Rescuing a Low Contrast Image

The original misty image. Fujifilm X-T1, Fujinon XF 55-200mm f3.5-4.8 R LM OIS at 200mm, ISO 400, 1/800, f4.8.

At the time I took this hurried image I wasn’t hopeful, to say the least. I was shooting through mist and cloud that was suddenly rolling over the mountaintop. As you can see above, the original image lacked useful contrast and colour. But it’s surprising what can be achieved in software if we’re prepared to work at it. In this case I guessed I couldn’t successfully process in colour, though others with much more experience may do better. So I decided to aim for black and white.

The greyscale before histogram (below) shows how tonally muted and flat my original image actually is. The effects of tonal enhancement can be seen in the after version, especially in the mid-shadow range and among highlight detail. Pushing the processing to compensate for the below average dynamic range resulted in a few patches of artefacts in the sky to the right which I disguised with global film grain simulation. The grainy look suits the context anyway.

Where the extreme contrast levels of misty sky and mountain met was also a concern. After defringing for chromatic aberration, I used various masking techniques to bluff it as best I could. I added a targeted hazy effect to tone down the contrast and make the processing artefacts less noticeable. The Perfect Erasure in ON1 Photo RAW was very helpful.

It was quite a lot of work over several hours, but I got a pleasing result from an image I almost binned. In my opinion it’s good enough to be printed and framed-up. I might just do that. It reminded me of scanning and processing a 35mm film frame also shot in misty overcast conditions. The looming mountain in the background could be properly seen only after making colour channel separations (below).





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