Re: Beach at Sunset: Dan's comments

Dan Margulis

401 Chosen for the par version, but I did not want to. I discussed the reasoning in my other post. Hector Davila stated that he believed the picture is all about the woman, in which case this is perhaps the best entry. Most everyone else believes that it is also about the sunset. I prefer some of the schmaltzed-up exaggerated colors of some of the other versions, but would accept almost anything, provided it isn’t as bland as this. The problem is that any potential substitute either has a much worse woman or a background that, if better than this one, is too blue or isn’t particularly exciting.

402 This is a very sensitive handling of the sky. But if the water is this bright, the beach can’t be this dark. And even if the scene is lightened the woman is too gray.

403 This has a similar sky effect to #402 but a more appropriate darkness distribution and a nice portrayal of the shore trees. The difficulty is a magenta cast throughout.

Purplish skies are not a bad idea, certainly better than blue clouds. But the light source that’s making the sea an appealing shade of purple isn’t shining on the woman’s back, so her shirt shouldn’t measure as magenta. One solution would be to run a tiny color gradient from the left, using the complementary of the purple. I’d prefer the simple method of a curves adjustment layer, click the black eyedropper tool, and use it to designate the darkest part of the camera as a black point. Then change layer mode to Color, and it becomes the best version we have where the woman is portrayed as this dark. Additional comments on this version at #406 and #419.

404 Chosen for the par version. This person, like Hector in #401 and many others, divided the image into two halves and worked on each individually.  Granted that approach, when working on the left half curves should make the boat lighter, as it is the natural highlight of that side.

405 A reasonable version for those looking for a relatively dark foreground. John Furnes has commented elsewhere on why he thinks this is the desirable approach.

406 David Remington was looking for an overall effect. He made several moves through gradients, filled in the holes in sky, and did some retouching of the woman. In retrospect, he posted

I went with the violet purple color palette of the sunset sky, accentuated it and used it throughout the image. I wanted a uniform color scheme. Now it seems a little too cool and the contrast is too harsh. I like some of the softer takes. If I had shot this scene myself I would say I over lit it. Too much fill on the woman. I agree with those who think a bit darker would be more natural. Also, I went with a silhouette for the coastline. I appreciate how open it is in Paco's version [#417]. I would go somewhere in the middle.

I agree that having excessive blue in this scene is not desirable and these comments could apply to several other entries. It’s one thing to say we don’t want blue but it leaves open the question of what we do want. Fortunately, we have a couple of extreme versions to play with—#403, if you’d like to move toward purple, or #412 for a more golden look. Blending either into this one 50-50 would be an improvement. Furthermore, if you apply #412 to this version at 50% opacity, then toggle back and forth, #406 as submitted seems positively icy.  

407 This is the version I prepared in one minute, sans sharpening, blending, color correction or retouching, as described in my earlier post.

408 Doug Schafer, like others, was disturbed by the holes in the sky. He selected them and added a warmer hue. Then, however, he reduced overall brightness on the theory that the sky should match the darkness of the woman.

409 John Gillespie thought that the spectacular nature of the scene called for a lot of handwork in the sky. What happened in the water is perhaps more typical of Las Vegas than Greece, but it also could be just what the client wants. However, if the water is so brilliantly colored by the sunlight, the woman can’t possibly be this dark.

410 Gerald Bakker used a 1.4 gamma false profile routine to get an agreeable presentation of the woman. He also concluded that the original had too much blue, so he used a Hue adjustment to move it toward purple/red. In retrospect, he finds there is not enough color. I think there’s also a slight mismatch in feeling between the two sides: the beach area is warm (note that the woman’s hair is more auburn than in other versions) while the background gives a yellowish impression. Slight overlay blending of the B channel into the A can add warmth quickly. As submitted, this version would be substantially improved if blended 50-50 with #412, which moves the woman’s hair toward blond and adds warmth to the background. Additional comments on this version at #416 and #428.

411 This person was having a busy week and could only spend five minutes on this exercise. So he did it quickly in Lightroom, concluded he had overdone the lightening of the woman, blended some of the original back in, selected the sea and sky, and added contrast. It came out rather well, I think.

