The Result

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This picture was taken in Little Death Hollow, a canyon in southern Utah. Actually the conditions were against a meaningful photograph of this scene. In the shade, low contrast, structureless and flat. Usually one will pass it, without taking any notice. However, as earlier in analog photography also in  digital photography pre-visualization helps to recognize the basic characteristics of a motive. And normally a too low subject contrast is a considerably smaller problem than a too high one.

I was intrigued by this frozen stone in the form of running water. And I dealt with it.


In order to recognize certain before and after effects in a better way, please move the slide handle quickly over the image.

RAW-Development in Capture ONE


White Balance

I always take an exposure with a neutral gray card,  so the clearly visible bluish color cast (photographed in the shade at blue sky) can be easily neutralized with reference to this gray card in Capture One.


Correcting LLC and vignetting

I always create not only a file containing a gray card for white balance, but also a file through a diffuse  plexiglas.  I use this file in Capture One to remove any color cast and vignetting (due to sensor and lens) with the built-in LLC (Lens Cast Correction) function.


Influence of LLC and white balance

White Balance and LLC are then applied to the actual file.


Basic corrections

Still in Capture One basic corrections of brightness, contrast and saturation are performed. In high contrast scenes, the HDR tools provide tremendous help to improve the details in the shadows and in the highlights. In this picture I only made a slight increase in contrast.

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Basic cropping and export

The following is a discreet cropping for reduction of disturbing elements on the edges and the export as a TIFF file, original size, 300 dpi, 16 bit, ProPhoto RGB.

Development in Photoshop CC

Steps of development

  • Creating a b&w layer
  • Making a copy of the b&w level and extreme blur with the Gaussian filter
  • Creating of an empty layer filled with 50% gray level, mode: SOFT LIGHT
  • Correction of brightness values at this layer
  • LEVELS adjustment layer for black point, white point and general gamma adjustments
  • Eventually contrast corrections with a CURVES adjustment layer
  • Creating a new layer collecting all the informations of the b&w layers (without the color background layer)
  • Further processing with the HISTORY BRUSH tool in different modes with very low opacity
  • Reduction of the b&w layers to one layer
  • Use this for a b&w image, or:
  • Allocation of the luminance values to the color background layer with the LUMINANCE mode and adjustment of this effect with the opacity slider.

B&W conversion

The direct conversion into the grayscale-mode or the reduction of the saturation is not recommended because these methods typically displays a boring and flat grayscale image. Other methods (Channel Mixer, L-Channel of the LAB-mode) give better results, but are inconvenient. I recommend to use the Black and White adjustment layer in Photoshop or the Silver Effex Pro plugin.


B&W conversion with the black and white adjustment layer

The color-related settings simulate the color filters of analogue b&w photography. More corrections with a CURVES adjustment layer are needed.


B&W conversion with Silver Effex Pro

With this plugin, brightness, contrast, micro-contrast and the brightness of the colors can be very finely controlled. Other tools are helpful in different situations, such as the use of color filters, local corrections, slight vignetting  … The resulting  b&w layer, created in this way, gives me a very good basis for further processing in my workflow.

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Evaluation of overall tonality by blurring

The b&w layer is copied and the copy (b&w layer) is softened using the Gaussian filter. The value should be selected so that the details are dissolving. In my case (file size 80 megapixels) the value of about 150 is working very well.

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Dodging and burning

Creating of a new layer (Mac: cmd + shift + n, PC: stag + shift + n), mode: Soft Light, filled with 50% gray. Painting with white and black paintbrushes (opacity 3-6%, different diameters) on this layer. The overall tonality of the image can be finely controlled.


Dodging and burning, evaluation

By deselecting the blurred layer, the impact of this processing step to the original b&w image can be evaluated. If the result is satisfactory, the soft layer is deleted.


Black point, white point, gradation

With a LEVELS adjustment layer the black point is set to 5, the white point between 230-243. Adjusting the overall contrast with a CURVES adjustment layer.

Finishing with the History Brush tool

By selecting the appropriate blend mode, the History Brush has different effects


Darkening blend modes

Multiply: darkens preferably the midtones without affecting of the white and black points

Color Burn: darkens the tones below 50% gray without effecting the tones above 50%

Lightening blend modes

Screen: lightens preferably the midtones without affecting of the white and black points

Color Dodge: lightens the tones above 50% gray without effecting the tones below 50%

Contrast blend modes

Soft Light, Overlay: brightening above 50% gray while darkening below 50% gray.


The inverting blend mode can be used to to darken very bright areas.


The opacity of the History Brush must be set to lowest values (3-6%).


Preparations for the History Brush tool

With (Mac: Shift + Alt + cmd + E, PC: Shift + Alt + stag + E) all levels are copied together onto a common layer (the top layer has to be selected for that). In the HISORY PALETTE, a snapshot is created. The new common layer and the snapshot will be selected. Selecting of the protocol brush (icon or Mac: cmd + y, PC: stag + y).


Selection of the blend mode for the History Brush

Selection according to need as described above. (For Bruce: the COLOR DODGE blend mode is a great tool for bleaching!)


Selective processing of the image with the History Brush

By deselecting the common layer, this effect can be continuously monitored and controlled with opacity and masking even in retrospect. It’s about the nuances and the details. The corrections are often recognizable only in the final print (-size).


Final actions

The b&w layers (not the color background layer) are selected and reduced to one layer (MAC: cmd + e, PC: strg + e). Final cropping.


B&W – Or color nevertheless?

The final image can be used in b&w. But also the color image wins if the blend mode of the b&w layer is set to the LUMINANCE. The effect can be controlled with the opacity slider.

No religion! Only one way to do my work.