The great thing about film photography is that as you improve your printing abilities and experiment with new papers or techniques you can pull out your old negatives and have another go at them. I’ve done this many times, initially in the darkroom but more recently using my scanner and Lightroom to remaster some of the very first negatives I shout at university at higher resolutions with more powerful software to create better images.
The great thing about digital photography is that I can do very much the same with raw files that I shot on my D300 over the past 4 years (before I sold it on). My old D300 was the first camera that I shot only purely in raw format, but in the time I had it my workflow for getting the most out of my images has radically changed.
The biggest changes have come about in the last year, ironically from all the film photography and I’ve been doing. Pulling a good image from a scanned negative requires a lot of bold manipulation, especially for the look that I favor, and this has taught me a lot about the different aspects of Lightroom and how to drive them to get the effect I am looking for. The kind of thing I used to be comfortable doing in the darkroom such as thinking in paper grades and dodging and burning by hand have to be re-learnt digitally and take some finesse to avoid horrible results. The upside is that things that were more difficult, such as toning a monochrome image, are now much easier to do once you have the rest sorted.
So, I have been flicking through my Lightroom catalogue for some less than inspiring images to remaster now that I’m comfortable with clarity, contrast, vibrance and tone curve sliders! Some pictures from a very brief trip to San Francisco in 2011 leap out shouting for some attention, so I started there.
It was about this time that I was becoming less impressed by my D300. Images looked dull and soft and noisy (although they were no worse than before!) in comparison to other peoples images I was looking at and I was starting to look around for a new camera, a search that lead to a Fuji X100 and ultimately the D800. Anyway, I digress. The point is that I went somewhere cool, took some images and then left them in a languishing in a folder on my hard drive, my early attempts to process them didn’t really inspire me. But if at first you don’t succeed….
As you can see these are your fairly typical tourist photos (my excuse being I had very little time to take them) and right out the camera they looked like that had been shot on a $99 tourist camera and my attempts to ‘rescue’ them were not very good.
Putting my monochrome hat on for a minute, my processing aim is usually to flatten out the overall image tonal range to darken skies and brighten foreground and then use small contrast, clarity and tone curve adjustments to bring out the gritty detail and texture of the subject. So I tried the same with these images, ND grad and local spot adjustments in exposure to dial down the sky and bring up the foreground, followed by loads of minor adjustments to bring out detail and texture. I captured all of that in a preset (after working on the first image for about half an hour) and then hammered through the rest with only minor exposure adjustments required.
The outcome is MUCH better than before. These images now show what I remember seeing rather than a disappointing facsimile. And I’m surprised just how much image I could pull form a camera I was loosing interest in.
The final image show a comparison of the basic raw file and the completed image, it has a hint of HDR/tonemapping about it, but it’s just one image processed with a stack of simple adjustments. When I got my first ‘proper’ DSLR I decided to stick to shooting raw in the hope that I would always be able to go back and improve my images as my ability and style developed. Looks like that plan worked out.
Oh, and I can’t finish without a picture of another famous Big Red Bridge. Halfway across the planet, with about 5 minutes to take a picture, and I got the perfect conditions for a picture postcard image. Magic.