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Cold Sunrise - Lake Placid, Adirondacks

This was a very cold, early morning hike to a great sunrise location in the Adirondacks, and I really wanted to convey this feeling in the image “Cold Sunrise”. There are many cues that you can use to express how you feel when you’re at a particular location, and these involve all of our senses including sound, touch, smell, etc. Here I’ve tried to convey touch and feel by leading the eye onto the texture of frozen snow on these rocks in the foreground.

In addition, I think that the low fog in the valley conveys that stillness and silence that we often associate with these types of atmospheric events. When we can’t see very clearly, our other senses become more acute, and even though this is a photo, it triggers that sense in our minds to imagine what it would sound like to be there. Notice also the strong diagonals which guide the eye as mentioned before – cool to warm, texture to smooth, dark to bright, all contrasting elements.

Anyone looking at this photo will immediately understand what it must have felt like to stand on this frozen rocky ledge – at least that is my hope, and why it is important to continually practice the language of photography.

• Lightroom Workflow

As a bonus, I’ve included my Lightroom workflow so that you can get a better sense of how I processed this image with these ideas in mind in order to create the best interpretation of the RAW file.

1) Here is the original capture, with the default settings n Lightroom. Aside from a small amount of highlight clipping in the sky, the histogram looks good and I have maximized tonalities by exposing to the right. The image looks a little dark, but I wanted to make sure I didn’t lose any sky detail which was beautiful and adds the warmth to the image – a critical component to the overall feel and composition.

2) Next I made some adjustments in the Basic Panel, mostly increasing the Fill Light to bring out the dark foreground, Recovery to control the clipped highlights, and Clarity to bring out the texture of the ice and snow. I also added a bit of Vibrance for color. This works together with White Balance, which I increased from 6000k to about 6700k – this adds some warmth to the sky and removes some of the blue cast from the snow.

3) Next I wanted to try and increase the mid tone contrast – again with the idea that the textures in the image will help convey the feel – ice, frozen, rough, cold – even the trees appear like frozen statues, and adding contrast emphasizes this. I used the Tone Curve panel to added a tight S curve. This helps the midtones, but prevents the deep shadows or highlights from being affected. Adding extra points high and low on the curve prevents this from happening.

4) I decided I wanted to darken the sky to help bring out the soft cloud textures, so I decreased the Luminance value of the Blues in the HSL Panel. This will also darken areas of shadow that often have a blue cast, so care must be taken not to go overboard. I wanted to a subtle effect, so -17 felt about right.

5) Now we come to theDetail Panel – one of the most important aspects of this image, and here I used fairly standard settings – Amount=66, Radius=1.0, Masking=25. However the important setting here is Detail=100. The Detail slider in Lightroom acts as a halo suppressor, meaning it tries to prevent halos, the ugly glow around edges when high sharpening is used. While often useful, it can make an image somewhat softer as well, especially a high frequency image like this one. I didn’t want to compromise that, so a setting of 100 removes all halo suppression and gives me the sharpest image possible. Remember that this requires a very clean image (little or no noise), and a sharp capture to begin with.

6) Finally, I was still not happy with the overall mood of the image – I wanted to sky to play a stronger role in leading the eye and conveying a sense of depth. Up to now it just seemed to bright and washed out. I added a Graduated Filter to with a setting of Exposure= -0.15, Brighness= -49. The key here is not to lose the highlights, but bring down the overall brigthness of the sky and stretch the tonal values. Had I just used Exposure, then I would have lowered the whitest part of the sky only, which was not my intent. By using mostly the Brightness control, the sky becomes more dynamic and richer – the finishing touch to the image.

• Conclusion

I hope this is helpful in illustrating how I make technical AND creative decisions when processing an image in Lightroom. Having a clear idea of what you want to say with an image is extremely important, and aids the workflow tremendously. Thanks for reading and hanging in there through my explanations, and feel free to post comments and suggestions below.

PS- I teach this extensively in the Real World Lightroom 3 workshop where I go much more in depth and work through a bunch of images explaining how the creative process happens in the field, and continues in the digital darkroom.

Experience your work in the real world. The Printmaker Masterclass is live and growing! Learn more here.

This Post Has 7 Comments

    1. Thanks Steve – appreciate your feedback – I know you are an Aperture user, but hopefully the concepts can be applied to any software – at least that is my intent.


  1. This is just a stunning picture. I don’t have lightroom, just Aperture and I am only beginning to understand using any of these workflows. But the subject matter is always the star and you certainly made this shine! I can hear and feel the snow crunching underfoot and see my breath fogging in front of me. Bravo on another winner.

    1. Thank you Nancy – I really appreciate the feedback and thank you for taking the time to leave your comments. As I’ve stated many times before, without vision and an emotional connection to what you photograph, all the technology in the world won’t help someone really “feel” what you felt – that is the essence of everything in photography. Yes, I will work on an article about lenses and what I use and recommend. In the meantime, here is a great article by a favorite photographer of mine, David Noton about choosing lenses.


  2. Here in sunny Honolulu, the air suddenly got many degrees colder! Excuse me while I try to find some warms socks and a blanket! Thanks for being so willing to share your talent and knowledge, from which even a casual amateur like me can glean tidbits to help me improve.

    1. @Rae – Aloha Rae! Thanks for your very generous and positive feedback – always great to hear from you and for taking the time to visit! Have a great time and a safe trip back home to the icy Hudson Valley!


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