Fixing a Photo to Make it Better


“Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it.” – Salvador Dali.

Even though perfection is not attainable, by attempting to reach it, you become a better person and a better photographer.

It’s one of my favorite shots so far this year. Definitely in the top 12. But to me, it had an annoying flaw.

On Monday I chased the rising full Moon. The race started in Whatcom County north of Bellingham, Wash., and ended in downtown. Here’s the earlier post showing Mount Baker in alpenglow and the Moon rising over a ridge: A Quick Update, and a Few Photos

Supermoon over Whatcom Museum and Art Gallery- Final Image

© Paul Conrad/Pablo Conrad Photography - The full super perigee Moon rises over the Whatcom Museum in Bellingham, Wash., on Monday evening July 22, 2012.

Earlier in the day I used The Photographer’s Ephemeris to plan my shoot for evening rising of the full Moon. I wanted a nice shot of the Moon as it rose over Mt. Baker, but to get a clear shot I’d have to drive into Canada. That was clearly out of the question. Not that there’s anything wrong with Canadians, I just didn’t want to drive that far.

So I set my sights on local landmarks. With the TPE on my phone, I drove to a spot to see where I could get a clear shot of the Moon over the courthouse, the tallest steeple in Whatcom County, and a few other places.

Although the TPE is a valuable tool, it only shows where on the HORIZON the Sun or Moon will rise. It does not give the approximate trajectory as the object arcs its way across the sky.With that I use the Sun Surveyor app on my phone. I just point it in the direction I want to shoot and it shows the trajectory of the Sun or Moon across the sky. It’s pretty cool. And fairly accurate. However, you MUST calibrate your phone each time you turn on the app. Unfortunately, I didn’t follow my advice and calibrate the app. The trajectory was way off and I cancelled shooting the Whatcom County Courthouse and Museum.

So instead I headed north and shot the alpenglow on Mount Baker and the Moon rising over a ridgeline. After that, I decided to take a chance and drive to the Courthouse and try to get it. I really love the old building. It’s classic late 1800s architecture and well maintained.

The Moon wasn’t high enough to be visible yet. As the Courthouse become visible, you could see the glow of the Moon to the LEFT of it and not the RIGHT which the uncalibrated app showed. So I had time to find a spot.

I stopped about 1/4 mile from it and within minutes found a clean unobstructed shot. The courthouse is surrounded by power lines and poles for some strange. But I got lucky and walked down an alley and found a spot with a clear view of the courthouse.

First “completed image:

© Paul Conrad/Pablo Conrad Photography - You can notice the cyan haze around the Moon in the original version. After getting rid of the black ring, I worked on reducing the cyan glow. The end result is a much better looking photograph. The full Moon rises over the Whatcom Museum in Bellingham, Wash., on Monday evening July 22, 2012.

Now using the Surveyor and properly calibrating it, I could tell if I moved about 10 yards to the left, I’ll get the Moon between two spires. When I did, and the Moon finally came out from behind the courthouse and it was a beautiful sight. The yellowish Moon between a perfectly lit red brick with white trim Victorian era building.

But UGH!!! Can’t get the exposure to work for me. Either the moon is perfectly exposed and the building underexposed, or the moon’s blown out and the building perfect. And I’m a “Get it in Camera” kinda guy.

The Black Ring:

© Paul Conrad/Pablo Conrad Photography - I could not see the dark ring around the edge of moon unless the image was blown up to 100% or more. But knowing it was there, I needed to fix it.

When I got home, I actually chose a frame with the moon slightly overexposed and plenty of detail in the building but it was dark. Importing the NEF file into Adobe Camera Raw, I adjusted it for color balance favoring the tungsten lights on the building over the sunlit moon, added 100% to the “highlight recovery,” 100% to the “fill light,” and left the rest alone.

When it imported to Photoshop, I did some pre-burning of the moon to add a little contrast. With relatively simple curve adjustment brought out the color and texture of the courthouse without overexposing the moon. Then I added a warming layer at 25% to add just a touch of warmth to the photo and knock out some of the blue in the sky as I thought it looked fake.

It looked super nice. However, upon closer inspection of the moon, I noticed a black ring just inside the edge and a cyan halo around it. Ugh. What would cause it? Investigating the cause led nowhere. Until I took the NEF back into ACR and played with the adjustments.

The “fill light” setting was a touch too high. So I dropped it a bit, but it was still there, barely. Then using clone and heal, removed it as best I could. The used the “Replace Color” tool found under “Image > Adjustments,” I selected only the cyan channel and a very narrow band, and changed the color slightly (by a +5 or so) and dropped the saturation to a -5. This fixed it for me.

Before / After:

Minor adjustments was all it was. Just a simple matter of paying attention to your settings both in camera and while you’re post-processing.

Have you ever had an image you weren’t happy with? What did you do to correct it?

Thank you for stopping by to read and view my work. Feel free to comment, critique, or just ask questions.

Paul “pablo” Conrad

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