The Beauty Is In The Details

Our eyes are amazing light receptors—much more amazing than even the top-of-the-line digital SLRs. We can see a dynamic range of about 13 ƒ-stops, while our digital cameras can only see about five or six ƒ-stops in a single image. That being said, thanks to digital darkroom tools, we can re-create, and even go beyond, that dynamic range, especially when it comes to HDR (high dynamic range) imaging, which I’ve covered many times on these pages. In this column, we’ll take a look at some quick fixes for getting the kind of detail in our images that we see with our eyes—and even more.


Here’s the original file from which I created the opening image for this column. Because I exposed for the highlights, as I almost always do, the rider, who was silhouetted by the sun, was too dark in my image—too dark, that is, unless I had wanted a silhouette. In addition, the sky was fairly flat, lacking in strong color and contrast.

The simple quick fix was to use the Detail Extractor filter in Nik Software’s Color Efex Pro. One click did it. The idea here is not to overdo it—to extract too much detail. If you do, noise will start to show up in the shadow areas of your image.You’ll notice that I also straightened and cropped the picture. My thought on cropping action photographs is to crop out what’s behind the subject, while leaving some room in the frame into which the subject can move.

So what happens if you don’t have Color Efex Pro and only use Photoshop or Lightroom? No problem. You can use Shadows/Highlights and Hue/Saturation to create a similar image, as I did here. By the way, when Adobe introduced Shadows/Highlights, I thought it was a weak feature, developed for real beginners. Well, now I use it as part of my workflow on a regular basis. It’s actually an awesome, powerful tool.

Adjusting the Shadows/Highlights and Hue/ Saturation is as simple as moving sliders. Here, too, don’t overdo it. An increase in saturation can cause parts of an image to look pixelated and blotchy, even in the bright areas.

Here’s another quick fix: Use Levels as a starting point. Simply move the Shadow slider (on the left) and Highlight slider (on the right) to inside the "mountain range" in the Levels dialog.


The main message of this column is to encourage you to bring out the detail in your pictures and not to settle for flat, dark and dull pictures.


Here’s my original image, without a Levels adjustment. See what a quick Levels fix can do? Well, my friends, I hope these tips inspire you to make better images. See you here next time.

Our friend Rick Sammon has been writing this column for more than 10 years. Visit with Rick at to learn more about his workshops.

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