Category Archives: From RAW to final

Color profiling your camera – why it matters

Pretty flower, isn’t it.

But this post isn’t about flowers. It is about color management and what you can do to get your shots closer to “right”. And it is an advertisment. Yes. And I’m not sorry.

So how did I take this shot you ask? Well, the first two steps were what many of you do anyway.

  • I got a custom white balance using a white balance card. That’s the first important step to get the colors right.
  • I used an external light meter to get the exposure right

And this got me this picture:

Tulip SOC


The red look much more washed out right out of camera, right? So, how did I get from this to the shot above?
Have a look again, side by side, the uncorrected version on the right side

Side by side before and after applying color profile
Side by side before and after applying color profile

You could of course spend time in post production trying to get the colors right and if you’re good you can do it.Or you create a custom color profile for your camera, using a tool called Color Checker Passport from Xrite. And once you created the profile, its just once click in lightroom. Just apply the color profile in the camera calibration tab of the development module.

And unlike white balance, you don’t need to create a profile for every shooting. You just need to create one per light source, i.e. one for sunlight, one for tungsten etc. After importing the photos into lightroom, you apply the profile that matches the light situation to the first shot and then synchronize the settings. That’s it.

If you want more details, check out their website or have a look at this video, it explains the whole process.

Oh and here is what this little marvel looks like. And it even comes with a white balance card on the backside 🙂

xRite Color Checker Passport
xRite Color Checker Passport

Islands in the sky

You know, there is something about Winter in Switzerland. All that snow, the blue sky, crystal clear air, snowboarding in deep powder …

It’s all a lie!!!!!

Well, unless you live in the mountains of course.  But for most city dwellers, Winter is a season of grey bleak days, where life is muffled unter a cloud of grey depressing fog.  And looking out your office window and knowing that there is a beautiful world wating for you, just half an hour drive away… is not really improving the motivation at work.

Now you probably think, I’m exagerating, right? Well, have a look at the picture above, have a look at the city of Zürich, the beautiful lake and the soft hills in the distance.  You can’t see it? But it is there,  the city and all its thousands of people. It’s just hidden under the #ç%&@# (censor beep) clouds!

Oh, sure, the fog sometimes leaves. Usually to make room for rain or a winter storm. Which usually happens on the weekend.


From RAW to final

My sister often wonders how much I tinker with my shots. Well, let’s lift the secret 😉

Here’s the shot as it was captured by the camera. Deliberatly overexposed in order to be able to get as much detail as possible in the fog when processing it.

Islands in the Sky - RAW


I then applied these adjustments in Lightroom:

Crop to 16:9 format
Exposure:     -1.6
Contrast:     +23
Highlights:  – 53
Shadows:     +74 (To get the trees in the foreground back
Whites:         +45 (To get the full tonality in the highlights)
Clarity:          +30

Islands in the Sky - RAW final

The shot is now ready for final processing in Nik Color Efex Pro. I used the “Tonal Contrast” filter, applying it to the hightlights in order to get as much structure as possible back into the fog, and then “Brighten center” filter to add a bit of vignetting and put more emphasis on the tower.

Photo was taken on the Hochwacht Tower at the Albis Pass in Switzerland using the Leica M9 and a 90mm lens

Winter walk

When I started photography as a serious hobby, I often looked at photos on the web and in magazines and wondered how these pictures were made. Why were these photographers able to take shots like that and I wasn’t?

The first that came to my mind was of course the camera. It must be the gear, the big ass DSLR and all the expensive lenses they were using. After all, that’s why these cameras are called professional cameras, isn’t it? Then came the iPhone and people started to phost stunning pictures taken with a mere cell phone. So I had to admit, it is not expensive gear that makes good photos.

It was an uneasy discovery, as it forced me to realize, that, in the end, it is the guy behind the camera who is responsible for making a picture look stunning or – mundane.

Many people think, a good picture is only good if it looks great right out of camera (OOC). Some even think, that you’re only a good photographer if your pictures look great right out of cameara. They could not be more wrong. Taking the picture is only the first step. 99.99% of all stunning pictures you see are the result of a second step, called post processing.

Trust me. It is worth learning this. And to motivate you, I will publish posts now and then, showing how the picture looked like right out of camera and what I did to get it to the final picture.

Ready? Ok.

Step 0: Shoot RAW

First, one important thing if you want to make your pictures shine. Set your camera to shoot RAW format. Yes, I know, JPG is faster and uses less space. But unless you shoot in an environment were you can control the light or are under a very tight deadline, shoot RAW. It allows you to play with white balance in post processing and it simply gives you much more data to work with. Trust me. Even if the RAW file often looks rather bland and boring when you bring it into the computer. Just like this one:

RAW Version
RAW Version

Step 1: Import into Lightroom, crop and adjust exposure

When I took this shot, I overexposed by about half a stop, in order to keep the snow as bright as possible while taking care not to overexpose (i.e. blow out the highlights into pure white). As a result, the sky looks blown out, so I bring the exposure back again, in this example by setting the exposure slider to -0.75. This made of course also my snow rather dark, so I added a gradient filter to the bottom third of the picture, bringing the exposure in that part up again exposure slider to 0.76. And then finally I crop it to 16:9 format, my favourite format for landscape photos. This also puts more emphasis on the leading lines (fence and tracks) and puts the spot where they vanish into the lower left third of the picture and the little forest into the upper right third, implementing the “Rule of thirds“.

Step 1, overall exposure

Step 2: Taking care of highlights and shadows

Next step is about highlights and shadows. My goal here is to get definition into the very bright and very dark areas of the picture. It is this step, where it pays off shooting in RAW as it will allow you to bring back details in the light and shadow areas. I reduced the highlights by -5 and decided to add a second gradient filter (exposure slider to -0.98), this time to darken the sky and bring back the clouds . As a result, my trees were now very dark, so and brightened the shadows by +100, as much as I could.

Step 2, highlights and shadows

Step 3: Sharpening and detail

This step will depend very much on the camera you’re using. On my Leica files, I don’t sharpen at all and use only very little clarity. This picture has been taken with a Olympus OM-D micro four third camera and the kit lens, so I set clarity to +30 and sharpness to 87 which got me to the final image you see on top of the post.

Final version of the picture
Final version of the picture

JPG out of camera

For those of you wondering how the out of camera picture would have looked like, this is it.


First light of a new year

You know, sometimes I could curse technology. Like, when my alarm clock, that is programmed to wake me up at 5:45 on a Tuesday does so on January 1. I mean, it wasn’t a gentle “Happy new year” it threw at me. So I turned, tried to sleep again and felt a bit of a new year hangover creeping up.

After a while, not being able to fall asleep again, I got up, looked up the lake and noticed a promising glow. And thought a lil bit of fresh air might help fight my hangover. And so I got up, grabbed a camera, tripod and and went to the lake. Of course, I wasn’t dressed appropriately and was freezing my butt off while watching the show.

First light of 2013
First light of 2013

And so, with the first light of the year, happy new year to my dear reader, may it bring you laughter, joy and good light 🙂

Technical stuff: I took 5 exposures and blended them then in Photoshop Elements using layer masks, some green tea and a yoghurt. And no, the last two things are not Photoshop filters 😉