How Far can You Push Shadow and Highlights in Aperture

There was this lovely scene out my office window one morning last week. The sun was rising over the horizon and the ground was white with frost. It was a pretty contrasty scene and I knew there was know way you could get it all in one shot normally. I took some photos at different exposures so I could combine them later in Photoshop, but while in aperture I decided to see just how far I could push it. I had shot using my D700 which has a pretty great dynamic range, and it also great for maintaining detail in the shadows. Here's the shot before I did anything with it... Frosty-morning-original

As you can see - the shadows are pretty black. There's no way I'm going to get anything from that, right? Well, you would be surprised.

I started by adding a shadow and highlight adjustment, and cranking the shadows up full. You can actually drag the values above 100 if you drag on the number as opposed to the slider. I dragged it up to about 200. This actually did bring some detail back into the ground, but it was very washed out. A little bit of mid contrast kind of killed it, so I backed it down a bit and added a second shadow and highlight adjustment. I also brushed both of these in so it didn't take away from the sky. It was still quite washed out, so I used a levels adjustment to add some contrast back into the fore ground and brushed that in too.

Here's a screen grab of the adjustments...



And the result....



(Click on the image to view large)

This is pretty impressive considering the original image was pretty much black in the shadows.

the lessons to be learned from this little exercise are...

1. Don't underestimate Aperture's shadow recovery abilities

2. Sometimes it's better to use multiple adjustments at a lower setting than try and crank everything up in one go. It gives you a little bit finer control. and allows you to tweak a bit more subtly