Challenge: Make an amazing photograph of something not more than one mile from your home.
Objective: To help people understand that the world is full of amazing possibilities for those who chose to see.

I often hear people say that their is nothing to photograph near them. In this challenge, I set out to prove that theory wrong. The sun was just setting when I grabbed my camera and set out to make and image of some old buildings on my property. The buildings in question are an old cinder block chicken coop and a rusting grainery.

My gear and settings included:

  • Camera: Panasonic GH3
  • Lens: Sigma 19mm F2.8 DN
  • Aperture:¬† F8.0
  • Shutter Speed: 1/640
  • ISO: 1600
  • Image Quality: RAW
  • Handheld

I knew that I wanted to create a grainy, noisy, edgy image so I set a high ISO and let the camera do a lot of the work for me.

This is how the RAW image initially looked.

I always shoot in RAW for some very important reasons. When you shoot in jpeg format, that camera does your thinking for you. It decides where your shadows and highlights will fall and it does all of the post processing for you. The problem is that much of the initially captured data will be lost in camera. This often means that highlight and shadow detail will be forever lost. Then it compresses the image, resulting in even more data loss. RAW, however records the image as the camera saw it. RAW does no processing and therefore, preserves all the data it possibly can. RAW is the answer.

A lot of people initially shy away from RAW because the recorded image is flat and lifeless. Trust me, don’t judge RAW by its cover.

The sun was just setting. I had some nice pools of light on the grainery and on the inside wall of the chicken coop which could be seen through the decaying roof. I positioned myself to capture both because, after all, photography is all about light.

I focused on the grainery to make sure roof lines would be crisp and sharp. Then I framed and captured several images.This meant some parts of the wooden chicken coop roof would be out of focus. This was not a big concern because I know a few tricks to get some of that sharpness back in post processing.

RAW image processing in Darktable
RAW image processing in Darktable

I brought the RAW image into Darktable and had a go. Please note the history stack, circled in yellow. These are the edits I completed in the order indicated. It is not my intent to provide you with every detail of each module used, but rather to let you see the modules I chose to use and describe my reasoning. The best way to learn is to simply do. Create an image for yourself and begin to work. Use my history stack as a guide if you like, but fiddle with the settings for yourself to get the finished look you desire. My stack includes:

  1. Orientation: This was automatically set by Darktable when I opened the image. Since the software got it right, I left it alone.
  2. Base Curve: This is also handled by DarkTable. It approximates the result you would get if you shot in jpeg, but no data is lost. I generally accept this edit as well and build upon the base that Darktable provides.
  3. Hot Pixels: Hot pixels can be a problem, especially at high ISO settings. They appear as tiny dots of bright red. This module identifies and eliminates them with a single click.
  4. Denoise (none-local means): I used this to remove most of the noise. However, I retained some to simulate film grain.
  5. Sharpen: Because denoise tends to soften a image, I used this tool to restore sharpness a bit. I also used my favorite sharpening technique later in the Gimp.
  6. Contrast Brightness Saturation: I used this module to increase the edginess of the image by increasing contrast and saturation over the entire image.
  7. Graduated Density: With this tool, I simulated a graduated neutral density filter to darken the sky and feather it down to about the top of the grainery.
  8. Exposure: The graduated density filter darkened the top of the grainery a bit. I selected exposure and created a drawn mask around the grainery and the lower left corner of the chicken coop roof. Then I increased exposure to only the portion of the image inside the drawn mask.
  9. Color Correction: With this tool, is shifted the highlight color to blue which resulted in a more deeply saturated sky. I moved the shadow colors toward amber ti intensify the pools of light.
  10. Local Contrast: I fidgeted with the settings to increase clarity in the overall image.
  11. Levels: I moved the black point just a bit to create a rich blackness in the shadows.

Finally, I exported the image to a 16 bit png which I brought into the Gimp for final processing.

In the Gimp I made a few additional edits to finish the image. Please note the layers panel, circled in yellow. Beginning at the bottom, these layers are:

  1. Original: This layer holds the png image which I created in Darktable.
  2. Duplicate: I created a duplicate of layer 1 so that any edits or mistakes I make will be limited to the duplicate layer and will not damage the original. On this layer, I used the clone tool to remove the unsightly power lines.
  3. lowPass: I duplicated the duplicate layer and named it lowPass. I converted this layer to grayscale and applied a low pass filter. Then I used the “Hard Light” blending mode to overlay it on the Duplicate layer. This is my favorite way to sharpen an image. The result can be as subtle or aggressive as you chose. It has never failed to please.
  4. gradient Left: On this  layer, I used a black to transparent gradient to darken the left side of the image.
  5. gradient bottom: On this layer, I created black to transparent gradient to darken the bottom of the frame.

Well, thats it. I hope you will accept my challenge to shoot something within one mile of your home and create an image worthy of mounting.

Old chicken coop and grainery
Old chicken coop and grainery