Pretty much every RAW photo needs adjustments; the way a RAW files looks when it comes out of the camera is quite flat and undersaturated, which is by design. The original RAW processing will add contrast and color, but then you’re likely going to do more. Sometimes the default, “auto” adjustments are enough, and sometimes you will manually adjust the sliders to get the image looking its best. But then there are special photos that require extra treatment. A little extra contrast here, some sharpening there, darken that background, brighten that face, make the sky bluer, pump up the saturation on the flowers… all local adjustments. This article shows two examples of where to use global, and where to use local adjustments, using DxO PhotoLab 2 ELITE Edition.
Here are the two photos I’ll be working with:
The first primarily needs exposure adjustment plus brightening on the face, and the second needs noise reduction, cropping, darkening of the big rock in the foreground… and we’ll see what else they need as we go!
I’ll start with the image on the left. It’s very blue, but that’s not incorrect white balance. The worker was resting in the midday heat under a blue tarp, casting a cool blue light over the scene. His dark skin combined with the dim blue light has made him almost disappear though, so that’s something I need to fix without making the whole scene too bright. In fact, let’s start with brightening the whole image (so, a “global” adjustment) until the face looks good.
His face is much more visible, but notice how the background is super bright now. It definitely loses the drama and impact from the original image.
After reverting the image to the starting point, I decided that the background actually could be darker, so I applied a global exposure adjustment to about –0.25. Then I opened the Local adjustments control and dropped a control point right on his face. I raise the Exposure, which brightened his face nicely but also made it a bit washed out, so I then lowered the Black Point to make the darks darker while maintaining the brightness.
On its own that may feel like an unnatural brightening of the face, because suddenly this face has a splash of light on it. However, because of the bright white bag next to his face that he’s leaning on you can easily imagine that the brightness on his face is reflected light off that sack. If you wanted to, you could even brighten the sack itself a little bit to really drive the point home — but I don’t think it’s necessary.
And that’s it! That’s all I want to do to this photo. A simple global adjustment (darkening) and a quick local adjustment (brightening his face) are all this photo needed.
Now let’s move on to the second photo, which is quite a bit more complicated.
The first thing I noticed is the noise. This was shot in a dark environment at 10K ISO on a micro four-thirds sensor, so it’s a bit noisy. DxO PhotoLab 2 ELITE Edition, of course, offers PRIME noise reduction but that’s applied only on output, so I’ll enable it right away but we won’t see the results until it’s exported. Looking at the blacks in the scene, usually, I want my images to be quite contrasty, but we can see that whatever she’s cooking is kicking off a bit of smoke. I want the entire image to feel a bit more smokey than it does, and a good way to do that is to lift the black point so the darkest blacks are actually a bit grey. I like doing this with the curves (the Tone Curve tool). It’s easy to raise the black point by simply dragging the lower-left corner straight up.
But that makes the whole image too flat looking, so by lowering the shadows on the curve, I brought some of the contrast back, while still maintaining the lifted-blacks look.
Originally I was going to crop out whatever it is on the bottom left that’s bright and distracting, but that copped out more of the bamboo pole at the bottom right than I wanted, so instead I retouched it out using the Repair tool. Just a few quick drags and clicks, and it was gone!
Now it’s time to get local. That big rock is super bright and distracting, so a single control point on that is a quick and easy fix! In fact, I thought I’d need to add a negative control point to the fire to protect that area, but I didn’t. Because the control point is only affecting areas that are similar to the center of the control point, only the rock is being affected, and the fire is ignored.
I lowered both the exposure and the highlights to darken the rock. I find quite often that doing a little of both instead of a lot of just one looks better. In this case, just using exposure made the rock unnaturally dark. By making it just a little darker with exposure, then pulling the highlights separately down, it took on a more natural look.
Next, I want to enhance the fire. It’s a focus point of the composition, but it could be more saturated and more dramatic.
Once again, a single control point is all that was needed here. I did more to it though; I darkened it, increased micro contrast, lower the black point, increased saturation, and added some warmth. All of these combined made for a richer, more dramatic looking fire!
Finally, I added one more control point to her face that was big enough to cover her hand, and added a little warmth to it. Why? Because the fire is now so intense, that it feels like it should be casting some more color on her face!
That’s everything. A good combination of global and local adjustments, leading us to this final image! (I reduced the PRIME noise reduction to 30 from the default 40 because the first export was a little too noise-reduced; some of the darker flatter areas got mushy).