I had to photograph a wedding in East Sussex last weekend in typical church conditions, bad light and no flash allowed. When the bride took her place at the front of the church she was in the worst possible position for photos, in a really harsh pool of sunlight coming from a high angle and surrounded by gloom. The shot at the top is what came out of my camera, panda eyes, no shadow detail and burnt out highlights, yechh!
Professional digital cameras can deal with low light very well but there’s not a lot you can do about just plain bad light, except add some of your own with a flash or a reflector. If you can’t do that, the only thing left is software and digital retouching to try and rescue the image. I had a go at this series of shots and was quite surprised at what I eventually managed to pull out with the help of Lightroom and Photoshop.
First step was to get the best I could from the RAW files in Lightroom. Using lots of fill light and some highlight recovery I ended up with the shot above, better but still not very lovely. I then exported two versions one as you see it and one overexposed until it started to reveal some shadow detail.
I merged the two files in in Photoshop, using the best detail from each version, then started work with Photoshop tools. After about ten minutes I had the final version below. It’s still not technically a great shot, but it was an important part of the wedding and at least it’s better than when I started.
I sometime get asked if I miss using traditional film cameras. Well, not really, I love digital imaging and all the stuff I can do that I could never achieve with film. If I had taken this photo on film it would have been almost impossible to rescue. I do have the occasional misty moment recalling images appearing before my eyes in a tray of warm developer, then I remember the stink of the chemicals and being stuck in a darkroom for the whole summer and get over it very quickly!