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 (http://varis.com), 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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

Houston Arboretum

I am constantly on the lookout for local photography options.  Although I had visited the Arboretum with my family in past years I had overlooked option until recently even thought it is less than 15 min from my home in West University.  The gate opens at 7:00 AM, a bit late if you want be on site before sunrise.  In any case, there are limited options for shots that would include views of the sky and landscape.  One of the best locations is for open skies is the Meadow area reachable from the Outer Loop trail or the Inner Loop/South Meadow Trail.

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Meadow Pond, Houston Arboretum

There are numerous birds, turtles, rabbits and a broad range of wild flowers and plants.  I’ll share a few images of what you might see here.

The Arboretum is a great place for a nature walk in the midst of one of the largest urban area in the United States.  It’s a gem Houstonians should treasure.  Visit and support your Arboretum.