I recently took this photo, and by playing around in RawTherapee was able to bring out two particular aspects of the image that I really like.

First, the original (This is a "save" of the RAW from Nomacs image viewer, I created the edits below from the RAW):


You can see some details in the clouds, but overall it is pretty gray and flat.

I created this first edit by lowering the "Black" and turning up the "Shadow Compression" in the Exposure panel. This brought out a lot of detail in the bird's wings, but the clouds turned into an even flatter gray:

Better wings cropped.jpg

Here are the settings in the Exposure panel I used:


For the second edit, I played around with the tone curves under the Exposure panel, and ended up with a rather aggressive curve which pulled a lot of details out of the clouds after I added some highlight recovery and maxing out the highlight compression. However, all of the detail in the bird is lost:

Better clouds.jpg

Here are the settings for this one:


My questions are:

  • Is there any way to combine these two sets of settings to create a single output image with both the detailed clouds and the detail in the bird?
  • What other methods are there to "stretch out" the colors in the clouds to bring out the details like in my last edit? I managed to create something I like by fiddling around with various settings until I saw some change, but I don't completely understand how the settings I changed created the resulting image. If you were going to try to pull off a similar effect, how would you go about doing it?

For context, I've started photography as a hobby within the past few months. Any feedback would be appreciated!

  • \$\begingroup\$ Google "layering". Or even better, check out the questions tagged with the layers tag here at Photo SE. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Mar 17, 2021 at 2:32

2 Answers 2


As noted in comments, look into layering.

I did this in Photoshop, as I don't have Raw Therapee. You could do the same in Gimp etc.

Select the bird & separate it to a new layer, by copy/paste. Then you can treat each layer individually. Essentially you can push the sky darker & the bird lighter, without each interfering with the other.
I over-cooked these edits to show how far you can push it. It's all a bit crunchy because of the jpg start-point plus I didn't really take the required care to accurately select the bird. You could do a whole lot better from the original, though you may need to save it out as a 16-bit TIF to manipulate in this way, retaining the highest quality. I don't know of anything that can edit a RAW in this way.

enter image description here

Zoomed to bird, more careful selection technique & some feathering of the edges [no pun intended] could smooth this out nicely.

enter image description here

One additional trick. This type of edit where you are pushing adjacent areas hard in different directions tends to make sharp lines at the edges, worsened by the original bird in this case underneath. Use the healing brush to eliminate the bird from the lower layer, so you only have to concentrate on the upper for matching/blending.
This also allows you to use masks to in effect 'cross-fade' the edges rather than blurring them [I didn't do that here, as you can probably tell]

Incidentally, just for fun, this also allows you to then move the bird wherever you like ;)

enter image description here

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Awesome, thanks for the ideas! I hadn't thought about moving/duplicating the bird :) \$\endgroup\$
    – maples
    Mar 17, 2021 at 21:10

Well, I've used somewhat wonky exposure curves (they go back down after an initial steep rise), changed the white balance and put the wavelet transform tab to work, adding a lot of contrast on the small (dark) features and the large (bright) features. Naturally this does not work too well unless working from raw (and probably so-so from raw) but here you are: Heavily processed Note that RawTherapee recently gained local modifications where you can constrain manipulations to a certain region. That might help for your case. However, I am not sure there is much of a point in it given your source: at full size, details in the bird don't make a lot of sense; and with a heavy crop, bringing out the clouds is pretty useless.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I hadn't heard of the local modifications feature before, I'll have to look that up! \$\endgroup\$
    – maples
    Mar 17, 2021 at 21:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ The clouds might be slightly overdone (they look a little posterized), but certainly, changing gray for blue definitely alters the mood of the image. Nice answer! =) \$\endgroup\$
    – scottbb
    Mar 18, 2021 at 0:13

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