412 Chosen for the par version. This is mine, and it looks to me like the day is about five degrees hotter than in anyone else’s. That’s fine with me for July in southern Greece. The woman was adjusted with a false profile and the Velvet Hammer action, but I also worked on both halves of the scene separately. Like others, I was bothered by the blown-out areas in the sky. Not feeling like exposing my painting skills, I took the lazy way out: I found another sunset image and threw it into this sky at a low opacity. Also I blended the B channel into the A, Overlay mode, for added warmth.

Note also that this is a pretty good “auxiliary” image. Even if you don’t want to go this far with the golden look, this one probably improves most of our images if blended in at 15% or so.

413 This one gives a frosty appearance. The woman’s shirt and her camera both measure B-negative, blue.

414 If you’re looking for a darker treatment of the beach, this one came out nicely. After applying a false profile, the person blended with the red channel to ligthten the skin more than the rest of the foreground. He also ran Velvet Hammer, but cancelled it because he felt it was making the beach too crunchy. 

415 An interesting impressionistic background but the foreground is much too dark.

416 This person tried treating it as two separate images, didn’t like the result, gave up, and did the correction mostly through masks in a different program. The result is reasonable but seems too cold and lacking in color generally. The notes mention adding cyan to the foreground, presumably to achieve the properly desaturated fleshtone. Whether this was the cause or not, the shirt, the camera, and the whole beach are decidedly B-negative, blue.

This version reminds me of #410: both nice contrast, both short on color generally, and both with a cast, blue here and yellow in #410. Since blue and yellow are complementaries it follows that a 50-50 blend of the two will be better than either parent.

417 Chosen for the par version, and IMHO the best individual entry by quite a bit. Paco Márquez explains:

Duplicated the background layer. Assigned Apple RGB 1.0 gamma, multiply layer mode with a blurred RGB mask.

From then on, using the R channel, made masks for sea, sky and woman, used Curves, Sel/Col, Hue/Sat, Shadow/Highlight and Dodge and Burn.

Started color correction with a point on the white of the boat on the left.

The pebbles in front of her take on a reddish cast from the sky so I left it in because removing it made it too unreal.

Darkened the top sky a bit to keep the attention on her.

The sea and sky colors might be too exaggerated but in her mind's eye that's how she saw them.

Her skin I felt had a great tan so I kept it on the warm side.

Did what you've been suggesting and made extreme versions which I later merged into each other and I think that's a great idea.

The result is an excellent woman, convincing color, and a sky/water combination that, if not “spectacular”, at least is quite interesting. I’m not really inclined to quibble about anything, as I like this version better than the par. My only suggestion is that the blues could stand to be a little darker, this would make the reflections in the water more convincing. So, Apply Image of the par to this one, but check Mask=Blue.

Additional comments on this version are at #406, #434, and #437.

418 The introduction of large amounts of yellow into the lightest areas of the sky is interesting but something more orange would likely have been a better choice. The darkness of the beach is apparently deliberate, since the person started off with a false profile at .75 gamma, which would have allowed him to brighten the woman much more than this. What was described is a very complicated workflow—so complicated,  in fact, that it didn’t leave any time to run Auto Tone at the end. It wouldn’t have made the version better but it would have suggested that Auto Contrast would. Without a full range, there’s a limit on how good an entry can be.

419 Robert Wheeler wanted to make the sunlight spectacular. I can buy that there is a rainbow of reflections in the water, but the bright yellow sun seems to quarrel with the blueness of the rest of the sky. He says he wants it warmer and suggests blending 50% of the par into it. That certainly improves things but I would repeat the suggestion that I made in #406, which also has a sky that seems overly blue: it’s better to move toward magenta (like #403) or toward golden (like #412). I’ve tried the 50% blend of each into this version, as well as 50% of the par, and I like the par least of the three for this particular blend, which is instructive.

420 This image turned into a grayscale for reasons that aren’t apparent from the description.

421 This person used an inverted luminosity mask to lighten the image, this may account for its washed out appearance. A false profile procedure would likely get better results.

