After and Before Forum; Trials and Tribulations

The After and Before forum is organised by Stacy Fischer, it is a place where amateurs as well as seasoned photographers explain the wow and how about their photo and editing decision.You can read more here about how to take part.

I was wondering if I wanted to share this picture at all. Then I remembered the “After and Before forum” is a place to share how we get the wow in out images and this one took a long time and a lot of false starts and back tracking. Here though is the final walkthrough fixing issues that were created when I shot the picture.

BeforeI have always been a firm believer that you can’t turn crap into gold. If the picture is bad out of camera, it won’t be made much better by editing. I was out in the afternoon while it was snowing and I knew the light was fading fast. It was about 15.00 and sunset is at about 15:45/16:00 at the moment. It  would have been in that precious golden hour if not for the overcast/snowy sky. I loved that fact that the snow was falling, there were droplets of water on the tree that were freezing and the whole colour palette was cold. Because of the extreme defuse and muted light I had to bump up my ISO. With macro work 800 ISO is my limit that I hate to break, at this ISO I can reduce noise without reducing the quality of the small details. However I broke my self-imposed limit and was shooting at 1250 ISO with my pop up flash, because I left my speed lite at home. I knew I had got the shot of a frozen water droplet on the end of a pine needle and I knew the droplet was sharp, while chimpping I also knew that the exposure was slightly under. Of course looking on the back of the screen and looking at the picture on the computer are two different things.


On the computer I saw that the second needle had some crud on it, great more work. Noise always hides in the shadows and where there is a lack of detail. By brightening these dark smooth areas makes the noise more obvious.
First tasks had to be, reducing the noise but not sacrificing the detail in the frozen droplet. I tried a few different things going backwards and forwards, but settled on exporting the image to Photoshop from Lightroom as a smart object. I applied Define 2 first, a Niksoft noise reduction filter, to reduce the noise, Next I applied the Shake reduction filter (as capture sharpening) to preserve the sharp details I had, also it counteracted the softening from the noise reduction. Finally I removed the crud from the other pine needle, using a mixture clone and the patch tool.


I usually only apply one set of colour adjustments, but I wanted the colours to be bold on the needle and soft in the background not just a washed out grey. I applied my Kodachrome 64 preset, which is applied through the HSL panel and then my porta esq preset, which is applied through the curves. This brought out the soft magentas and greens in the washed out grey adding some depth to the background, while giving a nice bold green in the pine needle.
I also increased the exposure slightly, still afraid of creating more noise. Lowered the highlights and increased the shadows.


The flash created light stops on the pine needle; using the spot removal tool I exchanged them for less bright tones.


I applied local adjustments to enhance the detail in the frozen droplet and reduce the highlight areas in the pine needle.


There was a lot of chromatic aberration especially in the greens and purples on the pine needle and the frozen droplet. I used the eyedropper to select the aberration and removed it.


The final touch was using a radial adjustment. I increased the noise reduction and decreased the sharpness and increased the moiré and defringe. This was all done to smooth out the softer details and reduce noise more. I also reduced the exposure for the same reason but also to create a soft vignette to bring the eye to the frozen droplet.

Frozen Droplet

After all the hard work I think the image is good, not the best but a good job. Things I would do differently would be to have the speed lite to add more light to the scene and lower the ISO and get the right exposure. I quite like the mix of Define 2 and Shake Reduction as an opening step for noisy images and it was great to discover this combination.


Stacy asked me if I could put together a slide show showing the transformation of the image.


I would be really interested to know what you think, you can let me know in the comment box below.

Also please head over to Stacy’s blog to see the other participant’s entries into this weeks forum

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30 thoughts on “After and Before Forum; Trials and Tribulations

  1. Very clever processing. I do wonder whether a speed light might have been too much unless you dialled it back a lot, maybe -2 even, or fired at an angle to prevent more unwanted glare. This looks pretty good.

  2. Love the final product! Great details, though I think I may need to look some of them up as I am not sure what they are, lol. Having the same software would help me though…The more I read your stuff, I think, it is time to update my laptop and software. Great info! Thanks.

  3. Just getting the hang of LR … This image is amazing, Ben!! My jaw dropped when I saw it in my reader. Then I came here and read your post. Great job!! And thank you! Love, Amy

  4. Ben, you did a superb job with this photo! I’ve never used the moire and defringe functions, so that was interesting to see. And I have also not used the eye dropper to target the colors present in chromatic aberration. I’ve just always selected the filter and hit enter. Now I know a much better way to do this. And you’re one-two punch with Define and camera shake – what a great find and a great tip! And last, but certainly not least, thanks so much for putting the slideshow together. I just love to see the changes taking shape and I appreciate your efforts. Great post!

    • I use the eyedropper with chromatic aberration because sometimes the filter misses stronger aberration. THe double punch is working well I will need to experiment with it a bit more.
      I am glad you like the slideshow, I did it in photoshop to create a gif.
      Thanks for hosting the comment each week Stacy.

  5. I am in awe, another great post Ben, there is always something to learn here, for me ” I used the eyedropper to select the aberration and removed it.’ I would not have thought of that. thank you for sharing your work.

    • My pleasure, they eyedropper is a great way to fine tune the removal of chromatic aberration. You can also move the sliders to make even more finer adjustments. I am really happy you learnt something from my post and were able to put it into use.

  6. Can’t believe it took all those steps but you really did an amazing job. I could actually follow your explanation without getting glassy eyed, this time! 🙂 I do think the slide effect is a great visual but do not use it every time.

  7. Thanks again Ben – I really enjoyed reading this post.
    Im glad to know your self imposed limit for ISO for macro. Its helpful to have in the back of my mind.
    Also the combo of Dfine and Shake is one I’ll try if I get stuck with a noisy image.
    Your result is amazing and the slideshow reveals an amazing difference.

    • I have quite a few limits that I self impose, to make sure I get a good shot in camera to work from. But as with all rules some have to be broken.
      Define and shake reduction is now onenof my go to solutions.
      Thanks for commenting Robyn.

    • When I started learning Photoshop I bought a note book and wrote down lots of tutorials and then when i wanted an effect flicked through the book. I still have the book and still add new things that I learn and will make changes to older notes.

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