Images from a Japanese Garden – Choosing a Path from RAW file to Final Image

Summer in Houston, noon hour, could there be a worse time to take photos? Nevertheless, if you are a photographer you shoot when you can, where you can regardless of conditions.  It’s just what we do.  That said I’ll share an image I took in the Japanese Garden in Hermann Park and how I chose to process the RAW file.  Hermann Park is located in the Museum District near the Texas Medical Center.  It’s a popular location in southwest Houston having a zoo, golf course, formal gardens, picnic areas, the Miller Outdoor Theater and of course a variety of museums within walking distance.

The day I visited the park the weather was hot, humid and the sky was lack luster; neither blue nor gray with only a few diffuse clouds.  Despite the conditions I took a few photos of the Japanese garden hoping to get one or two images worth sharing.  I decided to process one of the images in two different ways and present them here for comparison.  I used the 10-Channel Workflow from Lee Varis (, and the Color Efex Pro 4.0 add-in from the Nik Collection.  Images were captured in RAW (RAF) format using a Fuji X100T mirrorless camera.

Image #1 – JPEG from unprocessed Raw File (RAF)

Image #1 shows the unprocessed RAW file.  The image is bit underexposed and flat as you would expect without any post-processing. This image could be made more interesting using a number of different post-processing methods. I’ll compare a few I’ve been experimenting with recently.

Image #2 – Nik Color Efex Pro 4.0

Now let’s look at the version created using Nik Color Efex Pro 4.0 (Image #2)  I used a combination of Tonal and Pro Contrast layers created by Color Efex Pro in Photoshop.  I did back off on the Pro Contrast effect by lowering the opacity of that layer.  Overall the image is brighter and the contrast between the foreground and background is slightly better than what we see in the unprocessed JPEG.

Image #3 Varis 10-Channel Workflow

Image #3 created using the Varis workflow has dramatic contrast difference between the foreground and background compared Image #2 (Nik).  Foreground highlights are retained even within the deeply shadowed area, e.g., the mondo grass on the left of the stream and closer to the sunlit background.  The Varis workflow relies on channels, Apply Image, blending modes and the LAB color space (Luminance, a and b channel adjustments) to produce the image shown above.  This version more closely resembles the degree of contrast between foreground and background I noted at noon on the day this image was shot.

Post-processing workflows and the look of the final image is a matter of individual taste and intent.  In this instance I wanted an image that adequately displayed the stark contrast between the heavily shadowed area (without losing detail) and the brightly lit background (without losing too much color saturation).  I find the Varis workflow to be versatile, relatively easy to execute, and it provide a higher degree of control over virtually all aspects of image processing than available with an add-in like Color Efex Pro.

I am happy to address any comments or questions you may have.  I hope this posting is helpful to you.  Enjoy shooting everywhere, all the time!


Landscapes & Birds

One of the appealing aspects of landscape photography for me is the opportunity to be outdoors, typically in the early morning or late evening, and the peace and solitude I find in the experience (most people don’t want to be up and out at 5:00 AM).  My most recent foray was a visit to Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge and the High Island rookery in June 2017.  The refuge is about a 90 minute drive from my home meaning I’d have to be on the road by no later than 5:00 AM to be in place in time to shoot at sunrise.

A quote from the web site best describes the refuge: “The meandering bayous of Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge cut through ancient flood plains, creating vast expanses of coastal marsh and prairie bordering Galveston Bay in southeast Texas. The marshes and prairies are host or home to an abundance of wildlife, from migratory birds, to alligators, to bobcats, and more.”  The refuge, established in 1943, includes more than 34,000 acres.  The marshes and prairies are managed to achieve a protected environment for migrating, wintering and breeding waterfowl, shorebirds and waterbirds, and provide strategic and crucial nesting areas for migratory songbirds.

I setup and took my first shots west of Shoveler Pond.

Sunrise, Shoveler Pond, Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge

The sunrise images above and following are composed of bracketed exposures blended in post-processing.


Sunrise, Shoveler Pond, Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge
Early morning light on marsh, Shoveler Pond

Shortly after sunrise an overcast sky robbed me of the morning light.  It seemed a good opportunity to shoot a few water lily blooms like the one shown here.

Water Lotus Flower, Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge

The following shot taken a bit later in the morning at Shoveler Pond provides an appreciation of field of Water Lotus growing on the pond.

Water Lotus on Shoveler Pond, Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge

I saw numerous common bird species in and around Shoveler Pond.  A few images included here.

One species of plant I didn’t expect to see in the refuge given the location was cacti.  As you can see the flora in the refuge is quite varied.

Cacti, Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge

Later in the day I visited the Smith Oaks Rookery, managed by the Houston Audubon Society.  The rookery is located south east of the entrance to the refuge in High Island Texas and is worthwhile stop if you’re in the area.  Although later in the year ,there were still Roseate Spoonbills nesting in and around Claybottom Pond.

Roseate Spoonbill nest, Smith Oaks Rookery, High Island Texas
Roseate Spoonbill in flight, Smith Oaks Rookery, High Island Texas

All in all it was day well spent.  I hope you enjoyed the images I captured during my visit.