422 Ronny Light probably makes himself unpopular by saying “This is my favorite photo of recent case studies.” He used a simple workflow with some special attention to the sky. The result is satisfactory, although I find the blueness overpowering. See also a comment about this version at #430.

423 John Castronovo has posted about his interpretation, and from that and his written notes I surmise that he feels the darkness of the woman is about right. In the sky, he properly warmed up the scene by shifting away from blue and toward purple. The sky still is full of distracting holes. For that reason, if you want a purplish version, I’d prefer #403 in spite of John’s good treatment of the woman. But for a result better than either, try blending #403 into this one in Darken mode. That clearly illustrates the value of getting some warmth into those holes in the sky.

424 Here’s what I was talking about in my first post when I warned against having too abrupt a transition from blond to black in the woman’s hair. Also, parts of this sky measure as too green.

425 This one comes not from us but from a student of Matthew Croxton. Like me, he stole a sky from elsewhere and used it to beef up what was found in the original.

426 James Gray created a nice rainbow effect in the water, but the left side has a yellow cast, measurable in the shirt and in the shorts. Blueness of clouds fights with the water

427 The Grinch, having just recovered from stealing Christmas, opines as follows:
This reminds me why I haven’t taken a sunset (or sunrise) picture in 15 years.  People who do deserve what they get, absent heroic measures.

Another to add to the collection of interesting right halves with unsatisfactory left ones.

428 Nice shimmering reflections in the water, foreground too dark. Frustrated, in the other thread Kent Sutorius says

I don’t understand how you decide on how light the foreground should be in the photograph

Most rules about color correction don’t involve what should be, rather they involve what should not be. The woman’s light hair should not be even slightly green, or excessively red. The beach should not be blue or green.

We have rules like this because experience has shown that they are not matters of personal taste. Rather, if they are violated the version will almost unanimously be rejected in favor of an otherwise similar image that honors them.

This can be done to some extent with the color of flesh, but not its overall darkness, as what might be true under one lighting condition would not be for another. For example, some would likely say that the skin in #401 is too light, while others would say that #410 it is too dark. However, there would be differences of opinion, for which reason I’d say that they’re both acceptable.

Skin significantly lighter than #401 or significantly darker than #410, on the other hand, is likely to get a near-unanimous thumbs down. So it would be appropriate to say that doing either of these things is wrong—in the context of this particular image. But that doesn’t help us much with the next one.

401 Christophe Potworowski deliberately maintained a reddish-purplish look, but despite some efforts to lighten the foreground with LAB curves, conluded “It’s still a lousy image.”

401 Chosen for the par version. We finally find one to satisfy those looking for a relatively dark beach. It’s got everything we need: A convincing woman, nice coloring in the sky, a cheerful and colorful overall look. To see how important that is, compare this one to #422, which is just as colorful and also similar in weight. But #422 emphasizes blues. I say that #430 is sunnier and happier. Edward Bateman describes his workflow:

I wanted to try an experiment with myself. I made 3 versions… each made on separate days without looking at previous versions

Version 1 started with the Bigger Hammer using the Blue channel. Then curves for some color adjusting. Then an Adjustment Layer adding 19 points of Vibrance using a darkened mask from the blue channel to limit the Vibrance to the sky. Then a HighPass/Overlay set to soft light at 75%.

Version 2: I tried to do it all using just the RAW tools.

Version 3 started with curves for some color correction. Then Bigger Hammer using the Blue channel.  Then HighPass (26) blended with Soft Light and excluding the woman.

I was surprised at how different each version was. That really gave me something to think about - and to compare. So then I  blending my versions. I placed one version on top and adjusted the opacity to find the balance of the images I liked the best. Version 1 and 2 were blended at 60%.  I repeated that with Version 3 with 50% opacity.  Then I used Shadows/Highlights with DM default setting at 50% strength to the flattened version.

A crazy way to work… but I learned a lot.  Curious to see how others’ versions look… there was a lot of room for interpretation on this one. I felt that the woman would want to look tan (based on season and clothing) … and made a bit redder by the warm sunset light.
A multi-version approach is most effective when, as here and to a lesser extent in Concert on the Beach, there is a lot of doubt as to what you’re trying to achieve. One approach that you guessed would be silly may be unexpectedly good, and the one you had the most hope for may turn out to be garbage.

