Martijn van Geloof Fotografie

The design of a photograph

I was asked to explain a bit about the editing I had done on my series of Horror Labs. This probably leads to the discussion of how much one may edit. But I think editing is just a way of getting more control over the image. The goal is to create an attractive image which tells a story and which brings a particular feeling to the viewer. A camera tries to do this automatically, just guessing what your intent was. But I prefer to do the editing or ‘developing’ myself.



The end result

Let’s use the photo presented on the right of this page. First of all the single most important starting point is intent. There is no single best way to capture this scene. So I asked myself: what do I want to show.

Would I like to show:

  • some neatly placed bottles in front of a window;
  • the nice view of the classic buildings from this window;
  • or.. what if I show the beautifully arranged bottles together with the classic buildings? This will present a strong context for the bottles. It will look as if the picture was taken 50 years ago. Together with some soft lighting and shadows the atmosphere will work pretty well..

High dynamic range

So option three it would be.. Let’s first switch back to reality..

The actual scene required something more that just choosing the right point of view. My image sensor could not capture the light outside and inside of the building in a single picture. If I had chosen option 1 or 2, then I could just expose the bottles or the sky and overexpose the sky or underexpose the bottles. This would even help me tidying up the image by leaving out details.

But for option 3 I would need all the details in the image.. Fortunately, the scene is pretty static. So I measured light using spot metering on 2 spots. First on the sky outside of the window, then I measured the light on the bottles. Because I wanted sufficient depth of field, I set the diaphragm  to f/8, which also yields optimal sharpness for this lens. The exposure times where 1/100s for the sky and 1/6s for the bottles. During post processing I would merge these photos back together in a controlled way.Using these settings I tightened the tripod screws once again..


So there I was.. standing in an ancient building, empty, but full of history. A bit excited because someone had been watching us when we sneaked into the building. Since I wanted to take 2 pictures of the exact same scene with varying exposure parameters I had to get relaxed a bit more. Fortunately my camera in combination with the tripod could help me. I enabled the mirror lockup function so the mirror would stay up for a few seconds before the image was taken. This leads to less camera shake during the exposure because of the mirror moving up and down. I also always use the 2-seconds self timer which enables me to press the exposure button and leave the camera alone for these 2 seconds until the image is taken. This way my shaky hands would not influence the image. So first I dialed in the settings for the sky and took the first picture.. and the seconds picture with the settings for exposing the bottles.

The results:


Bottles exposed


Sky exposed

Post processing

So these 2 images I had taken where not very special on their own. Some post processing was required to create the atmospheric image I had envisioned.

Merge to 32 bits HDR

At home I imported all the images for this day on my computer using Lightroom. The 2 images for this particular image got special attention first. Fortunately, Lightroom has an option that says: “Merge to HDR in Photoshop”. This method is also very well described on Maarten de Boer’s page. So I selected both images and let Photoshop create an HDR image out of them.


In Photoshop I set mode to 32 bits.

Schermafbeelding 2013-07-21 om 08.25.45

This will create an image that has all the details everywhere in the image. The only downside is that this image can’t be viewed on a normal screen. Photoshop is able to show the image, but it decreases the amount of contrast first. So we are now looking at a very dull image without much contrast popping out. Well let’s exit Photoshop and save it. Lightroom now opens the newly saved 32 bits image. It still doesn’t look good though. Now the fun part begins..

Because the image was now saved with all the details, it gave me enormous space in Lightroom for modifying the shadows and highlights sliders.

Schermafbeelding 2013-07-22 om 11.12.14

First I increased the amount of general contrast. So I put the contrast slider at +40. This made the image more crisp. But now I wanted to make my main subject, which was in the mid tones area, a bit softer. So I tried the clarity slider. While trying different values I ended up setting it to -19. This made the image look softer in the mid-tone areas, but not too much. When the slider is moved to a positive value it acts like a sharpening filter which increases sharpness in the mid-tones. But when set to a negative value, the slider acts like a blur filter in the mid tone areas. So the mid tones are now softer.

But still the balance between shadows and highlights looked awful.. So let’s pull the highlights slider to -100 and the shadows to +100. Now the sky and the bottles were nicely detailed. I was not worried about the big values for these sliders because I have a lot of information in this HDR image, no artefacts show up. This image now starts to get somewhere..

Now it’s time to change the coloring a bit.. I wanted to give it a warmer tone, so I set the white balance temperature to 10000. Which made it way too yellow. But I also moved the vibrance slider to -75. This makes the image almost monochrome with a yellowish cast. I could have also used the saturation slider for this, but this would remove also the coloring of the fluids in the bottles. The vibrance slider leaves them untouched because they are well saturated.

The last slider I touched was the one for post-crop vignetting. I really like to pull attention to the subject by adding a bit of vignetting. The amount of vignetting should normally be very subtle. But here I felt a little bit more added to the atmosphere. So I ended at -46.

Now I had some brush-editing to do. The sky still misses some details. So I selected the brush tool and painted the sky with it. I set exposure to -0.83 until the sky got some detail again. Then I also made it softer with the clarity slider to -100.

It was still a bit dark on the table. So I used a brush with exposure +1.71. Then painting over the table and bottles. They lit up perfectly without bringing in much noise. Thanks to the 32 bits image I was using.

Finally I brushed-in some clarity on specific details like the text on the bottles so the text got really crisp.