Three Years Older and (Hopefully) Wiser

One of the things that I’ve always strived to do in my photography was to always push myself to learn something new. Being behind the lens served as my sole avenue for expressing myself in a more creative manner. If I would get stuck in a creative rut, everything else feels flat. And constant. A place where anyone doing creative work would avoid like getting stuck in. I’ve seen myself going from a strobist-obsessed freak that would light anything and anyone I could point my camera at, to shooting portraits using only good old mother nature’s light, to shooting my food cold and still getting the dishes to make others drool, to shooting undeniably heavenly bodies.

Now all of these fields of photography would require a particular set of technical skills to shoot properly as well as a bit of digital darkroom work to come up with the “best” possible image you can churn out. My fickle-minded pursuits in photography have led me to expand my own skill set to adapt to whatever it is that I am shooting. Of course, having experience in shooting a wide variety of subjects is all well and good but there is one thing that I don’t really want to be: A jack of all trades but a master of none.

All of these shifts in my subjects made me think. Am I improving my skill with each little mini project without making me a better general photographer?

Photo Strip 005
Just a few images of the random photos that I shot in the past nine years.

This brings me now to this post. Thanks to Facebook, I was reminded of a trek that I did with a few friends three years ago and remembered that I shot this 32 image panorama which, at the time, seemed like the bees knees. I unearthed the RAW files and gave the panorama another go using what I felt was a better understanding of photography mainly when it comes to colour and tonal ranges. As a side note, I made it a point to not look at my original upload and do a “blind edit” of sorts. If the resulting image today is just slightly better than the original image from three years ago, that would be a great wake up call. That and my self-confidence would probably go take a huge nose-dive after.

Dear present Kip, please do not let 2013 Kip down.

Pinatubo 001
The base composite, cropped

This was my starting point for the image, a crop of the original panorama with some content-aware fill thrown in to fill in the empty pixels.

Pinatubo 002
The far mountain range

The first thing that caught my attention was the lack of contrast and bluish tone of the mountains in the distance. This was a simple fix: Add a Levels and a Color Balance adjustment layer masking out just for the mountains in the background. For the levels, adjust the black and white points to improve the tonal range in that section. For the Color Balance, I based the grey point on the sand/lahar in between the patches of green.

Why? The distance of the mountains leads to hazy images with less contrast compared to the closer subjects. What I want to do is to get the contrast closer to the foreground subjects because that is how our eyes would usually perceive scenes like this.

Pinatubo 003
The sky and sea

Next up, we have the sky and the lake which would really just need a little darkening to bring in as much of the details as I could from these two sections. For this, adjust to taste.

Why? Some of the detail in the sky and the water will be lost due to the high contrast compared in terms of brightness versus the mountains. My exposure for this was a bit over thus the loss in details in the clouds.

Pinatubo 004
Foreground mountains

Last bit was the nearby plants and ground. The details and colors on these were pretty awe inspiring when they’re right there in front of you. It just had this “pop” to it. I played around with the contrast again, paying close attention to not kill any of my shadow detail in the darker sections of the greens. The contrast was adjusted with a mix of Levels and Curves adjustments to dial in the tonal range that I was gunning for.

Why? The scene was actually brighter than this with the details on the rocks being more distinct. Boosting the contrast helps in bringing out and exaggerating these little differences and giving these sections of the image more impact.

That’s it, Kip. Almost there.

My last set of adjustments were overall Color Balance tweaks to get the mood I wanted while still being true to what one could see on a trip there. All of the contrast adjustments will also affect the overall saturation of the photo so I had to do an overall saturation adjustment too. After all of that, one run with my Sharpening action and I’m done!

Pinatubo 005.jpg

If you’re wondering how my original photo from three years looked, check this masterpiece out. Honestly speaking, I think it’s a huge improvement over the original, hopefully without going over the top. Of course, your thoughts would be greatly appreciated!

Pinatubo 006
My 2013 edit!
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