Step by Step Adventure Sports RAW Edit

Dynamic Lighting and Editing to Create an Epic Photo

Nikon D750, 20mm 1.8G, 1/400 f/4 ISO 400

This is the first in a series of self portraits I have planned for the year. I'm trying to make it a point to always carry a camera with me this year for opportunities like this, and I want to share the process of shooting and editing them with you. The goal for this photo was to capture dynamic colors and create a scene that invokes the spirit of adventure. The sunset lighting, grass reeds, sandy trail, and big clouds all help to create a dynamic scene that makes for an easy composition to frame for a self portrait. 

RAW File

You can see just how much I under exposed to save as much of the sky color and detail as possible. I knew that the Nikon D750 would be able to handle the shadow detail just fine when I boosted the blacks and shadows back up, but if you shoot on Canon you might want to go for a more neutral exposure, as Canon doesn't retain as much shadow detail when underexposed. A lot of Canon shooters like to overexpose, then bring things back down. 

 Underexpose to save as much dynamic range in the sky as possible

Step 1

Underexpose to capture dynamic range. Bring up shadows and blacks while reducing highlights and whites and add contrast, clarity, vibrance, and saturation.

Correct exposure in the basic panel to restore detail and dynamic range

Step 2

Adjust tone curve to add contrast and fine tune exposure. I raised the blacks and brought down the whites to increase dynamic range as well.

Tone curves are a great tool for adding contrast and adjusting exposure

Step 3

Use the HSL panel to fine tune colors and recover dramatic detail in sky. 

The blue luminance channel can help you create dramatic skies

Step 4

Use the detail panel to sharpen and create a crisp look for the photo. 

For sports and action scenes you can sharpen a little more for a crisp and gritty look

Step 5

Use lens correction to reduce distortion and even exposure. 

Different lenses need more or less correction, but the included profiles do a great job at fixing distortion

Step 6

Use the effects panel to add grain and dehaze. The dehaze slider can add a lot of color, contrast, and boosts dynamic range in the sky. 

Be careful not to overdue the dehaze slider, a little goes a long ways

Step 7

Use gradient filters and radial filters to add a spotlight effect on your subject with negative exposure.  

A slight -.17 exposure radial brush centered on the subject helps focus the viewers eye and brings down the sky a bit more

Step 8

Export with sharpening set to standard for screen or matte. 

Finished product

So there you have it, very simple adjustments can create a major edit from your raw file. Play around with the HSL panel in particular to fine tune your skies and dial in the look you're going for. The blue luminance trick works better with nature scenes such as this, where most of the blue is in the sky and not the foreground or subjects clothing. Have any questions about editing? Feel free to comment below. 

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