Porthleven is a small coastal town in Cornwall. It’s popular with tourists, but it’s a working town too, so not every scene makes the perfect postcard picture. You can either try to hide objects that don’t fit your vision of a place, or treat them as a part of what that place is and try to work them into the picture. That’s generally what I like to do.
There’s a fashion in photography and especially on social media for a kind of ‘idealised reality’, but mostly I find regular reality quite interesting enough.
I can’t say much, however, since I also edit images heavily to give them the mood and the ‘look’ that I want. In my defence I suppose I would say I like to condense and exaggerate what’s there rather than trying to change it completely.
You can see the before and after shots above. The original was pretty flat tonally, but I liked the composition with the strong diagonal lines and the quayside church framed between them, and I could see interesting tones in the sky, so I shot this in RAW to give me plenty of processing latitude later.
Here’s the ‘after’ shot. It’s been made in Lightroom, but you could use the same technique in any program that offers decent RAW processing and local adjustment tools. I’ve numbered the adjustments I made so you can see the settings and the reasons for each one in the steps below.
Note that all the screenshots show the ‘after’ version with all the steps applied. I’ve just picked them out individually to explain how they contribute to the overall effect.
Step 01: Choosing a profile
There are countless ways to convert a color image into black and white. The usual, technical method is to mix different color ranges to produce the effect of black and white ‘contrast’ filters. For speed and instant inspiration, though, I prefer profiles. Lightroom has its own black and white profiles, but I’m a big fan of Lutify.me profiles (they are actually LUTs, but adapted into profiles for Lightroom). The one I’ve used here is called BW Belium. It is a bright and contrasty profile with a look I really like.
Step 02: Adding a grad for the sky
I wanted to bring back the sky detail for this shot to add some stormy drama, and after much experimenting I decided I needed two. This first grad has a pretty tight gradation, as you can see from the mask, and I’ve lined it up carefully with the horizon to hide the transition as far as psossible.
I’ve used a pretty strong Dehaze setting to exaggerate the clouds. This does darken the sky at the same time, but I still need to reduce the Exposure value still further to bring back the detail. The brightest parts still look a little ‘blown’, so I’ve dragged down the Whites slider to bring those back too.
Step 03: A second grad for the sky
The first graduated filter darkened the sky, but because I had to position it tight up against the horizon, it hasn’t given the expanse of sky above that gradation in tone that skies usually have. So I’ve added a second, much more softly graduated filter above the first with the Exposure value reduced. This makes the sky dark and stormy, but progressively lighter towards the horizon.
Step 04: A third grad for the foreground
I think images need good ‘global contrast’ – in other words, they need larger areas of light and dark to give them some graphic impact when you look at thumbnails or view them from a distance. I thought that because I’d made the sky so dense and dark in this image that I needed a balancing dark area in the bottom left-hand corner, so I used a third graduated filter, lined up to follow the low wall in the foreground, and with an Exposure reduction. That didn’t quite look ‘punchy’ enough, so I pushed the Clarity right up to 100.
Step 05: A vignette effect
Just to add another dose of contrast, I finished off with a Post Crop Vignetting adjustment, just enough to darken the corners of the picture and focus attention on the central area. Vignettes are a very useful framing device to subtly enhance the image composition.