Landscapes in Aperture

by Steve Simon

When it comes to color correction--skin tones are probably the most difficult to get right, and the most closely scrutinized. After all, if the skin tones are off, we immediately know something is amiss and it's hard to get past that.

I have seen work where skin tones are missed on purpose for effect, but for the most part, you need to get them right.

In Landscape photography and other work where people are not the subject matter, there's more latitude. There's room for interpretation of the color in the scene; it's a subjective decision, even when you're trying to create the most natural looking rendition.

Landscape color correcting leaves you with room to interpret; you were there, you know what you saw and felt while shooting. A slight decrease in exposure with the exposure slider along with moving the highlight slider to the right, allowed me to recover more detail in the sky.

I haven't tried it, but these days many landscape photographers are trying out HDR or High Dynamic Range shooting, which allows them to combine different exposures of the same scene, for an incredible dynamic range with detail in all tones from highest highlight to darkest shadow.

But without HDR, the reality of landscape shooting means you're often confronted with scenes where the highlight to shadow exposure difference is more than the digital capture (or film) can completely deal with. So if you're shooting in the "traditional" digital way, and you're subjects are landscapes/cityscapes you often need to make a choice. Expose for the highlights or shadows?

The rule of raw that I had always subscribed to, was to underexpose a little (like with shooting slide film) to insure highlights with full detail. This is generally still a good idea. But overexposing raw a little, allows for maximum information in your digital file, since you can recover lost highlights in Aperture and the slight overexposure lets you keep more shadow detail.

But it's a fine line. If you go too far, you may not be able to recover lost or clipped highlights. I have found that overexposing in RAW about half a stop works best. It's a good idea to look at your camera's histogram while in the field, to insure highlight "clipping" is kept to a minimum.

Slightly overexposed highlights are there to recover with the exposure slider in Aperture and the increase exposure provides better signal-to-noise ratio in the shadows.

So, to recover temporarily lost highlights, move the exposure slider to the left. The Highlight Slider, which doesn't actually recover lost information in theory as does the Exposure Slider, but reveals data that is there, just not visible, in effect, recovering highlight information.

By moving the Shadow Slider to the right you can bring up shadow detail. This combination of Exposure Slider and Highlight and Shadow Sliders in Aperture is extremely powerful and effective.

As great as these controls are however, they are not miracle workers. Many landscape scenes have a range too great to save everything. Short of HDR, it would be impossible to save all detail in scenes with backlit trees for example, or shadows in the valley as the sun sets in the sky.

When you open up the shadows too much, digital noise becomes more apparent. Like most things in life, moderation is the way to go. Less is more.

For Landscaped and most general purpose shooting, the color sliders in Aperture give you tremendous range and flexibility. You can choose a specific color, deepen it by adding saturation, or the reverse--or finesse colors using the luminance slider, which only affects the brightness of the color for more subtle emphasis or de-emphasis than with saturation.

I find that with landscapes as with skin-tones, moving the Yellow Hue Slider to the left toward red, often gives warmer more pleasing renditions. You might want to combine changes with both blue and cyan sliders to get the right blue sky.

The range slider allows you to make even more subtle changes by increasing or decreasing the combination of color adjustments made with the Hue, Saturation and Luminance Sliders, allowing minor refinements to what you've done to that point.

When working on complex images, you might want to make new versions so you can come back to what you've done with fresh eyes and decide ultimately which ones worked best.


2007-07-12 23:12:00
I like the photo.
Steve Simon
2007-07-13 11:55:33
Thanks Edmund, it was taken at a yearly gathering of people to a lake near Edmonton, Alberta which many believe has healing powers. I will actually be going back to the even next week.
Allan White
2007-07-13 23:17:04
Too much, TOO MUCH highlight compensation! Great composition - but the haloing makes it look way too fake. A little is okay - but more than that, add a gradient ND effect in Photoshop, or something (such as pumping that flash output a little more - in hindsight, of course).

Whew! Sorry to rant, it's a pet peeve. Consider playing with the radius of the effect, too - that might help.

David Lewis
2007-08-03 07:30:05
Thank you for the instruction. I have been mulling over expose for highlights - vs- expose for shadows and not obtaining consistent satisfactory results. This instruction offers a neat solution.