In rainforest photography a very common problem is lens fog which can often ruin an otherwise fine image. Although post-processing can help bring back a lot of the original detail and colours, you will never get the same quality than if you had wiped down the lens from the beginning. Therefore it is very important that you constantly check the lens for condensation. If the image appears dulled in the viewfinder, first you should wipe down the viewfinder itself. Then you should wipe the outside lens element and if you are still getting foggy images then you should take the lens off and wipe down the inside element. If condensation still remains then the humidity has likely entered the lens and there is nothing to do but expose it to strong light/heat and wait for it to evaporate.
The image below is a case of flare from shooting directly against the bright sky. The result is an image with very washed out colours and loss of detail. Flare and fog plagued images can be treated in a similar manner. Below are some steps that you can follow to recover the image to a certain extent.
The original image
- Original shot of a chameleon against strong background light.
The haze is the first thing that needs to be taken care of since it obscures any other adjustments that may need to be made (eg. Do we need to adjust the white balance, definition, etc?). Moreover as we cut down on the haze we will need to readjust some other elements of the photo to compensate (ie. Decreasing contrast typically requires boosting the definition/sharpness due to loss of detail accompanying that adjustment).
Step 1 - Applying Enhancements
Whether we apply the tools under the Exposure or the the Enhancements menus first is a matter of personal preference. However, in a photo that is as affected as this one I like to apply crude adjustments first. Hence my first adjustment was to the contrast slider bar which I moved all the way to the right (+o.5). I left the saturation and vibrancy as they were but increased the definition (+0.21). Sharpness and contrast are two very good ways of cutting through haze/fog, however, you need to be careful in your balance between these two adjustments. .
Nb. In photos that are less affected than this one I won’t use the contrast slider bar at all but rather prefer the black point slider (found under exposure) which is essentially a fine tuned contrast bar.
- Original photo with the applied enhancements
Step 2 – Applying Exposure and Brush changes
Already we can see that a great deal of haze has ‘disappeared’. Nevertheless enough remains to be distracting and to ruin the image. Therefore we will need to add to the contrast which can be done by increasing the black point. Again, this is an extreme example, and so I have increase the slider all the way to the right (+50.0). All the other adjustments under this category have remained the same. Now despite all these adjustments there is still some haze. The background is more forgiving with respect to the low contrast/haze that is acceptable to the eye. However, any lack of clarity or definition in the subject stemming from haze is immediately apparent and must be dealt with. Having said that the contrast and black point slider bars a) affect the entire image and b) are already at their maximum. To overcome these two problems we resort to the Brushes.
The Brush menu is found in two places. The first is in the heads up display (HUD)/inspector normally on the left hand side of your image, or else accessed by pressing ‘H’. You can then click on the ‘Adjustments’ pull down menu under the histogram and it is the first option ‘quick brushes’. The second place is at the bottom of the image that you are working on with the little brush icon.
Once you’ve found the brushes you can apply a local contrast brush. Start with a low contrast strength like 25% and gradually increase it until the desired effect is achieved. Be sure to use the feather tool to smooth the transition between the adjusted and non-adjusted pixels (I typically use this at 100% strength). Here I applied 40% contrast and 20% sharpen to the subject only.
- Exposure controls have been applied.
Step 3 – Level tool
Now we can start focusing a little more on the composition. By using the ‘level’ or ‘straighten’ tool (which can be accessed by the keyboard shortcut ‘G’ or at the bottom of the image next to the brushes we just used) we can create a little dynamism by having the chameleon appear to be looking directly at the viewer. The greater the degree of inclination, the greater the magnification.
- The above image has been ‘straightened’
Step 4 – Cropping
The cropping tool can be found right next the ‘level’ tool or else can abe accessed by pressing ‘C’. Be sure to tick the “Do not constrain” option on the aspect ratio so that you can control the size of the cropping box more exactly. To increase the “in your face” aspect of the photo we will now need to crop the photo. Behind the subject is essentially dead space which can be cut with little effect to the overall presentation. We still want to maintain space in the direction that the subject is looking however, and so we will leave the foreground intact. One needs to be careful when applying level and crop tools to an image since any problems with quality in an image will become increasingly apparent the more you magnify the subject. This is especially true the more you modify and apply changes to an image which increase the amount of noise.
- Crop has been applied to the image.
Step 5 – Colour Temperature
Colour temperature can be changed by simply moving the colour temperature slider bar under ‘White Balance’ in the HUD/Inspector. Now I applied a slight decrease in the colour temperature to cool the image. The effect is slight and partly based on personal preference. The 5D Mark II tends to give overly warm images, especially given the settings that I use and so I tend to overcompensate in the opposite direction.
- White balance slider has been moved slightly to the left to cool the image.
Step 6 – Finishing touches
Finally I applied a little more intensity (polarization) to the subject. This is applied to the subject only and not the entire image by means of the polarization brush found in the along with the other adjustment brushes under the photo.
- Polarization has been applied at about 25% strength with heavy feathering to decrease the discrepancy between regions with and without polarization. Polarization was only applied to the chameleon, leaving the background intact.
As you can see we used several methods to cut through the haze. First and foremost is increasing the contrast. Usually this is enough and can be achieved through the much less invasive black point slider; however, if you have a picture that suffers from an exceptional amount of glare/fog like the above example then you may need to decrease exposure, increase sharpness/definition and burn/polarize certain parts of the image.
To facilitate navigation through the various adjustments, brushes, etc… learning the shortcut keys can be extremely useful. An extensive list can be seen HERE.
If you have any comments or other helpful hints for dealing with haze and fog please feel free to leave a message.