Joshua Tree Winter Sunrise

Capturing reds can be a challenge

Bob Killen, a great teacher of photography and Photoshop techniques, explained to me when I was capturing images as an artist in residence in the Mojave National Preserve, that digital sensors can go berserk when there is too much red in the sky. Sometimes the morning glow is off the charts, and the sensor can’t cope. Such was the case yesterday over Joshua Tree National Park.

To compensate, I deliberately underexposed two F stops. That made the shadows go black, resulting in foreground silhouette.

Raw Photo Processor, or RPP

I opened these images in Raw Photo Processor, which unfortunately only works on Apple computers. It is, however, the best raw processor I know of for Fujifilm X-series cameras. Adobe has yet to catch up. I understand others do good work, but RPP works extremely well if you use Apple computers. There is a learning curve with RPP, requiring study of 50-page pdf. But the work is worth it.

I added two F stops of exposure in RPP, compressed the highlights, tweaked the red, blue and green channels, then output a 16-bit tiff file. The idea behind RPP is to produce the best “negative” you can, then begin work in a post-processing program like Photoshop, Aperture, Lightroom, etc.

Changed it immediately to 8-bit in PS, which requires less computing power. Killen would say keep it in 16-bit because it preserves more color information.

I next duped the background layer.

Nik software

I now turned to Nik software, and first applied the Color Effects Pro 4 application. There are some 50 different filters, all with different sub-categories, or pre-suggested algorithms. I have two formulas that I often use and applied my preset that automatically applies a skylight filter, brilliance/warmth, and bleach bypass. I did this to two of the images. The others used only one of them, the bleach bypass filter. You can see which was applied to which image by reading the captions.

All of these filters can be tweaked to taste.

Then on another layer, I went again to the Nik filters, and this time used Viveza 2. I used only a control point, but repeated it across the top half of the image, to bring detail back into the upper part of the sky. I did this to the red-sky images. Not to the others.

And that’s it.

Sounds complicated, and it is, but in time the process goes quickly, and the results can be stunning. At least I think so.


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