I snapped this little scene I’m calling a glade while visiting Archbald Pothole State Park near Scranton. The jpg from the unedited RAW file (figure 1) is sharp (a tribute to VR in the Nikkor lens) and does not blow out any of the highlights created by the pleasantly dappled light. The shadows under the large slabs of rock are crushed—there’s not really any information in them, but they were practically opaque to my eyes, too. I was pleased with the image, but I find it too cold and crisp. So I baked it a little in Luminar AI (figure 2) and Aurora HDR (figure 3).
Luminar AI (hereinafter just Luminar) allowed me to paint a mask over the sunlit areas and increase the warmth of the image there (figure 2). I got a little detail out of the shadows, but there was only so much I could do, and the shadows were noisy. There are other adjustments, but nothing out of the ordinary. Luminar’s ‘Composition AI’ made a small but judicious crop, shaving away a bit along the top and right side. We therefore have a more or less centered triangle of rocks and the light is at the center of the image. I like it better than the unedited jpg, of course, but it turns out that Aurora HDR took the same RAW file and produced something rather more like what I wanted.
I’m not here to jump down the HDR people’s throats. I came late to the digital photography and editing scene, and HDR-bashing is very 2010. If you don’t do digital editing, suffice it to say that HDR is a process that teases a good image of overly contrasty scenes by blending together multiple images exposed for a set of times bracketing the ideal one. The effect is striking, and early practitioners, carried away by the joy of being able to rescue a scene impossible to do right with a single exposure, went bananas creating, shall we say, “highly mannered looks.” Google “bad HDR” and you’ll see examples.
In any event, human editors and programs like Aurora HDR have long since embraced the μηδὲν ἄγαν concept and been producing attractive, understated HDR images. Clever programs like Aurora HDR can exploit the large amount of data hidden inside RAW files and effectively create an HDR image from a single RAW file, and it is to this process that I subjected my Archbald glade image.
I like Aurora’s treatment of the light, and it applies warmth better, though globally. The ‘radiance’ setting was key here, with Aurora softening the transitions from brighter to darker areas. I don’t understand the computational details, but suffice it to say that a rather “painterly” scene is produced with much less work in Aurora than in Luminar. On the other hand, Aurora somehow altered the green hue of the leaves from the hunter green or forest green I saw in nature and added blue to them to make them more of a Lincoln green. I adjusted the green hue a bit back toward yellow, but I’m still not perfectly satisfied.
Apple’s Photos is a blunt instrument by comparison. Affinity Photo or Capture One or DxO would have allowed more fine-tuning, but at the cost of a lot more work.
Though my work falls short on all counts, what I had in mind in taking the shot was something in the spirit of Asher Durand’s Study of Rocks in Pearson’s Ravine in the Art Institute of Chicago (figure 4).
I’d be glad to hear your opinion about the edits in the comments section, and I am not looking to pick any fights!
Nikon Z 7ii + Nikkor AF-S 24-70 mm f/2.8E ED. 70 mm, ISO 640, f/8, 1/200s.