The “Desktop Image” – Shooting RAW with the Canon S90
The Canon S90 has exceeded my expectations as a great compact camera for landscape photography. Due to its small size, it’s incredibly easy to slip into a pocket carry with you at all times, just in case. Take this image you see above, for instance. Driving down a freeway back to my office in San Francisco after visiting some of my company’s customers on the east side of the San Francisco bay, I spotted these beautiful clouds hovering over lush green hills.
As the exit ramp off the freeway quickly approached, I debated with myself as to whether or not I should take a few minutes and try to capture an image of this beautiful scene. With only seconds to decide, I chose to not let this opportunity pass me by. I was so glad I had the S90 with me!
Getting the shot
After posting this image on flickr, I got quite a few questions about how I got the image to look this way, and if there was a lot of post-processing involved, so I thought I’d write a little “how I did it” on the image. The short answer is that there isn’t very much to the post processing here. The entire strategy for achieving the look I wanted, however, started at the camera and ended in Lightroom 3 beta.
I typically record JPEGs with the S90 since it’s more of a casual-use camera for me (I always shoot RAW with my DSLR). This was actually the first time since I starting using the S90 that I chose to record in RAW and post process the image myself. Shooting RAW allowed me to plan ahead in achieving the look I wanted in my editing software.
In this scene, the sky was brighter than the hill, not by a huge amount (the entire scene is front-lit), but enough to make it very difficult to get a nice even exposure across the frame. With no filters at my disposal, I had to improvise.
This is what the image looked like coming off the camera into Lightroom. Notice that the sky is over-exposed. Not to worry! I intentionally over-exposed the scene to get a good exposure on the foreground, while being careful not to blow out any highlights. In digital photography, this technique is often referred to as “exposing to the right [of your histogram].” The idea is that to get the most out of the dynamic range of a RAW file, it’s OK to over-expose the image and bring the exposure back down later, as long as you don’t over-expose so much that you clip highlights and lose detail.
In this case, my intention was to overexpose the entire scene at the camera and then selectively darken certain areas of the frame in post. The S90’s live histogram made this really easy. I simply added +EV at the camera until my histogram indicated that I was about to start clipping highlights, and then took the picture. I ended up adding +2/3EV at the camera.
Now, all that’s left to do is darken that sky in Lightroom to even the exposure out:
Here’s the final image. Darkened the sky with Lightroom’s adjustment brush and graduated filter. Notice how much detail was retained in the clouds despite the over-exposure at capture. Removed a couple distracting elements, added some contrast, and there you have it!
It’s important to keep in mind that in order for this method to work, you have to stay within the limits of your camera’s dynamic range. If this scene was back-lit and/or had a dynamic range that was higher than the camera could record without losing detail, achieving a balanced exposure might require exposure blending, HDR, or the use of a graduated neutral density filter over the lens.
Ok, so multiple people have told me that this image reminds them of a default desktop on Windows 9x/xp. I suppose it does…but hey, why use it on Windows???
That’s more like it!
Shot Specs: Canon Powershot S90 at 9.64mm f/5.6 ISO80 1/400 Second