Morro Bay at Sunset

by | Aug 14, 2019

Morro Bay Rock sits on the harbor during sunset, Morro Bay, California

Here’s a quick before and after of a favorite image that I’ve been meaning to reprocess for a long time, and scared to try because I was afraid it might not live up to my hopes.

To the right is my original processing of this image, from WAY back in 2011. Click on it to see it in all its crunchy HDR glory. Very much in the style of the day, which at the time involved celebrating processing artifacts that today are cringeworthy. That said, it’s been one of my more popular images and has been used more than once by local groups including one of the local tribes in various ways.

That images not only required HDR processing of a 3 image stack, but then needed over an hour of photoshop cleanup to deal with the worst of the rendering issues, especially halos around the rock and bad processing artifacts in the fog layer. but I really loved the end result.

My worry was that even with the improvements in image processing it wouldn’t be a usable image without doing some HDR work on it. turns out — with today’s Lightroom, I didn’t need HDR. Or Photoshop. Or massive post work. Taking this to the out of camera raw and doing a fresh job on it took — 14 minutes, all in Lightroom classic. I was curious how the recently added texture filter would tweak the image, and it’s added some really nice detail into the water and that was a nice plus.

I’m really happy with the result; I think it captures what I was trying to get out of the original image, while tossing to the curb a bunch of stuff I’d really grown to hate, like that crunchy over-sharpened HDR look to the rock and the sky. I feel like the setting sun is much better rendered and looks a lot nicer than the original, which I didn’t expect. And yes, I chose not to clone out that pair of common loons on the water this time, because I think they do a nice job of balancing the composition a bit now that I’m cropping to 4x5 vs 2x3. they’re a little something for the eye to chase and get a viewer to explore the image a bit more.

A takeaway from this: modern processing tools matter. I have discussions with friends who tell me they’re perfectly happy with their ancient copy of photoshop or Lightroom pre-Creative Cloud since they don’t want to spend money. I’ve stopped arguing with them, but I see what I can do today in 15 minutes that used to take me 2-3 hours and a lot of swearing — and is better — even with older RAW images, and I just with them luck. If you’re happy with your tools, fine. If they’re older than 2-3 years, the reality is you’re leaving a fair amount of potential for your final images on the floor, because processing capabilities keeps improving, and it’s amazing what’s possible with older images and modern tools.

This image was taken with the Canon 7D, the 28-300 medium zoom (effectively a kit lens), at 28mm, F16 at 1/200. Good body, okay lens.

What do you think? Is the new version an improvement?