For a while now, I have wanted to find a way to capture in an image one facet of my daughter’s personality: her strong independence.

I was looking for an opportunity for a long time and in January, during our holiday in Tasmania, the moment happened.

We were at the edge of a big dark forest and a golf course, on the yard I hired for that night. When my daughter saw the gravel, she sat there and played. I asked her to follow me as there were plenty of wallabies on the golf course and I wanted to include them in a picture.

Miss Independent said: NO (of course).

So to test her, I continued on my way and took a picture of the wildlife, maybe 50 meters from where my daughter played. Although I hoped she would follow me, she stayed where she was and didn’t look at me at all. But I was looking at her!

As I watched, I had my “a-ha” moment and decided it was the perfect time to frame her independence!

She was sitting in a tiny patch of light just in front of the dark forest. It was the blue hour and there was little available light left. My first thought was to showcase her independence in a contrasty way.

I backed up far from her, laid down in the gravel and put my camera on the ground. I metered for her and shot this image with my Canon 24-105mm f4 lens at 105mm.

Why did I make these choices?

  • Metering for her: I wanted the contrast of her in the light against the darkness of the forest. If I had metered for the scene it would have made the entire scene appear brighter than it was and the grass at the bottom would have been blown out.
  • 105 mm focal length: I wanted to use compression to make the forest appear as close as it felt in reality. Choosing a wider lens would have produced a different effect.
  • Increasing the distance between me and the subject: I made this choice as I wanted to emphasize how small she was against those tall trees. I needed the height of the trees in my frame, so I needed that 24mm “wide” look and backed up a lot. Plus, I am a wide angle shooter and like to include the environment in my images!
  • Laying down: I wanted to have my daughter at the very bottom of the frame, so the height contrast between the trees and her would be even greater.

Unfortunately, as I was waiting for the perfect moment to capture her independence, the light went by and my overall idea was not well captured within the raw image. Here is the raw, which is very dark and cool:

Back at home after my holidays, I had two options in mind for editing the image.

  • Edit it to tell the story I had in mind while shooting, a threatening giant black forest and a little girl in a pocket of light
.
  • Edit it with my usual personal preset that is bright and happy.

I chose to do both, just to see how different the images would be in terms of storytelling.

So, as you will see, editing is not only a matter of taste, it is also a way to showcase the story behind your image, and then, your voice.

Final image:

For a while now, I have wanted to find a way to capture in an image one facet of my daughter’s personality: her strong independence. I finally got my chance and this is how I emphasized that story with my editing.

I achieved my vision by:

  • Keeping the exposure almost the same as the SOOC.
  • Keeping the white balance cool over the trees and adding a warmer white balance where my daughter is located.
  • Keeping the tones cool using the hue slider to retain the blue hour feeling.
  • Bumping the clarity slider to make the trees pop.
  • Opening the shadows a tad to reveal more trees which were hidden in the darkness.
  • Adding a very strong curve to bring back the whites and the highlights that were critically missing.
  • Desaturating the greens, because they were too yellowish after the first tweaks I made.
  • Decreasing the luminance to make it rich and dark.
  • Adding a graduated filter at the bottom and increasing the exposure and the whites in the patch of light.
  • Adding a strong vignette to keep the moody look.
  • Playing with the Split Toning panel to get warmer highlights and greener/bluer shadows.
  • Tweaking the colors in the Camera Calibration panel to make the greens “greener”.

Tada! This is really what I had in mind and this edit conveyed the mood of the moment the image was taken.

Now, here is a second edit using my usual editing process.

For a while now, I have wanted to find a way to capture in an image one facet of my daughter’s personality: her strong independence. I finally got my chance and this is how I emphasized that story with my editing.

It is warmer, the vibrance and saturation have been bumped, the hue sliders are on the warm side and the white balance is on the neutral side. The shadows and the blacks are very open and while the RGB curve is the same as the previous image, I added a Red curve to add more warmth to the picture.

Suddenly, it is telling another story and the blue hour has disappeared. She is still small against the trees, but this is less threatening and only showcases a candid little girl.

Here are the two versions side by side:

For a while now, I have wanted to find a way to capture in an image one facet of my daughter’s personality: her strong independence. I finally got my chance and this is how I emphasized that story with my editing.

Some tips to match your editing with your story.

First, of course, you must know what your story is. In the e-book In Life and Dreams: Envision Your Storybook Life, I remember she strongly suggested to us to be able to give a short title to your image before, during and after shooting. No title? Hmmm, maybe you have no story or your story is unclear? Think about it.

Got a clear story? Great!

  • Use the white balance slider locally or globally.
    • Do you want to showcase the night or evening time? Play with the Temperature White Balance slider, globally or locally, to add some blue where you want to enhance the night/evening time and add some yellow where you want to show daylight.
  • Bump or decrease the vibrance or the saturation.
    • For a happy picture, use vibrance. For a timeless story, desaturate it a bit, or a lot!
  • Open or close those shadows.
    • You want to showcase the environment? Try opening the shadows. Or if you want to minimize them, keep them relatively closed.
  • Go wild with the clarity slider or go soft.
    • If you want to add textures, try adding clarity. If you would like to convey a peaceful mood, decrease the clarity to -5 or more.
  • Use the HSL panel
    • To add warmer or cooler tones using the hue sliders.
    • Get rid of a color that distracts the viewer from the story or enhance a color that contributes to your story, using the saturation slider.
    • To add richer tones or brighten others, using the luminance slider.
  • Use the Camera Calibration Panel to tweak the colors more
    • Use the red or green slider to modify the greens in your image.
    • Use the blue saturation slider to add warmth without messing with skin tones or reducing it to reduce the overall saturation.

Finally, if you want a clean look and not a matte or hazy one, be sure that your histogram covers all the chart, so that you have the complete palette of light (shadows, midtones and highlights). And be sure you have not clipped shadows or blown highlights!