Last weekend I went to Špilberk Castle in Brno. From the Castle we have some great views of the city. I took this picture, post-processed it and published in my social networks. The picture looks quite good to my eyes. And the post-processing made a big difference in this one.
After that, I uploaded a ‘before/after’ quick video to YouTube, to use as a ‘show case’ to my friends, making the point that they should take pictures in RAW and use a post-processing software to improve their images. Here’s the video:
The ‘before’ image is this one:
It’s the JPEG exported image as it came out from the camera. Zero post-processing other than the lens correction (automatically executed by Lightroom Mobile).
Showing the video to a friend, while supporting my point that the post-processing is important, I stated that the ‘before’ image was quite mediocre. I got him motivated to go out, take pictures and play with post-processing. But later in that day I also got myself wondering what techniques and gear were involved in that picture and if it was really a mediocre image. After some consideration about the subject, I came up with this list of topics:
- Camera: as mentioned in another post, I use a Nikon D3300 for almost everything. This camera has a 24mpx sensor without low-pass filter, meaning super sharp images. Also, it has the Nikon Expeed-4 processor, meaning great low light performance.
- Lens: to take advantage of the amazing sharpness that the Nikon D3300 is capable of, you have to use a good glass before it. And one of the oldest and biggest consensus in the photography world is that prime lenses are sharper than zoom lenses from the same optical generation. Also, modern prime lenses are very often reasonably priced, while the zoom counterparts that can get close to keep up in terms of sharpness and light transmission are goddamn expensive. So, to enjoy the sharpness without bankrupting, I invest in prime lenses. For this picture, I used the Nikon AF-S 50mm f/1.8G. This lens is proven (also by me) to have its best sharpness performance between f5 and f11.
- Aperture: the picture was taken using f5, so I could use a very high speed while keeping a very low ISO. It’s a picture full of trees, so extreme sharpness was the requirement for me.
- ISO: as low as possible. In my camera, ISO 100 is the minimum. I knew that I had to expose the picture in a way that the highlights in the sky would not blow up, keeping the details from the clouds. In consequence, the trees would become dark, needing recovery in the post-processing. And dark areas photographed with high ISO will show a lot of noise when you recover the shadows.
- Focus: nothing was really close. So, no need to care about the hyperfocal distance. Focus on infinity in this one.
- Exposure: camera was set to ‘matrix meter’ (I never really change this). Since the scene had almost 1/3 of dark area (the trees), I stopped down 0.3EVs to keep the exposure good for the sky, even knowing the trees would be darker. This was proven to be insufficient in the post-processing, where I had to stop down the sky in additional 0.3EV. But that’s fine, since I was taking pictures in RAW and the trees were already dark enough. More than that, I could have crossed the limit to recover the trees while keeping the details.
- Speed: The resulting speed after all the above was 1/500. The Nikon 50mm f/1.8G has no VR (Vibration Reduction), but 1/500 is way more than enough to keep the image sharp.
- Composition: this is a spring picture, intended to show the different colors of the trees and a beautiful cloudy sky with sun rays coming down between the clouds. I like to create compositions that are balanced, while emphasizing the points of interest. I don’t usually take many risks in compositions and, in this picture, I was not really over-thinking it. I just wanted to pop-up the sky, keeping the ground/sky ratio around 1 to 1.6. Pure and plain golden ratio. The only buildings in the scene are positioned in the very beginning of the golden ratio spiral, emphasizing the perception of integration with the nature around it. And they are occupying the scene with the same ratio of 1 to 1.6 when compared to the trees zone on the left. To make it clear, here the spiral that I tried to mentally fit the composition in:
After all that, I have the image that I wanted in order to go to the post-processing phase. My conclusion is that, regardless the fact that the image does not look very impressive in a first glance, there’s a lot going on there.
By the way, since you got to this point reading, maybe you’re interested in see the post-processing adjustments that I’ve made. Here’s the complete video:
You can see the high resolution final image here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/dodopahim/33576893280
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