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Dec 13, 2012 | by Kevin Loughlin

Galapagos lava flow after post processing in Lightroom 4

Galapagos lava flow, original RAW file

Not every photo opportunity is perfect. Sometimes we are in the right place at the wrong time of day or in bad light for the subject. In some circumstances we may just pack up our gear and choose to come back at different time of day, or a different day, to get the image we want.

However, we don’t always have the luxury of returning to a location exactly when we want, like when traveling to some far off land. Instead we learn some tricks to help compensate for the lighting to get the best images possible for the conditions.

Case in point, the Galapagos Islands. An extraordinary place that everyone should visit. With cooperative wildlife and stunning scenery, there is so much to see that each day is packed with discovery–throughout the whole day. And therein lies the issue. Since the best light is morning and evening we can’t pack everything in to those few hours! And due to the strict rules, all the boats must abide by the scheduling set forth by the National Park

So in mid-day when the light is harsh, or a cloudy day when the light is flat, we still shoot away at our charismatic subjects. We create the best exposure we can in-camera, then in post processing we make our adjustments.

The image of the pahoehoe lava floe above was taken late morning on an overcast day with very flat light. As you can see by the RAW ‘before’ file there is very little contrast and the lava is actually a rust color due to the high iron content. We typically think of cold lava as black, so in Lightroom 4 I converted the image to black-and-white. Then playing with the sliders I adjusted contrast and detail to give me the image I saw in my mind.

Some would say, “that’s cheating.” However, even though we are doing this on a computer now, we used to do the same thing with with black-and-white film. Using a red filter we could add contrast, then in in the darkroom use additional filters with certain papers, or a specific paper to add a bit more contrast as needed. With our hands we would dodge and burn certain regions of the image until it was just right. As Ansel Adams once said, “90% of my image is created in the darkroom.” It is a lot easier with the computer!

SIDE NOTE: This exact scene was used in the movie “Master and Commander“… grab your DVD and see if you can find it!

–Images and Text © Kevin Loughlin

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