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Making Of: Marblehead Lighthouse

Written by Tim on . Posted in Post-Processing

Making Of: Marblehead Lighthouse

The day was cold. The sun, bright. And on the last day of my East Coast road trip I took back in March of this year, I stopped at the Marblehead Lighthouse State Park, located in Marblehead, Ohio. The Marblehead lighthouse is one of the more popular lighthouses to photograph along the coast of Lake Erie. Probably because the park offers an amazing view of Lake Erie itself.

I had seen photos of the lighthouse previously before going (hence why I knew about it) and my goal was to offer the viewer a viewpoint of the lighthouse never before seen. The challenge was tough, because the lighthouse was so popular, and almost all vantage points of it was already captured on film (or digital memory cards).

“Okay,” I thought, “there’s gotta be something interesting to include in the photo.” But there wasn’t. At least not until five minutes later, when I found an interesting round cement anchor sort-of-thingy that seemed to go deep into the earth below my feet.

With my Tokina 11-16mm lens zoomed out to 11mm wide, I set up my FEISOL Carbon Fiber tripod and adjusted my Benro ball head so it pointed my camera slightly upward and composed the shot so that the round object is centered near the bottom of the frame.

Using Aperture Priority mode, adjusted the aperture on my Nikon D300s to f/11 for good depth of field, and let the camera choose the shutter speed (1/3rd of a second). I needed good DOF so the object in the foreground AND the background both appear sharp and in-focus.

Here’s the unedited (other then re-sizing) shot straight from the Nikon D300s:

Making Of: Marblehead Lighthouse

My first impression is not bad. I like how it’s not your typical offset rule-of-thirds photo. Everything is aligned vertically.

The first thing that I see and don’t like is the foreground on the very bottom of the frame. It’s a bit bright and ugly.

Lightroom 3 Gradient Tool

To begin the correction process, I’ll bring the raw NEF file into Adobe Lightroom 3 and start by fixing the bright foreground. To do so, I’ll use the Graduated Filter and drag it from the bottom of the photo, to about the halfway point of the photo. This should darken the bottom portion of the photo once I move the Exposure slider to -1.75. The Contrast and Clarity slider was then moved to 100 This will change the bottom from being washed out and bright, to something more appealing. I’m also going to change the Saturation to -100. This should take some of the focus off the bottom of the image. Alright, we’re done with the Gradient Tool for now.

Basic Adjustment Panel

To add some overall oomph to the photo, I moved a couple sliders in the Basic adjustment panel:

  • Temp to 7795
  • Tint to +3
  • Recovery to 10
  • Fill Light to 9
  • Blacks to 20
  • Contrast to +35
  • Clarity to +25
  • Vibrance to -18
  • Saturation to +39

Then in the Tone Curve panel, I’m going to add some more contrast; I set the Lights to +49, the Darks to +13, and the Shadows slider to -15. And to prevent blown out highlights, I moved the Highlights down to -43.

But now I have a problem. The highlight on the lighthouse is really saturated. A quick brush stroke with the Adjustment Brush set at -44 Saturation over the lighthouse fixes that problem.

Crop and Straighten

Then I cropped out some distracting “mush” on the bottom. It was a bit distracting. I then slightly straightened the photo so the lighthouse appears straight.

Adjustment Brush

This is one of my favorite tools in Lightroom 3. The Adjustment Brush can make or break a photo. Which is why I love it–it’s just so powerful.

Let’s analyze the photo again:

Making Of: Marblehead Lighthouse

First thing I want to change is the sky. It’s too bright, and a bit too saturated. To fix that, I’ll use the Adjustment Brush with a Saturation value of -8 and an Exposure value of -0.71 and paint on the sky around the lighthouse. I made sure Auto Mask was on as to not change anything but the sky.

Then, the second thing I want to change is the round cement object at the base of the photo. I want to make it brighter, to balance the photo out more, since the lighthouse is taking all the glory right now. I want to create some tension between the two.

So with the Adjustment Brush in hand, I set it’s Exposure to 0.89, Contrast to 51, Saturation to -22, Clarity to 74 and painted over the cement object with Auto Mask turned on.

Next, I’m going to brighten the whole center of the photo. I set the radius of the Adjustment Brush to something big, and painted over the center of the photo with a slight increase of exposure and contrast. This should bring our eyes to the center, since our eyes are attracted to the brightest spots of the photo.

Photoshop Magic

With a little Photoshop magic I was able to make some more trees grow on the left side of the lighthouse.

Basically, all I did was select the right hand side trees and then copy/paste them on the left. This creates a more balanced photo, not making it feel too “lopsided”.

Here’s the end result:

Making Of: Marblehead Lighthouse

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