I love to travel, and I love photography. So combining the two is an obvious match made in heaven! Most of my travel editing is easy; maybe a preset, a little correction here and there, and that’s about it. But there are usually a few photos that are particularly challenging, for whatever reason. In this article, I’ll explore three photos from my recent trip to India that needed the kind of help that DxO PhotoLab 2 is so perfectly tailored for.

The Hazy Photo

Extreme pollution in India is an unfortunate reality. When you combine that with the dry dust kicked up by 50 million people (yes, really) attending the Kumbh Mela, visibility is horribly affected. Unfortunately this means any photo that stretches into the distance is going to be severely affected by this, as in this photo taken with a long lens looking past hundreds of tents into the distance. Here’s what the original looks like:

The original photo, as processed by DxO PhotoLab’s default setting… plus a little straightening

As you can plainly see, the horizon is barely visible due to the pollution and dust. But with a quick application of DxO ClearView Plus, this image can be made to look like it was shot on a much, much clearer day!

DxO ClearView Plus at its default setting of 50 is working wonders!

And here’s the final image.

The High ISO (High Noise) Photo

Shooting in low light can make for amazing photos, but you generally want to avoid high ISO to ensure the clearest, cleanest photos. Low ISO and low light means slow shutter speeds. In some situations though, like at the Kumbh Mela in the pre-dawn hours, shooting long shutter speeds to keep the ISO low simply wasn’t an option. When shooting people you usually need to freeze them, and that meant some shots came in around 20,000 ISO. Yikes! Fortunately with the excellent HQ (Fast) noise reduction, or for extreme cases the amazing PRIME Noise Reduction, you can salvage just about any photo.

Check out this comparison of three different versions of the same photo. This is cropped into 100% view so you can really see what’s happening. The top photo has zero noise reduction applied (which to be fair is not how you’d ever see it in any app, but it’s interesting to see just how much noise is in the original RAW file). The middle photo is DxO PhotoLab’s HQ (Fast) Noise Reduction, and the bottom photo is processed using PRIME Noise Reduction. The difference is truly remarkable!

The difference between the original photo with no NR (top), standard HQ (middle) and PRIME (bottom) noise reduction is striking!

The Photo That Needs Selective Adjustments

This next photo, shot again very early in the morning, has a mix of candle light and artificial light. The camera did a pretty good job of choosing an even and acceptable white balance, but what I want to do is make the background a lot cooler (bluer), and then balance the candlelit woman with the right amount of warmth to really set her apart. For this, the selective tools — specifically the Auto mask brush — will be perfect.

Here’s the original photo. Nice, but it could be better.

The original photo is nice, but I want a cooler background.

My plan is to start by cooling the whole photo until the background is how I want it, then mask the woman and warm her back up. Why not just mask the background and cool that down? Two reasons; first, the background is built of several elements that may be harder to auto mask, yet the woman will be an easier subject for the Auto mask tool to identify. Second, by adjusting the global white balance to adjust the background, then masking and adjusting her, I have control over each element separately. I may want to make her warmer, or cooler, than originally shot — but I won’t really know until I set the background.

The camera’s auto white balance chose a temperature of 4732˚K, but here I’ve dropped it to about 3600˚K. It’s taken on a lovely blue tint, and you can see that the woman has gone almost purple — so that’s what we’ll fix once masked.

The entire photo has had the White Balance lowered to about 3600˚K to make the background nicely blue.

Next I’ll build the mask. To build an Auto mask, all you have to do is:

  1. Click the Local Adjustments button
  2. Right-click on the image and choose the Auto Mask tool
  3. Adjust the brush size if needed
  4. Brush over the subject, ensuring that the dark, center part of the brush always stays inside of the area you want to adjust, and that the lighter, outer part of the brush always goes over the border between the subject and the background. Don’t forget to fill in the center when you’re done (just keep brushing that area; don’t worry that it’s not an edge).

When brushing along the outline of the subject, keep the center part of the brush on the subject and the outer part on the subject’s edge.

Once the edge is covered, go ahead and fill in the inside of the subject.

Now all I have to do is adjust the white balance for the woman. I found that around 5350˚K looked best (so actually a little warmer than the original), but also combined with a slight tint adjustment to remove some of the purple cast she had.

Adjusting the White Balance allows me to really separate her from the background.

And here’s the final image!

See how both the background and subject have changed, making her candlelit warmth pop from the coolness of the background!

What kind of challenges do you face with some of your travel photography? Do you have a particular photo you’ve struggled with in the past that might benefit from these powerful tools?

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