- Location scouting
- Photographing the Aurora Borealis
- Working with snow
- Incorporating wildlife and structures
- Editing winter landscape photos
- Understanding the gear you need to shoot winter landscapes
Skill Level Intermediate
- My processing workflow is fairly simple and for most images last a little less than two minutes. I like to keep things very natural and just add a little bit of color and contrast and fix any possible dust spots or just clean it up a bit and that's fairly simple. The Aurora is a little more complex and I really wanna break it down from the beginning. So as we bring it into Lightroom, we're gonna go ahead and take a look at four images. And because a lot of people ask me, "Okay, the Aurora was out and I just kept shooting "and I have all these frames and I get back to the room "and I look at the computer, which one do I work on?" And for me, it's a feeling, it's an instinct.
And as we look at these four images, I'm gonna across here and I get to this one and all of a sudden I see the head of a swan or a dragon and I know instantly this is the shape I was looking for. How fortunate am I to have created an Aurora image that has a very distinct characteristic to it? So this excites me I know right away and that's typically what happens. I just get a feeling when I go through the images. And as we look at the settings, I see that I'm at ISO 3200 and I'm at eight seconds.
Now, how come my aperture's not here? Why don't I have that information? And the reason is I was using a Rokinon or Samyang 14mm 2.83 prime on my Canon 6D and there's no electronic connection so it doesn't give that information, but it's a 2.8 fix so we know it was 2.8. So based on this information, I would have liked to have created a brighter image, maybe I should have shot it at 10 seconds or 12 seconds. Because it's pretty dark, if we notice the histogram, it's really against the left wall.
So one of the lessons here that I learned is always expose to the histogram in the field. When you're shooting the Aurora or any night photography for that matter, the LCD looks so bright but in reality, the image can be very dark but it's because you're looking at it and it's pitch black out so make sure and look at the histogram. Had I looked at the histogram in the field, I think I would have tried to expose a little bit longer. But, not to worry, this image is still gonna be workable but I do want you to keep in mind that this should have been over exposed a little more than it was.
Now, normally I'm gonna go down to develop module lens corrections and we're gonna do that here and I wanna show you what happens. Now, almost every image I'm gonna do remove chromatic aberration and enable profile corrections. Now, when I hit enable profile corrections, Lightroom doesn't know the lens I was using so in essence, you're not getting a fix in vignetting or fix in distortion. So what I can do is I can come in to profile and I can try and find the lens so it's an interesting thing.
So I can go to Samyang and there it is 14 2.8 so now it was able to figure out which lens so let's do that off and on, off and on. And what you notice is is that it really brightens up a lot of the areas. Most lenses will have a natural vignette to them. So by doing this, I've taken out the vignette and I've also fixed some distortion in the trees. Now, you notice that the trees really point into right up into the Aurora and the tree in the center is perfectly straight.
I actually did this on purpose. I want the trees to be distorted and pointing up because I liked the way that it pushes the eye right into the Aurora so this is something I don't mind. If I wanted to fix this, I absolutely could by going to the basic panel and hitting the vertical. And what happens when you hit vertical it says "no upright correction found" so it wasn't able to do it so let's come into manual and I can tell you, through this, what it's gonna do. It's gonna go ahead and swing the image to try and straighten those trees.
And it's a little straighter but I'll tell you what's happening here. They're so distorted that to make everything vertical, you would lose the majority of the image. So basically they're saying, "Good luck with that." It's not gonna happen so that's okay. I like the distortion, but if you have an image that's a little bit wider and you wanna fix distortion, basic and then hit the vertical tab, okay. So let's take a look again one more time. Enable profile corrections, do I like it? I do, I like the distortion fix because it's pretty minor.
Vignetting I actually like a little bit in Aurora images because it brings the eye more to the center and it helps compensate for some of the noise. But what I'm gonna do is I'm gonna leave it and I can always add vignette later, all right. Now, the overall exposure of the image, like I said, it's a little bit under exposed so if you slide this exposure setting, you're starting to see the Aurora come to life, okay. Now, while we're in the raw state, and that's the Lightroom right now, I have a raw image, it's very important that I do some work with this exposure.
So I'm gonna go ahead and come up, let's see, about three-quarters of a stop. And anytime I wanna see the before and after, I hit the Y key which is a nice shortcut, and you could see the image on the right is looking so much better simply by upping the exposure, okay. Now, white balance, my white balance is actually spot on, but if you didn't have something proper in white balance, oftentimes when you're in auto white balance in the field, when you're shooting Aurora, you can end up getting very warm colors and so oftentimes I will go into manual white balance and do 3000 Kelvin, something in that range, so that I can have a cooler image.
So this white balance looks pretty good. I can always adjust that a little bit later. So I fixed the exposure and I worked on lens distortion and one more thing I'm gonna do is I'm gonna take a little bit of noise out. Let's go ahead and zoom in and see what kind of noise we're dealing with. It's there, it's a little bit grainy, it's not horrible, it's worse in the corners, much worse, especially where it was dark. So I'm gonna come up over to noise which is down here in the detail and I don't want any color noise so I'm gonna take that to 100 and I'm gonna take the luminescence.
And as I slide it over, if I went to 100 for example, the noise is gone, but I've lost the detail and the texture and that's a really important feature to have in an image. So I'm gonna do a very subtle adjustment here. I'm usually gonna be around 20 in my first pass, about 20 luminescence is gonna really take the edge off the noise a little bit. We push it a little bit higher, 25, and I'm liking that quite a bit. I can do before this little light switch and after. Before and after, I'm liking that a lot better.
It also still has that texture and a little bit of grain which makes it a photograph. After all, this is based on a film medium where the grain was a natural part of an image. I don't wanna lose that. I just don't want it to be too noisy. All right, so I like my raw adjustments. Lens corrections, a little bit of noise removal and we worked on that exposure. All right, now it's time to go into Photoshop.