Todays image post comes from Lower Antelope Canyon just outside of Page, Arizona. I want to talk just briefly about my thoughts behind this image and my strategy for developing the final print. For most of the morning I was shooting wide focused shots. When I came across these two opposing planes, one beautifully lit, the other lit by reflected light I was struck first by the different contrasts of light. But as I looked closer I could see very subtle striations in the sandstone that created a series of leading lines. Notice for instance the strong diagonal leading in from the upper left that connects to the cracks in the lower right. If you continue to look you will see many relationships within the lines. The whole composition seemed to move like a series of waves.
So my strategy in developing this image would be to focus on bringing out the contrasting lines in the sandstone. Image capture required a sharp, focused exposure. I shot the image in manual mode at a constant aperture. I worked the histogram to ensure I had plenty of headroom in the shot and to avoid any clipping. The beautiful ambient light provided a good series of bracketed exposures.
The Raw file was developed in Adobe Lightroom. LR has quite a few controls but I typically limit this to a few basic image adjustments for fill and recovery and pre-sharpen controls. I always pre-sharpen before exporting to Photoshop. How much I sharpen varies by the type of image. Generally large smooth surfaces such as this can take a bit more. The Amount will be somewhere around 50 and the Radius is 1.5. Images with a lot of edge detail such as trees will have a smaller Radius. Image 2 is a screen capture of the sharpening settings. The Detail setting is 51 which is just slightly concentrating the sharpening effect. The mask controls how much of the sharpening from Amount, Radius and Detail are applied. Think white reveals and black hides. With the image at 100% you can see the effect of the sliders by holding down the Option Key. Sharpening here is important. For it is sharpening that will actually tweak out the striations. In other words I will use sharpening as a strategy to adjust the micro contrast of the image.
Once the image is exported to Photoshop my first step is to apply a first round of sharpening. Whoa, you say. Sharpening before making my global adjustments? You bet. Remember the act of sharpening actually helps to separate tonal information in the image. Image 3 shows the entire layer stack. So my first pass is a find edges mask made in Channels and saved as a selection. The background is duplicated and the Blending Mode is set to Luminosity. The selection is loaded and when the marching ants appear, I select Add Layer Mask which applies the selection as a mask. From here I make sure the image is selected and run an Unsharp Mask Sharpen. Settings for this are Radius of 1.5, Amount of 150 to 175, and Threshold of 0. Make sure you are looking at the image at 50% to 100% to see the effect of the sharpening. Be subtle. Tweak out the details step by step. From there I applied a Curve Adjustment in Luminosity Mode. Here I am further separating the tones. The next step was to make a Midtone Contrast Mask which is in effect a High Pass Sharpen focused on the values between 70 and 200. (I will publish a posting on making this at a later date.) I then applied a Sculpting Layer set to Overlay Blend Mode at 66% and filled with Grey where I did some dodging and burning. The final step was another final sharpen layer for printing. Note that all sharpening is done on a layer. So if I do not like the effect I can go back and make changes without having to start over. I can also lower the opacity of the layer to lesson the effect.
So now its on to making a print to evaluate the results. The test print is run on Moab Kayenta. Since I use Moab Entrada for all my fine art prints, Kayenta is an excellent choice for proofing as it uses the same surface coatings. The test print was successful. I was able to bring out the subtle details in the sandstone as well as sharpening the smoother areas of the image. The effect worked well enough to bring out grains of sand washed along the face of the red rock.
If you have any questions send me a comment and I will try to elaborate on the details.
Thanks for stopping by.