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| p.1 #7 · A couple of Sunsets for C & C |
Vertically cropped landscapes don't appeal to my eye or sensibilities, but of the two I find the first more pleasing to look at because of second outcropping in the foreground which adds a more horizontal leading line to counter-act the "up and out the top" line of ^ shape in the background.
Technically it a classic example of scene range > sensor. It situations like that you can't expand the range of detail the camera captures but you can fool the brain into thinking there is more by shifting all the tones in the middle and 3/4 tone between middle-gray and black lighter.
There are about a dozen ways to do that in ACR and Photoshop. The easiest and most intuitive is to move the middle slider in Levels to the left. Doing it instead in ACR with a combination of the brightness and fill sliders produces less noise in the shadows. But these sliders are "global", shifting all the similar pixel values everywhere in the image.
What I do with an image exposed for the highlights but exceeding sensor range is first do the "global" slider correction in ACR, but not all the way. I watch the darkest shadows for noise and end the ACR global slider correct why I see objectionable noise start to appear. That's usually not as light as I want it so after opening in PS I use an action I create three "Levels" adjustment layers, change their mode to screen, multiply, and soft light adjustment layers and switch the masks on the layers to black.
I don't move the slider on those Levels adjustment layers to make my corrections I take the eraser tool (with white background) or brush (with white foreground) and open the screen mask in areas I want to lighten more and multiply in areas I want darker, such as the edges of the frame or some distraction I couldn't crop out. Screen and Multiply with the mask work like the dodge / burn tools with benefits. I have better control of the selective edit with the size/sharpness/flow controls on the tool and if I open the mask too much I can paint it back in with a black brush and start over. Once I get the mask opened to lighten / darken areas selectively I can move the opacity sliders on the layers from 0 to 100% to see before and after and find the % in the middle that looks just "right" by eye.
The final result I go for is how a person would perceive the scene in person after focusing that center 2 -degree mental tunnel vision in the shadows and allowing the pupils to dilate. Eyes have a fixed range like a camera. We just perceive a scene has detail everywhere because the eyes scan to focal points and adapt.
By SELECTIVELY lightening some spots in the shadows of a photo like this you give the brain of the view a clue where to jump to and dwell on next in "connect the dots" fashion. So terms of telling a story by guiding the eye over context en route to a focal point I think it's better to selectively edit the tone in the shadows than to create a "sea of sameness" in the shadows with HDR.
I'll sometimes use HDR to record the full range of a back- or cross-lit scene like that with a blended pair of exposures for highlights and shadows to avoid the shadow noise of a single file with noisy shadow, then in Photoshop use same adjustment layers to DARKEN everything in the shadows I don't want to be a "hop-scotch" perceptual focal point. Those lighter spots in the shadows create the breadcrumb path I want the viewer to follow in the same way their adjusted eyes would jump from detail to detail in person.