5 Steps to Rescuing a Death Valley Image

Death Valley is one of my favorite places to photograph. I was teaching a workshop with my good friend Brenda Tharp and we spent the morning with our group photographing the golf course. When we were about to wrap up our morning, I was in the parking lot with a few students when I spied this view about a mile away. I call them the Neapolitan Hills because they remind me of a bowl of different flavor ice cream with some various syrups poured on top.

I attached my 300mm to my Canon 5D and aimed it the hills. I shot various sections of the scene and then also made sure I overlapped a few frames to make a panoramic image.

death valley photograph
The RAW File

These files have sat on the hard drive for 6 months and the reason is that when I looked at the thumbnails of the images, they looked very flat and boring like this one pictured. I was not inspired! However, recently I needed a challenge and decided to look for an image that can be rescued and here it is.

death valley photoghraph adobe camera raw
Adobe Camera RAW

I opened the image in ACR and first went to the curves dialog where you can see a very flat image with all the data compressed in the middle. I needed to pull the shadow areas closer to black and the lighter areas closer to white.

death valley photograph adobe camera raw
Adjusting the black and white points

I selected and pulled the black anchor point in closer to the black area of the curve, then did the same pulling in the highlight anchor point.

death valley photograph adobe camera raw
ACR Basic Panel

I next went back to the Basic panel and adjusted the WB to 8000 to reduce the blue/gray cast that was prevalent. I also slid the Black slider up to almost the middle while watching the histogram to make sure I did not go too far. I also considered the fact that there really was not a black in the scene so I did not move the slider too far. I next bumped up the brightness and contrast a little, added some Clarity, and some Vibrance and Saturation. Here I am “sliding to taste” or until I like the image.

death valley photograph adobe camera raw
Adjusting HSL

I then selected the HSL panel in ACR and slid the sliders for almost all the colors to the right slightly to increase the saturation.

death valley photograph
The Final Image

The Final Image!

I then opened up three more images that were the left and right of the first image and when they opened in ACR I selected the Previous Conversion from the drop down menu on ACR and processed them with the same settings as the first image so they matched. Finally, I opened Photomerge in Photoshop and selected these three images and stitched them together.

death valley panorama photograph
The Panorama

I have a very striking single image and panorama as well.

5 thoughts on “5 Steps to Rescuing a Death Valley Image”

  1. Hi Steve-

    Glad you stopped in and took a look. I am amazed myself how well these tools work and just had to do a post about it.

    All the best!
    Charlie

  2. Excellet technique. The low contrast situation you describe in your post is actually one of my favorites. Beginning with a low contrast image like this makes it possible to pull amazing tihngs from it. And the fact that your original capture was ‘exposed to the right’ makes it all the better. Thanks for sharing this important technique. Excellent work.

  3. Hi Ralph-

    Thanks for stopping by for a look. I am often amazed at the power of these tools we have and the results we can achieve and that’s why I shared this one for sure.

    All the best!
    Charlie

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