Brian Auer | 09/20/2008 | San Diego, CA | 20mm * f/5.6 * 1/160s * ISO200
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This photo was taken at a location very close to my home, and I’ve shot there many times. It’s a gliderport near Torrey Pines State Park, sitting atop a 300-foot sand cliff overlooking Black’s Beach. Just to the side of the gliderport, there’s an area where you can walk right up to the point of steep decsent. This scary little lifeguard station sits perched right near the edge.

I shot using my wide angle lens to capture the vast openness of the scenery. The lifeguard was unaware that I was taking a photo of him, so his pose is quite natural. The lighting really sucked because it was heavy overcast and the sun was setting, but it worked out just fine.

The Watchman Post-Processing

All of the post-processing on this photo was done with Adobe Camera Raw 5. The intent wasn’t to use extreme processing or fancy tricks to get an interesting outcome — it was only to make small adjustments where necessary to convey a true lifelike scene.

  1. UNPROCESSED RAW
    Being very overcast and slightly dim, the original image doesn’t show much of the detail and color that was present in the scene.
  2. BASIC
    Temperature = 6050; Tint = +3; Exposure = 0; Fill Light = 10; Blacks = 8; Brightness = +24; Contrast = +50; Clarity = 0; Vibrance = +30; Saturation = +10;
    So I basically filled in some of the shadows, deepened the blacks, brightened up the whole image, added some contrast, and boosted the overall colors.
  3. TONE CURVE
    Highlights = 0; Lights = +25; Darks = -10; Shadows = 0;
    Here, I’ve just added some contrast to the mid-tones while maintaining my extremes.
  4. DETAIL
    Amount = 50; Radius = 1.5; Detail = 25; Masking = 0; Luminance = 35; Color = 25;
    These are pretty typical sharpening values that I use with my Sony a700, but I’ve bumped up the Luminance Noise Reduction a bit more than usual because I was seeing some junk up in the clouds and the water (blues suck for noise).
  5. HSL
    Aquas (Hue) = -30; Aquas (Saturation) = +15; Blues (Saturation) = +30; Aquas (Luminance) = +16; Blues (Luminance) = -5;
    This is where a lot of the magic happens with this photo. I love utilizing these controls in colorful scenes to pinpoint the look for each specific color. By lowering the Hue of the Aqua, it turned more green. Bumping up the saturation on Aqua and Blue made them stand out more. Boosting the luminance of the Aqua made it separate better from the rest of the water, as did lowering the luminance of the blues — and it gave the sky a better tone. I would have dropped the blues even further, but the noise really started to kick up.

So that’s it really — no Photoshop or local adjustments. Just a few small changes with the raw processor.

10 responses


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Brian, posts like this are without a doubt the most useful to me of any photo blog postings I read. I love seeing the intermediate photo thumbnail series, and your write-up has just enough detail. I don’t have photoshop, so the details don’t apply directly, but I can certainly learn from them. Keep it up!

November 19, 2008 4:03 pm

That’s good to hear, Scott. I’m continually modifying the way I do these write-ups, and this time around I’ve split apart the technical settings from the non-technical descriptions of what those settings are doing. I figure this would be useful for the folks who don’t use the same software.

November 19, 2008 5:03 pm

Wow, I never realized so much is taken into account in regards to a single photo.

I can see the slight suddelties in difference between each one.

The beach looks beautiful.

November 19, 2008 8:25 pm

If you wouldn’t have mentioned this was a lifeguard I wouldn’t have known. It just looked like sombody staring over the sea deeply sunk in his own thoughts. Very nice picture!

Strange thing is I didn’t even notice it was that high, it looks like he is standing right by the sea and could be in the water within two steps!

November 20, 2008 8:23 am

@Air Jordans — When it comes to preparing images for large-scale printing, a lot of attention to detail is necessary. This image was relatively simple to process compared to others. Some photos can take many hours to finish.

@libeco — Somebody else said that about the beach (I think on the Flickr page). I guess I can’t see it because I’m familiar with the area and the photo. For example: the waves in the water are large enough to surf, yet you can barely tell that they are even waves in this photo. And if there were people on the beach, they would be little tiny dots.

November 20, 2008 11:30 am

I’m finally getting to a point where I can understand the technical…now to learn how to apply it :)

November 21, 2008 6:38 pm

It’s really not too bad, especially with Lightroom and ACR. The panels are set up to flow. Work your way through them from top to bottom and move your way through each panel from left to right. Sometimes you’ll go back and forth a bit, but each control is fairly independent. The key is to have some notion of what you want before you start tweaking stuff.

November 21, 2008 9:13 pm

That is a scary little lifeguard station. What I like most about the photo is the line of light in the horizon just above the water.

December 12, 2008 2:17 am

What a great images. It looks as though the overcast wasn’t that bad after all. It seems to make the horizon more intense. The wate looks very calm and the waves appear tiny, I am quiet suprised to hear you say they are large enough to serve.I am getting my head around the world of photography, where could i find more images similar to this one?

January 9, 2009 9:06 am

Thanks! The waves look tiny because they’re 300 feet down. They aren’t huge waves, but definitely big enough to ride. If you’re looking for more photos like this, you could always search for keywords on Flickr!

January 9, 2009 3:56 pm

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