Make The Most of a Mediocre Image

Some time ago I was driving home late one day when the most beautiful sunset began to unfold in front of my eyes. I had my camera in the car and quickly got off the highway and onto a side street. There was no time to find that perfect sunset spot so I just looked for something of interest to include in the photo. The area was being developed and the only thing build so far was a white fence.

Sunset at Craig Ranch

I only had a few moments to get my camera and find a spot along the fence - all while trying to avoid fire ants. Within a few minutes, the light show was over and I was back on the road.

The images aren’t great but I like them and I knew that they had more potential than what I was looking at on the screen. The colors weren’t there and the dynamic range really dampened the image impact. I shot them with the brightest part of the sunset one stop above middle tone - a technique that ensures nice pastel colors in sunset photos. But this also left the shadows quite dark and much was lost in underexposure.

 This is the original out of the camera image. It needs help. 

This is the original out of the camera image. It needs help. 

Now there are a lot of things you can do to polish an image like this. In Lightroom, you can adjust your white balance and tone until it looks right to you. You can also use a program like Luminar or Skylum’s Aurora to process the image. Remember it’s like cooking - do what you like until you like it.

What I want to focus on today are two other changes that I made to the image that made a significant improvement to the image.

First, the image was shot with a 24mm wide-angle lens. This caused distortion in the fence posts. It’s not something that everyone would fix, but I wanted to change it. To do this, I used the Transform tool in Lightroom. By simply sliding the Vertical slider to the left, I was able to straighten all the fence posts. I like that better.

 You can see that I've tranformed the image and then cropped for a more dynamic image. 

You can see that I've tranformed the image and then cropped for a more dynamic image. 

Next, I applied a crop that would make the fence line a little more dramatic. After the transformation, the fence seemed a little flat to me so a nice creative crop really helps.

The end result is an image that I like. It’s nothing spectacular - it’s not going to be blown up and put on my living room wall. But these changes help this image realize it’s true potential.