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Getting the shot – Powerscourt Lion

Powerscourt Lion – Joe Houghton Photography
Nikon D300, Tokina 12-24mm lens set at 12mm, F13, 1/500th sec, ISO 250

We had a great photo walk recently shooting the magnificent Powerscourt Gardens in Co. Wicklow, and for this post, I want to take a look at the process I went through to produce the shot shown here, because the original out of the camera looked VERY different.  Read on to find out more…

Composition.  Before you take a shot, you should be considering the elements in the scene you are facing.  Around the house at Powerscourt there are numerous statues, urns and pots of beautiful flowers, and the lions on their plinths caught my eye.  Big scenes often benefit from something in the foreground to start the viewer’s journey through your image, and such foreground interest should typically be located on one of the thirds lines.  My lion and the vertical of the plinth below his head is a little further left, but this was necessary to compose the house behind as well.

Verticals.  Especially with a wide angle lens, it can be difficult to maintain straight vertical lines.  The key ones here are on the plinth, so I made sure to keep them vertical – means the right hand side of the house tilts a bit, which I could adjust using perspective correction in Photoshop, but I didn’t this time.

Depth of Field.  Another creative decision for any shot is how much of it you want in focus.  For this shot I wanted everything from the foreground to the house at the back nice and sharp, so I used A (Aperture Priority) mode on my camera, and selected F13 to give me this.  Selecting that on the bright day we had gave me a shutter speed of 1/500th sec – plenty fast enough for a sharp shot handheld.  If you are using scene modes on your camera, set your scene to the mountains icon to get a wide depth of field where most of the shot is in focus from front to back.

Focus.  The general rule with large depth of field shots is to focus about 1/3 of the way into the scene.  Difficult in this case, so I focussed on the lion’s face and trusted the F13 setting to give me enough focus all the way back to the house.

Polarising filter.  I’ve written about this indispensable piece of kit in an earlier post, but on a lovely blue sky day it really comes into play, enabling you to darken the sky giving real “pop” to the clouds, lion and the house.

Check Your Histogram.  A lot of people, especially beginners, shy away when they run into the histogram display on their camera, but it’s a very simply and VERY powerful information source which you should at least understand the basics of interpreting.  Basically all you need to know is that the lines towards the left edge of the window are showing dark areas of your shot, whereas lines over to the right show that there are whiter areas in your shot.  If the lines touch the left edge, you’re underexposed, losing detail in the darkness, and if the lines hit the right hand edge, you’re overexposed and blowing out your highlights, losing detail and whiting out areas of your shot.

On the left here is the histogram for the original shot in the camera – quite dark with no bright areas or white in it.  After I’d made the post-processing adjustments I describe below, the final image’s histogram looks like the one here on the right – you can see the tones are much better spread and with no “clipping” on the right or the left.

So what did I do to change my original shot into the final one?  By messing about in Lightroom for a few minutes – adjustments to an original image to change it is known as…


Here are the shots before and after processing, so you can see how different they look.

I deliberately chose a really dark shot for this post to show just what a bit of post-processing can do to an image, especially if you’ve shot in RAW.  As long as you don’t over-expose on a bright day, you can pretty much rescue any dark shot as there is much more data stored in the darker end of the image than the bright.  My programme of choice is Adobe Lightroom, but the same principles apply whether you use free software like Picasa from Google (a great choice for those just starting), Adobe Photoshop Elements, or even the big daddy of them all – Adobe Photoshop.

So everything up to now has been done in-camera, but it was a very bright day, which makes capturing a shot with high contrast like this quite difficult.  I was also using my wide angle Tokina 12-24mm lens, and with the polarising filter on the front you can see some vignetting in the corners where the filter is showing at the extreme wide angle setting of 12mm.

Lightroom processing history for the final image

So, reading from the bottom up (because that’s how Lightroom records the changes), here’s what I did to the image.  Note – all changes to images in Lightroom are recorded in a separate file from the original RAW image, which means you can always undo them.  Hovering your mouse over each line in the History shows the image as it looked at that point in the editing process.

Exposure was my first adjustment – and the original was so dark that I needed to increase by +2.26 stops – that’s quite a lot but you have up to 5 stops either side to play with when shooting in RAW, so as long as the detail is there and you didn’t hit the edge of the histogram, you can bring all the detail back.

Highlights is an adjustment which only affects the very brightest areas of your image, and after bumping up the overall exposure this then added even more punch to the clouds and the roof of the main house, also accentuating the relative darkness of the blue sky behind.

Black Clipping affects the other end of the spectrum, and the minus 13 adjustment here just made the blacks a little bit darker.  After doing this I pushed the Highlights even brighter to punch the relative contrast even more, then a very small push to overall Contrast brought things to where I wanted them, with detail retained in the sky but also in the stone of the plinth and the grass in the plinth shadow.

Clarity was my final tonal adjustment – it’s a wonderful setting in Lightroom which punches up the micro-contrast across the whole shot, like sharpening but without the nasty edges which that can leave.

That just left a bit of cropping to lose the vignetting from the filter, moving the image around a little to keep a sliver of grass down the left hand edge, and I was done.

Do you have any more tips on anything I’ve mentioned here? If so, please share them as a comment :)

Joe Houghton Photography runs small group photo shoots, individual 1 to 1 tuition, and photography assignments. You can see some of Joe’s photography on Fine Art AmericaArtistRising or on his Flickr site.

If you enjoyed this post, please leave a comment, “Like” it on one of your social media sites or even better subscribe to the blog to get all the posts as they go up. Happy shooting :)


About Joe Houghton

As a self confessed gadget and app lover, here are my personal musings and thoughts on useful, interesting or maybe just odd technology which caught my eye...


3 thoughts on “Getting the shot – Powerscourt Lion

  1. Good tips! Thanks for sharing your expertize!

    Posted by Kathi | September 22, 2012, 6:50 pm
  2. Nothing to add, but you do a good job explaining.

    Posted by Garden Walk Garden Talk | April 1, 2013, 12:30 am

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