Whether it is a grey and rainy day or a day with lots of scattering light that makes an image appear with low contrast, you can easily fix the problem with the histogram and the Levels sliders in the Levels tool.
Pictures with low contrast hardly ever look interesting. Even if an image was shot in very low contrast, you should still try to use a full range of tones in the image.
Image straight out of the camera and the image after being optimized in Capture One Pro 9.
After loading the image in Capture One Pro 9, it is obvious that the image looks very dull lacking both contrast and colors. When I took the image, my brain had compensated for the very low contrast light conditions, so I remembered the scene having more colors and contrast even though the weather was really rough.
The histogram in the Levels tool explains why the image appears so flat. All the values in the image are gathered in the middle of the histogram without any really dark or bright tones.
Step 1: Fine-tune the White Balance
I notice that the red, green and blue histograms aren’t really on top of each other indicating that it is a good idea to adjust the White Balance in the image. I use the white balance picker in the splashing water as this diffuses the light and gives a good general balance for the whole image.
I don’t use the picker on the clouds as this will lead to a wrong White Balance for the image. Distant clouds always get a bluish tone, which I like to preserve in most landscape images.
Step 2: Optimizing the histogram
Now I simply drag the shadow and highlight slider in in the Levels tool so they are placed where the main mass of the histogram starts and ends. You could also use the A button in the tool for Automatic optimization for the histogram.
Now the image looks much better. But I would like to do a few more things to enhance it even more.
Step 3: Adding more details in the splash
To get more detail in the white splashing water I will do a combination of some corrections in the High Dynamic Range tool combined with some Clarity and Saturation adjustments. By first using the highlight slider in the High Dynamic Range tool I bring more details into the splash, which I can amplify by adding some Clarity and Structure in the Clarity tool.
Saturation, Highlight and Shadow compensation in the High Dynamic Range tool and Clarity has been added. Now it is much easier to see the patterns in the white splashing water, which is better separated from the now more bluish sky.
Step 4: Darker skies
Finally, I would like to add more drama to the sky. I will do this very simply by applying some Vignetting to the image. Besides adding drama, it also helps drawing the viewer’s attention towards the breaking wave in the center of the image.
When adding Vignetting I compensate with a little extra brightness and contrast to ensure the same overall brightness of the image.
Step 5: Watch the noise in the image
When you stretch the data as much as I have done in this example, it is a good idea to take a look at the file in 100% zoom rate to see if you need to fine-tune the noise settings. On a normally exposed image Capture One Pro 9 will automatically make sure that the noise settings are set correctly but in a case like this you may have to add a little extra Color Noise or Luminance Noise Reduction.
All the best,
The Image Quality Professor
The digital pioneer, Niels V. Knudsen, is Phase One’s Image Quality Professor and founder of the IQP blog. Moreover, he is responsible for breakthrough advancements in image quality both in Phase One’s medium format camera systems and in Capture One Pro.