Part 2 – Overview, Tonal Contrast Adjustment

Overview, details to follow in a later post

Previous post processing (PP) tutorial overview posts –

Here, we’re looking at step #4 in the following sequence of PP adjustments

  1. White Balance
  2. Highlight & Shadow Recovery
  3. Color Contrast
  4. Tonality

(click any image to enlarge)
To review the results of the previous three steps, here are the images beginning with the original capture and ending with color contrast adjustment
Our image as captured in-camera (RAW),

followed by the next image which shows the effect of  a PP white balance (WB) adjustment,

followed by the next image which shows the effect of  a PP shadow/highlight recovery,

and finally, the results of the Color Contrast adjustment step –

This brings us to the final step in what I consider to be “Basic Post-processing”. Depending on the image and our “artistic vision” more steps may follow but the previous three plus today’s topic, Tonal Contrast adjustments, make up the basic set.

Tonal Contrast

Color Contrast adjustments, discussed in the previous post, are use to add life to dull or flat images. Now we’ll look at another “contrast” adjustment, Tonal Contrast, that has the same goal.
We’ll explore different ways to improve tonal contrast in future posts. In this overview series, however, we’re mainly interested in seeing the effects of various adjustments on images. I will use the Tonal Contrast filter in Nik Software’s Color Efex Pro 3 to demonstrate. This filter allows us to increase (or decrease) contrast separately for highlights, midtones, and shadows as shown in this adjustment window (shown with default settings) –

Let’s look at several possible outcomes starting with our current image as it looked after the previous three adjustment steps. (Click any image to enlarge it.)
Image after WB, Highlight/Shadow, Color Contrast >>

The default Tonal Contrast settings give us this following image. The image has much more detail due to the increase in tonal contrast – a little too much for me.

Just to demonstrate the effect of different settings, the next three images will demonstrate adjusting just the highlight tonal contrast while leaving the midtones and shadows at the default increase value. I’ve chosen the highlights because the effect is easily seen in the stream. First – increase the contrast to the maximum >>

Next, reduce the highlight contrast setting to zero – that is, no change in highlight contrast from our starting image, but everything else is still increased by the default amount of 30% of maximum (max is arbitrary. We could apply this filter multiple times if we wanted.) >>

Last, the highlight contrast is set to its minimum value, which actually reduces the highlight contrast giving a smoothing effect to the stream as shown in the next image.

The following image is the end of the road based on my taste – plus I’m getting tired. The highlight and midtone sliders were left at the default values of 30. A problem area, from the start, was the darkness and lack of detail in the upper right. To compensate I increased the tonal contrasts for shadows to 60 (double the default value) to deal with this area – and the shadow contrast in the lower left rocks, as well. Overall, the effect was too strong as I noted at the beginning about the default settings so I used the Opacity slider to reduce the overall strength to 50% of the original default value – when in doubt, less is more. And – this is what we get.

I made one final tweak and used the CEP3 Lighten/Darken Center filter to darken the edges very slightly. If you compare the resulting image with the one above you may not even see the difference.

To complete this long “brief overview” here is the comparison between the original and final images. Lots of small adjustments add up to a big overall change.

One nice NX2 feature is the ability to save entire sets of adjustments – like the set of five used in this tutorial. Once saved it can be recalled to make the same (or similar) changes to other images. The changes are not destructive – that is, the original images is not changed but, instead, a complete record of the adjustments made to it are saved separately within the file. I can come back to any image at any time and modify, add, delete adjustments to my heart’s content just as if I were starting from scratch.

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