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I took some macro shots of flowers in a greenhouse. I did it around midday in January, and the ceiling of the greenhouse was matted glass, so I got very diffuse light. Even in images which are exposed far to the right, there is a greyish, sad feel to the whole image, which doesn't go well with the flower motifs (at least in my opinion). How can I process the images to make them more vibrant?

Here are examples (postprocessed with a RAW editor, I spent some time toying with saturation, local contrast, etc.)

Bell flower

Red twin flower

Orchid closeup

Edit here are the original pictures, without postprocessing. I had tried to keep a more natural look, so didn't do any dramatic changes.

bell nonpost

twin nonpost

orchid nonpost

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If it feels sad just "go with it" and take some pictures of wilting and nearly dead flowers? :-) –  Andrew Heath Feb 8 '12 at 1:18

3 Answers 3

up vote 3 down vote accepted

I just gave two of those images a try in Darktable, mainly changes are some contrast both global and local to emphasis details and some work on the colors using color zones module..

I provided xmp files for the processing so you can see what values/modules i used and what they does to the orginal image, the result should be alot better if the sources was raw images instead of those ldr attached in this thread..

You can import and apply provided xmp files by the following steps: starting darktable and in lighttable view duplicate the specific image an make sure the duplicate is selected, open up the "history stack" module in left panel and hit the button "load sidecar file" and select the downloaded xmp file.

After that you can enter darkroom view and look at what modules i have enabled and what parameters i have used. Simply click "active" module group to only show the enabled ones and you can switch each of them on/off to check how the specific iop affects the image.

modified image

get xmp here...

modified image

get xmp here...

Here follows a detailed list of changes which is included in the xmp files:

For both images:

Exposure - Black point was raised to bring more blacks into the dull image

Vibrance - Lowers the lightness of high saturated pixels and adds saturation to them, see my blog post about different kind of saturations

High pass filter (blended using softlight) - this module has no use if its not blended either with overlay or softlight, this emphasis some details, the radius controls the size of details.

Low pass filter (blended using overlay) - the low pass filter is used to bring some local contrast to the image, be aware because this local contrast introduces halos if overused.

Relight - this module is used to decrease lightness with 1.0EV in ~20% gray area of the image with a falloff of the effect within 9 zones.

For the red flower:

Color zones - this is used to decrease lightness and a small amount of saturation of chartreuse tones to save red details.

For the white orchid:

Exposure - exposure increased with 0.3EV

Color zones - this was used filter out some reds in the image both lightness and saturation of red was lowered a bit.

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Cool. And it's worth noting that Darktable is free software which anyone can easily install on Linux or Mac OS, and even if you use Windows you can easily try it with a bootable CD which won't harm your system. –  mattdm Feb 10 '12 at 0:35
Thank you, these look good. I hadn't thought of the trick with reducing the saturation of tones complementary to the ones I want to make pop out. –  rumtscho Feb 10 '12 at 3:02

Reds and yellows are hard to get right. The red channel in particular can easily be blown, even if the blue and greens are in the middle of the histogram. I believe the red channel was probably blown in the second shot, with a loss of color. (apart from the white patch, the rest of the photo is fairly dark, yet the red channel histogram is way to the right, but that's after whatever post processing you did.

Not sure what color that first shot is supposed to be, but the yellows and oranges may also be blown.

In Adobe RAW I would do the following: move the recovery slider way to the right to bring down the bright background, move the blacks up to increase overall contrast, then use targeted adjustment brush to bring up the saturation (and possibly adjust hue and brightness) on specific colors (reds, oranges, yellows in this case).

Here is a quick attempt at the above (probably overdid the saturation on the reds):

enter image description here

You could also try a curves layer, with a mask and brushing onto the petals. Another way of applying some contrast or saturation locally without making the whole image garish.

I don't think the bright backgrounds are helping. I think you'd have more leeway in post processing if you had a more neutral background.

Oh, and the third one is fine, beautiful shot.

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I agree with the third shot, that is quite nice. –  dpollitt Feb 7 '12 at 17:56
Thank you. For RAW, I use darktable, which doesn't have brushes etc., but I can try getting a good look in GIMP. –  rumtscho Feb 7 '12 at 19:00

Sometimes, with all of the post-capture processing tools available to us, we tend to forget that digital photography isn't really all that different from film. What we do at capture time matters, even if there's a better chance to change our minds a little bit later in the process.

All of these pictures would have benefited from some combination of filtration and auxiliary lighting.

Soft lighting is good and useful and all (actually, it's just a whole lot easier to deal with in most cases), but when it gets so flat that there's no directionality at all, it starts to cause problems. That's particularly true with organics -- there are just too many directions from which light can reflect and refract, so you're capturing a lot more of the source light than you are the absorbed and re-emitted light from the subject. There are a few things you can do to mitigate that, though.

The oft-maligned UV/skylight filter can make a surprisingly large amount of difference to pictures like these, as can the 81 series of warming filters (an 81B is a good general-purpose warmer), even if you later bring the white balance back to neutral (although warm and flowers go together well). Using these filters is not at all like setting a warmer white balance sans filter; you are actually preventing some of the shorter wavelengths of light (mostly in the ultraviolet and near-ultraviolet) from being recorded and fogging the warm tones. An enhancing filter is better still in this regard. If you have none of those in your bag of tricks, but have a polarizer, you can at least control some of the stray light and get more saturated images. Combining a polarizer and a UV-cutting/warming filter (or using a warming polarizer) gives you the best of both worlds.

Don't overlook auxiliary lighting, though. That can either be a slight blip from a flash (preferably off-camera), but that may affect the background more than you'd like, and without a modifier may result in more texture than you were looking for. (A note here: it's easier to reduce texture in post than it is to insert colour.) For something like these flowers, though, a small "hot" reflector would probably have done the job nicely. Most of the name brands make a collapsible silver/gold reflector in the 12" (30cm) range that folds down to about a 4.5-5" disk (in its pouch), so apart from the possibility that you can't afford the sub-$20 price, there's really no good reason for not including one in your walking-around kit. Even with light as flat as you were working with, having the ability to kick in a little bit of light with some directionality to it will bias the exposure towards the reflections you choose to work with, and that will let you get more saturated colours. If you are using filtration to improve saturation already, the silver side will work well; otherwise, the gold side will do the UV-cut for you (and, again, you can bring the white balance back towards neutral in post).

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Thank you for the great answer. I probably couldn't have done much beside the filters in this case, because it was a public botanical garden with flocks of schoolchildren running through the narrow paths, but I will use the knowledge for situation where I have more control over light source placement. –  rumtscho Feb 8 '12 at 0:15

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