Tag Archives: Broken Prairie Fence

Working With Backlit Clouds

Broken Prarie Fence, Near Fort Collins, Colorado

Editing the image in this post, “Broken Prairie Fence,” was kind of like what I imagine it must be like to wake up the next day after a bender and not remember what you did the night before:  I know I did stuff, I just can’t remember quite what it was or in what order it went.

The real challenge with this image was the backlit clouds.  Some photographers do backlighting quite well; I find it to be difficult to work with.  For me, the problem mostly is that backlit clouds tend to present very high contrast.  For example, the centers of the clouds, where the sunlight doesn’t pass through, tend to be very dark, while the edges of the clouds, where the sunlight amplifies the white, tend to be very bright.  To keep the sky from being a busy, cacophonous conglomeration of wildly differing shapes and tones, my approach is to reduce the contrast to more manageable levels.

How to do this?  Well, therein lies the editing of this image.  I threw pretty much everything I know how to do to try and bring the contrast in the sky under control:  dragging top-down gradients over the clouds in various blending modes (I generally use normal, overlay, or soft light), dodging and burning with the brush tool, dodging and burning with the dodge and burn tools, making adjustments with levels and curves and painting them in using layer masks.  It was a pretty seat-of-the-pants operation, and after awhile my layers-based workflow (which I generally prefer but am not committed to) went out the window as I built up version after version of the image.

In the end, I think I achieved my goal.  My main vision for the image was a silhouette of the fence and tree against the dramatic backlit sky.  I dodged up the foreground grasses to bring out some of the detail and highlights there, but I think the image probably would have worked even if the foreground largely stayed in shadow.  Sometimes you just have to go along with the process and see where it takes you.

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