431 Another good sky coupled with an overly dark woman. The person described about 10 minutes of work, mostly S/H and Bigger Hammer.

432 The strong purple cast in this one comes from the person’s belief that the clouds represented an incoming storm. To that, a reminder that “Red sky at night=sailor’s delight. Red sky in the morning=sailor’s warning.” There are atmospheric reasons why this is true, and they've been known for a long time:

Jesus said, “When in evening, ye say, it will be fair weather: For the sky is red. And in the morning, it will be foul weather today; for the sky is red and lowering.” Matthew XVI: 2-3

433 The notes describe a deliberate attempt to darken the left side, so as to make the sky/water combination more dramatic. That it does, and we might have considered such a move if the beach did not contain an important human being.

434 Here is one of the nicest backgrounds, full of interesting color without being as oppressive as many of the other efforts. The beach area is OK but this could be substantially improved by treating this as two separate images, as many of us did. With everything selected except the sky and sea, establish a white point in the boat on the shore. Do this, and it becomes a reasonable choice for best version for those who feel that #417 is slightly too light. See another comment about this version at #437.

435 An outright night shot.

436 You may recall the story of this Greek family reunion, which I told in the “A Toast to Greece” exercise in the 2020 set. My wife attended, but I was not keen on being one of only a couple of people out of 30 who didn’t speak Greek, so I stayed home. My punishment was that my wife volunteered me in absentia to color-correct all the photos taken by these people with their various devices over two weeks. She told them that I was very fast and could probably knock off the whole batch of two thousand or so in a couple of hours. Furthermore, they would all be masterpieces, since I am supposed to be the best in the world at doing this.

I need not involve you in the marital difficulties that ensued, but the result was a “compromise” where I agreed to look at all of them and correct not more than a hundred. I wasn’t limiting myself to three minutes as in the MIT study, but I was in no mood for time-consuming adventures.

This, then, is what I did in 2018. I note that the water/sky combination is very close to that of the par, except that this one does a better job of adding yellow to the lightish areas and is therefore superior. The woman’s hair also came out well IMHO, and I also like that the gravelly beach is not as attention-grabbing sharp as it is in the par. The shape of the woman’s skin doesn’t measure up to the par, however. 

437 Jim Sanderson, posting to the list, agrees that a light interpretation is correct because the sun has not yet set. However, his notes on procedures are a warning

I found this one to be the most difficult for me so far.  If there's anything I've learned (so far) from this exercise it's never to use an Ipad to take pictures at sunset on the beach.  I kept running into problems with negative A values sneaking up in unexpected areas.  I won't list all my steps as I wandered from adjustment layer to adjustment layer using various and sundry masks.  Thanks ever so much for the lesson in anger management as I tried (and succeeded) in not throwing my coffee cup through my expensive color critical monitor on several occasions.  

When frustration sets in it helps to look at individual components. Colorwise, this has a greenish feel. Also most of us preferred more color overall. It’s important to note that when the fleshtone of a light-haired person gets this light, more color is necessary.
To get a striking demonstration, grab hold of Paco’s #417, which happens to be about the same darkness as this one, and also #434, where the woman is considerably darker. Put #417 on top of each of the others in Color mode. With #437, that’s a big improvement as more pinkness flows into the flesh. With #434 it’s a failure, because skin that dark can’t support as much color as in Paco’s version.

In terms of contrast this also leaves something to be desired, as can be seen by switching the Paco Color layer to Luminosity mode. The brief explanation is that in #437 there seems to have been a subconscious decision that detail in the background hills is more important than in the woman. Lightening things enough to bring out details in the hills shortchanges the range of the skin. So if we were to decide that detail in those distant hills is the most important thing in the image, then sure, this one beats Paco’s. But nobody is going to decide that.

438 A plug-in was used here to add shape to the clouds, after filling in the blown-out areas. The background seems good, but the woman is unconvincing because the transition from light to dark in her hair is clunky.

439 The par version.

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