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Before we start processing this landscape photo, let's take a few minutes to analyze the photo considering what drew our attention to the scene at the time of capture and the mood and message that we would like the final processed image to communicate. Then we'll make a rough plan for how to coax that message out of the raw data. To get a better look at this photo, I'm going to press Shift+Tab on my keyboard to dismiss all of the bars and columns in Lightroom's Develop Module and then I'll press the L key on my keyboard twice to get this lights out view. Now this photo was shot in October in the high Rocky Mountains outside of Crested Butte, Colorado.
Just the week before this hillside had been a riot of the Colorado brand of fall color, blanketed with the golden leaves of aspen trees, but peak viewing season ended early that year just before we arrived for this shoot, leaving just strokes of vivid gold in the aspen leaves on the hillside and in the vegetation along the shore. Now because the air in the high Rockies is so clear and dry you often see features in even distant parts of a landscape with greater clarity than you might expect in a mountain scene like this.
So I remember that the detail in the aspen groves and even in the peak of Gothic Mountain about five miles away from our location was impressively sharp. The light from this cloudless sky was bright, but it wasn't so contrasty as to obscure detail in the landscape, and as this often the case at high elevations the sky was a deep rich blue. Of course, the mirror-like surface of the lake with its reflection of the mountain scene is what really caught our eye. Before the wind could come up to disturb the glassy surface of the water more photographer John Lorenz and I started shooting, trying out many different angles and vantage points.
I chose this shot is one to spend time processing, because I particularly like its composition, but I think that the tones and colors as they appear in this unprocessed raw photo need some attention and there's plenty we can do with tone and color here in Lightroom to bring the overall effect closer to the crystalline look of the crisp mountain landscape that we tried to capture. Let's exit out of this lights out view by pressing L on the keyboard and then holding the Shift key and pressing Tab. And finally, I am going to dismiss the film strip at the bottom of the screen by clicking the bar at the far bottom of Lightroom's Develop Module.
So just looking at this photo, the scene looks somewhat washed out from what I remember, but you know sometimes it's hard to see what's happening with tones in a photo on screen, so I always check a Histogram for confirmation. As you may know, the histogram in the column on the right side of the Develop Module is a chart of the tones in the photo, with the darkest tones on the left and the brightest tones over here on the right. The great mound in the histogram represents the range and frequency of tonal values in this photo as it stands.
The empty area over here on the right side of this histogram confirms that there are no extreme bright tones in this photo and the empty area on the left side of the histogram tells us the same is true of very dark tones. Instead all the tones are clustered toward the center of the histogram, whichrepresents gray tones, and I think that accounts for the washed out or in more technical terms low contrast appearance of this photo. So how can we fix that? As we process the photo we'll try to move the black and the white points of the histogram farther to the extreme ends of the tonal range, which will expand the rest of the tones from this center cluster out across the entire tonal range, and that will increase contrast and hopefully give the photo more punch.
I also note that the colors in the scene were much more brilliant and intense than we see them here, particularly in the yellows and oranges in the remaining aspen leaves and in the vegetation along the shore. So we'll try to bring out those qualities with some color adjustments in Lightroom. Now that we have a sense of where we want to take this photo and a rough blueprint of how to get there, let's put that into practice processing this photo here in Lightroom together.
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