I don’t usually do serious editing for my photos—my philosophy on editing is to keep it as realistic as possible–but every now and then a photo requires post-processing work to compensate for less-than-ideal weather conditions or hasty shooting.
This shot was one of them.
The photo isn’t terrible, but the backlighting makes the exposure imbalanced. If I’d adjusted my camera settings, I could’ve compensated for some of that, but I shot this from my car window as I was doing a 3-point turn in an unfamiliar apartment complex. Not exactly ideal conditions for metering.
I took to Photoshop to see how I could salvage this photo.
The first course of action was the same as always: Curves. If you’re not familiar with Photoshop, Curves is a function that allows me to adjust the brightness of the photo in pieces; some parts of the photo can get brighter while others get darker.
Layers is also one of my favorite functions, but that makes all the dark tones darker and light tones lighter, which wouldn’t work for this photo as a whole without completely blowing out the sky and turning the train station black.
My Curves layer turned out much more convoluted than usual (a gentle S-shape is ideal for most conditions), but it helped a bit. Overall, not enough of an improvement. I knew I’d have to isolate the station so I could brighten it without destroying the sky.
I used the Quick Selection Tool to highlight just the train station, leaving the sky and tree in their original condition.
Now that the dark area was isolated, I used my trusty Layers function to increase its brightness. I also made some of the darkest tones darker to balance it out and give it a nice contrast.
Now appropriately exposed, the beautiful red color of Union Station could actually show. I gave the whole photo the teeniest boost of red using Color Balance, but didn’t mess with the magenta/green or yellow/blue balance.
My next editing mission was to adjust the clock in the tower, which appeared much more grey than both the “Go By Train” sign and the small slice you can see of the clock on the other side. I’m not sure if anyone else would notice, but the difference was distracting me from the rest of the photo, so it had to be fixed.
Again, using the Quick Selection Tool, I isolated the main clock and used Layers to make the white brighter and darken the black.
With that quick fix complete, I was satisfied. The finished product is definitely an improvement over the original. More importantly, though it’s a good reminder to myself to not be afraid of post-processing. While I don’t want to get lazy and rely on editing software, it can save images that initially seem unusable.