How to edit underwater images using Adobe Lightroom – part 2 exposure and contrast

This is the second blog in the series to explain how I edit my underwater photos in Adobe Lightroom. In this section I will explain how I change the exposure and contrast.

Please Click here to read the first blog post. 

 

Exposure

Exposure is the measurement of lightness and darkness within an image. A correctly exposed image has a good balance between the two. There will also be no area which is too bright or too dark. 

A good way to measure the exposure is to use a histogram. 

Histogram

 

 

If the image is overexposed or too bright the graph will lean to the right.  

Histogram overexposed

 

If the image is underexposed or too dark the graph will lean to the left. 

Histogram underexposed

These three histograms are screenshots from lightroom. I used the same image and adjusted the exposure to create my example histograms. Notice the arrows in the top corners of the histogram. On the overexposed histogram it is highlighted blue and on the underexposed, green. You will also notice that the graph itself has different colours in different areas. This is to show you the exposure of each colour and not just the general exposure. This can help to give an idea of which parts of the image are over or under exposed.

With underwater photography you will often find that the blues are towards the right side of the histogram. This is generally because the top section of the image will be blue water. As we get deeper under the water we loose light and therefore the top section of our image is often brighter than the bottom. Meaning that the blues are often the brightest part of the image.

 

Contrast

Water is denser than air and therefore light travels a shorter distance through it. This affects the colour, contrast and sharpness of the images you will produce. We have already discussed the colours in the previous blog post. Now lets talk about the contrast. 

A contrast is a striking difference between two things. In the case of photography it is referring to the differences in tone. Usually light or dark tones but it can also be between different colour tones.

 

Example 1

Before and after wreck silhouette

This is the before and after shots of a silhouette taken on the U.S.A.T Liberty Wreck.

The only thing I changed on this image was the contrast. I used the contrast slider under the basics tab and moved it to the right. 

 

Original Histogram
Original Histogram

 

Silhouette of Wreck

 

Final Histogram
Final Histogram

 

Example 2

Before and after clownfish

For this image I used two Inon Z240 strobes to light up the anemone and clownfish. The left strobe was closer to the anemone and left some unpleasant highlights on that side of the image.

I started the editing on this image by moving the highlights slider all the way to the left to completely remove the bright spot. 

Remove Highlights

Original Histogram
Original Histogram

 

Histogram after reducing highlights
Histogram after reducing highlights

Next I added a tiny bit of contrast by moving the contrast slider slightly to the right. This made the anemone stand out from the background a bit more. 

Adding contrast

Histogram after increasing contrast
Histogram after increasing contrast

Finally I reduced the overall exposure a little more. This made the anemone stand out even more. 

Clownfish

 

Final Histogram
Final Histogram

 

Example 3

Before and after scorpion leaf fish

This image was taken at about 20 meters on a cloudy day, using a single Z240 strobe which I positioned above the subject. 

I started by increasing the exposure of the image using the exposure slider and moving it to the right.

Increase exposure

Original Histogram
Original Histogram

 

Histogram after exposure changes
Histogram after exposure changes

I then increased the contrast a tiny amount. 

Increase contrast

The image was finished with some white balance changes. 

Scorpion Leaf fish

 

Final Histogram
Final Histogram

 

Example 4

Before and after cargo room

This is an image taken in bad visibility of the U.S.A.T Liberty Wreck. The bad visibility reduced the contrast of the image even more. 

Original Histogram
Original Histogram

The first thing I did was increase the contrast by moving the slider to the right. 

Increase Contrast

Histogram after increase contrast
Histogram after increase contrast

The next thing was to increase the overall exposure. 

Increase Exposure

Histogram after increase exposure
Histogram after increase exposure

I then increased the contrast again

Increase contrast again

Histogram after increase contrast again
Histogram after increase contrast again

Then I focused on changing the colours and removing some spots, before reducing the blacks to make them darker.

Reduce Blacks

Histogram after reducing blacks
Histogram after reducing blacks

As you may have worked out I was having trouble getting the image to stand out. 

My final option was to increase the clarity. This makes the details of the image stand out more. 

Increase Clarity

This did the trick. However it did make a lot of particle in the water also stand out. I finished the image by removing these particles. 

Cargo room

 

Final Histogram
Final Histogram

 

What’s Next

In my next blog I will explain how I remove spots and marks from my images. 

If you would like to learn more about Adobe Lightroom please download my PDF Lightroom course.

 

 

 

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