A Glimpse of Normalcy

by | 1 year ago

The past year has been disruptive in many ways, not least of which is in our personal lives. The way we’ve experienced friends and relatives has been transformed by the ever-present threat of an invisible virus. Though technology provided us a way to stay connected, the casualty of in-person moments felt like a palpable loss. 

I was reminded of this when I noticed my neighbors holding a weekly gathering in their front yard. The family would gather in lawn chairs, while the kids played around them. It provided them a welcome break from being in the house. When I asked for permission to photograph them the following week, they enthusiastically agreed. 

It touched me to witness a family interacting in this way. It was a stark reminder of how I and so many others had retreated to our homes to take shelter from the storm. Seeing joy, love, and affection expressed in a public way provided a welcome alternative to the perpetual sense of anxiety and fear. It was that spirit that I wanted to capture in the photographs. When I spotted the father pushing his son on a tree swing, I knew it could be a perfect way to capture the pleasantness of that late afternoon. 

While composing the scene, I emphasized the young boy as a strong foreground element and framed his father in the background. I carefully released the shutter to help freeze the boy’s motion in the air. I knew that the backlit scene, however, would pose a challenge. Though I was confident that the dynamic range of the scene would be well captured by my camera, I knew that the resulting exposure required massaging in Lightroom. I needed to pull up the shadow details while retaining highlight detail in the brighter areas. Though this might have been better controlled using flash, one wasn’t available. Instead, I leveraged the global and selective adjustment tools in Adobe Lightroom to produce a satisfying result. 

The following techniques are ones I often use when faced with such a high-contrast scene. The approach requires awareness of how the human eye navigates the frame, largely drawn to an area that possesses greater brightness, contrast, sharpness, gesture, and color saturation. By using a combination of global and localized adjustment, it’s relatively easy to produce a result that appears natural and effective. (KelbyOne members can click here to download a smaller version of this image for practice purposes only.) 

Step One: To eliminate the distracting elements in the background including the white car on the left, go to the Develop module (D) and use the Crop Overlay tool (R). Hold down the Shift key while adjusting the cropping boundary to maintain the proportion of the original file format. Press Enter to commit the crop. 

Step Two: Click on the grid icon (four squares) to the right of the Profile drop-down menu near the top of the Baic panel. The Profile Browser will open with an enlarged grid of picture styles, which include Adobe Raw profiles, as well as emulations of profiles from the particular camera model with which the image was taken. In this case, it includes picture styles from the Fujifilm X-Pro3. Click on the Pro Neg Std picture to apply it to the image. This provides a relatively flat rendering of the RAW file. Click Close to close the Profile Browser. 

Step Three: Begin by adjusting the white balance (WB) in the Basic panel. Slide the Temp slider to 5,531 Kelvin to increase the overall warmth of the scene and improve the look of the skin tones. 

Step Four: While holding the Option (PC: Alt) key, click-and-hold on the Highlights slider, and an overlay of black appears. If there are any areas of white, this indicates areas where the highlights are overexposed. Move the slider to the left until the white areas disappear. In this image, a setting of –50 retains important highlight details. 

Step Five: Next bring out the shadow detail by moving the Shadows slider to the right for a setting of +60. Pay particular attention to the appearance of the boy’s face as it reveals more detail. 

Step Six: To increase the contrast, hold down the Option (PC: Alt) key while dragging the Blacks slider to the left. A white overlay will appear. Drag to the left until you start seeing colors appear in the white overlay. This indicates the darkest areas of the frame. For this image, set this adjustment to –24. 

Step Seven: Increase midtone contrast by adjusting the Texture slider to +13 and the Clarity slider to +5. 

Step Eight: For finer control of the overall contrast, adjust the four regions within the Tone Curve control panel. Set Highlights to –24, Lights to +24, Darks to –18, and Shadows to –5. This results in a slight S-curve that increases contrast without losing detail in the shadows or highlights. 

Step Nine: As all RAW files require some degree of sharpening, let’s apply a modest amount of pre-sharpening in the Detail panel. Adjust the Amount to +53, Radius to 1.1, Detail to 3, and Masking to 36.

Step 10: To emphasize the center area of the image, apply a slight vignette. Using the Lens Corrections panel, select the Manual mode. Adjust the Vignetting control by decreasing it to –33 and dragging the Midpoint to 8. 

Step 11: The father and son still appear underexposed, especially their faces. To brighten them use the Adjustment Brush (K). First, set the brush Size to 7.0, the Feather to 91, Flow to 49, and Density to 92. Then increase the Exposure setting to 0.49 and Shadows to 7. Brush over the father’s face and body until you’re happy with the brightness. Now, click New at the top of the Adjustment Brush panel and repeat for the son. 

Step 12: The grassy area is too bright, drawing attention from the boy and the father, so let’s use the Radial Filter (Shift-M) and create an oval around this area. Decrease Exposure to –0.77, increase Contrast to 12, lower the Highlights to –23, boost the Shadows to 10, and decrease Saturation to –12 to darken this area of the frame. Click on Invert so the changes take place inside the oval. Click Close at the bottom of the panel to apply the final effect.