Still Life Post Processing Example
The transition from film to digital photography opens up all kinds of possibilities for enhancing an image after the shot. Every shot is of course different and requires different methods but, with some skill and knowledge, the digital darkroom allows us to turn a mediocre shot into something very different. I'm by no means an expert but here's an example of a shot that, I feel at least, was significantly improved after the shot was taken. Here is the original and the final shot side by side with the final on the right...
I leave it to you to judge whether or not the final version is improved but here's what I did both to shoot this image and to enhance it after the fact.
Composition and Framing
I was after a nice earthy feel in this still life with a nice collection of shapes for different focus points. I wanted a rich, warm effect in the final version with lots of depth of field. So I composed the shot with a substantial distance between the candle in the foreground, moving back at various depths of field through the pottery and finally to the basket that makes up the background. The focus point for the shot was the pitcher in the center of the frame. These objects are sitting on my dining room table which is very dark and strong grained wood.
I wanted as much as possible to use the candle for the primary light source to capture the nice glow of the candle flame and the candle itself as a highlight of the frame but there had to be additional lighting. There is a subdued, natural light from the right in this frame that I used to highlight the curves of the partially melted candle on the right side. Then I used a very low power flash to illuminate all but the candle from the upper left on a second curtain synch (a weak flash right at the end of the exposure). I just held the flash on a cable high and left of the camera and behind the candle during the exposure.
Exposure and Aperture
I wanted the candle to be just slightly out of focus in the shot so I used aperture priority for the shot and the camera was mounted on a tripod for stability for the required half second exposure the selected aperture required. I also used a cable release just to avoid any vibrations in the shot.
I took several bracketed exposures at various apertures and flash levels to get the balance I wanted; not in color but in illumination. The focus depth of field determined the required aperture and exposure was determined by the candle flame. I didn't want the candle flame to be totally burned out. This meant the only variable adjustment I could make was in the flash and I settled on a very weak flash really just to pop up the highlights of the pots and basket. The light from the flash is of course much whiter than the orange glow of the candle and this shows in the raw image. Not what I was looking for but that was okay as this is easily corrected. What I looked for was whether or not the highlights of the pottery and the basket were adequately illuminated with no burnout from reflections and no hard edges. I also made certain that the candle was not in the flash as I wanted it illuminated only by the candle flame itself.