Before and After, Part III |

My last two posts dealt with removing stuff from photos that I didn’t want to be there. Understandably, this makes some people uncomfortable (me included, sometimes!), so let’s do something more benign this time around. This is a photo of a really interesting statue at the Natural History Museum up in Chicago. It was shot at close range with a flash, and I think we can all agree generally looks pretty dang ugly:

1/100s, f/4.5, ISO-400, 105mm

Now, before I show the next one, I’d just like to say that I was shocked at how much information I was able to pull out of this photo. It wasn’t shot in RAW, so all I have to work with is the JPEG data, but even so…

1/100s, f/4.5, ISO-400, 105mm

Holy cow. That looks worlds better. It’s still not perfect, but this is almost something I might show without being embarrassed… So what did I do?

1) Crop and straighten — it’s still not perfect, and I’m not sure whether it’s a lens defect or if the patterning in the wall was just crooked. I could fix it, if I really cared, but I don’t. This is good enough (in fact, part of me was tempted to take out the wall patterning all together, but this one was supposed to not delete anything from the image)
2) Drop the exposure down about a stop and a half, and reduce the highlights substantially (Lightroom has a highlights slider, but you can do the same thing in levels or curves). This lessened some of the bright, ugly wall glare.
3) Increase the brightness of the shadows to bring out detail in the statue itself.
4) Increase the vibrance of the photo to bring out some of the nice orange color detail in the statue
5) Add some vignette to darken the corners of the image. Since the eye is attracted to lighter regions, this forces the eye inward towards the statue. You have to be a little careful with vignetting, because it’s a somewhat over-used effect. I tried to not make it especially strong in this image. I think it’s also helped by the fact that it looks less like a lens vignette and more like a diffuse spotlight is shining on the wall… but maybe I’m wrong.

What do you think? Does it work, or is it still ugly?