This photo is part of my portfolio and one of my favorite photos. It is taken is in a rather unusual place: in the hatch of geothermal hell in Iceland.
Iceland is a geothermally very active place. One of the sites that shows this activity in the best way is Hverir, an area in the northeast of the country. Hverir is one of the most out-of-this-world sites I ever visited. It is a place where you feel connected to the power of the Earth. Bare orangy-red landscapes look like something you’d rather see on NASA footage from Mars than on planet Earth.
This burnt landscape intersects the famous Icelandic Ring Road. With a little stroll around the surrounding area, I found a location from which the road was seen in the perfect S-shape. These shapes are very pleasing to the human eye, and I always try to find them.
The photo was taken with a Sony a6000 and an FE28-70mm lens. The usual travel combo. In order to compress the scene and make the distant mountains appear closer to the road itself, I moved away from the road and took a photo at the very end of lens focal length of 70mm. Other photo parameters were exposure of 1/125 sec, f/8 aperture, and sensitivity of ISO100. Pretty much a “school” setting for landscape photography.
I almost always use RAW as a photo format, so the next scene was waiting for me at Lightroom when I transfer photos from the camera. For those not familiar with RAW, it is so neutral that RAW photos must be edited in Lightroom or similar software. SO let’s begin.
This step has always existed. What used to be done in dark rooms, with masks and scalpers, the use of color filters and brushes and paint, now is achieved with the help of a computer.
I try to preserve the original content as much as possible during the process. As Serge Ramelli, one of the greatest masters of photography post-processing says; the goal of artists and photography is to capture and invoke the emotion we had in our mind at the time when the photo was taken. Ethical editing allows for changes to be made in order to produce these emotions as truly as possible.
As you will see, my processing process comes down to playing with light and contrast. In some situations, I get disturbed by a discarded piece of paper or a person who walked into the frame. In extreme situations, I use Photoshop to clone the sky. But at all times I try to stay within the boundaries of ethically acceptable.
The first thing I noticed was the radio tower and mobile antennas on the horizon of the distant mountains. This detail is completely unnecessary and quite distracting for the scene, so I was pleased to remove it. I did it by using Spot Removal. There was no need to use Photoshop for so small edit. As always, my recommendation is to remove all such irregularities from the photo at the very beginning. Removing them during the later process can be more complicated. Also, I noticed that using the spot removal tool at the end of the photo editing sometimes causes a slowdown in Lightroom.
The next step is selecting an Adobe profile and applying basic Highlight and Shadow correction. I almost always choose Landscape as the Adobe profile since it adds some sharpening and saturation by default. Since I took the exposure for the highlights of the scene, ie towards the sky, the brightness correction was standard: highlights reduced to a minimum and shadows opened to the maximal value. I set the white and black points standardly to the points where clipping of white and black begins. Since I wanted the photo to have a strong visual impression, I added a slight S curve for the medium contrast in the tone curve section. Yeah, S curve to the S road. Because I am poetic.
At this point, the photo was already good. But to further enhance it, I darkened the sky and bring back its natural blue tones with a few gradient masks. After that, I carefully cropped the photo. I’m still not sure that this crop was the best choice. In the galleries, you will find more versions of this photo with the narrow-framed crop. I cannot decide which photo has more power and a stronger aesthetic appeal.
When removing noise and sharpening the scene, I use settings that I know to work well with this combination of camera and lens. Also, I masked the sharpening to reduce the noise in the sky. The FE28-70 is notorious for its chromatic aberrations. They reflected quite a bit on this photo, so I removed them with Lightroom’s standard option. Although sometimes Lightroom can mess with this tool, this time the job went perfectly.
Finally, at the end of the processing, I did fine-tune of the holy trinity of colors: the Hue, Saturation, and Luminance. As you can see, the changes are minimal, but they have significantly improved the aesthetic and feel of this burnt landscape. And at the very end that I allowed myself to play with the Presence settings, with very conservative adding only 20% of the texture.
This may seem like a huge change to the layman, but in reality, if I had used JPG as a still image and landscape mode on the camera, the camera itself would have made a lot more changes than I did on the raw version. In other words, the processing of this photo is extremely conservative and almost nonexistent.
This scene shows that a seemingly burned and dead landscape can be beautiful if approached from the right angle. Even in that raw look, it shows the stunning beauty of the nature that surrounds us. The minimalist look of the landscape only adds to the beauty of the whole scene.
For these reasons, this photo is one of the dearest I’ve ever taken.