture was already much improved.

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